Part One; “where I have come from…”
It is easy to write stories on issues, events and someone else’s life.
Sitting here trying to compartmentalize my life into three categories that might best describe where I have come from, who I am, and where I am headed when this life is done – no easy task! Knowing it and sharing it are diametrically opposed, and articulating is difficult…here goes;
I was born in the 60’s in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – a former British colony in southern Africa known as Rhodesia, a bread basket to the continent and world, rich in agriculture, natural resources and minerals. Our city, known by her vernacular QoBulawayo “the place of killing”, was built on a massive burial ground of the former Ndebele warrior – Lobengula, who was a longtime nemesis to the Shona tribe in the north east of the country.
Most families who lived in the city of Bulawayo worked for the railways, being strategically placed as a central hub for transportation. We often moved around and lived in Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of me growing up in the care of our maid in Botswana. She loved me as one of her own, fed me, bathed me and taught me to speak “tswana”, the language spoken in Botswana. After a hard day at work, sitting at the kitchen table, dad asked for a beer, and I jumped at the opportunity to get it for him, it meant I could sneak a sip before giving it to him! I vividly remember placing the beer on the edge of the kitchen table, hearing a crash, and instant burning radiating in my leg. I had cut the underside of my foot open on the broken glass. My folks rush me off to the Hospital, where, in my state of pain all I remember is not being able to speak in English, and the nurse and doctor having to speak to me in tswana. To this day I have a neat “X” under my foot, as a mark of remembrance to that fateful day I stole a sip from Dad’s beer and paid the price!
Growing up in Africa was an amazing adventure. No hi-tech toys, no fancy amusement parks. If you had a bicycle the world was your oyster! I remember going on many adventures, riding where others hadn’t yet ventured. One such journey was with my best friend Jamie. We decided to ride along the railway track to the tiny farming town of Figtree. It was a typical boy’s adventure. Two city kids, with a spirit of adventure, riding their bikes alongside the rail track heading out of town into the unknown – 30 miles from safety. Arriving in Figtree, we were greeted and welcomes by the village headman. In honor of our arrival, he chose a plump wild chicken for us, slaughtered it, cooked it over a fire, and fed Jamie and I. This experience opened my eyes. How could this man take his very best, and honor these two little white kids on an expedition? The memory of that weekend has always stuck in my mind, to have felt such a sense of honor, respect and humility, to value others.
In the 70’s, then Rhodesia, was engaged in a civil war. My mom had an earnest desire to travel back to Holland to see her mom and spend time with her family, and so in 1975 we trekked across Africa, onward to Europe. I loved the experience of flying, and decided I wanted to become a pilot, that became my obsession constantly looking up in the sky at planes. We lived in Holland for 3 years and the pangs for Africa were intense, mom wanted to head back to the warm African sunshine and beautiful people. Looking back over the time we lived in Holland, much of it seemed to be a dream. I learned to speak Dutch, fell in love with eating raw fish, and ice-skated through hundreds of canals linking small farming communities throughout the north of Holland. It was during our stay in Holland that it began to dawn on me that unlike a lot of kids, I didn’t really know my dad. He was always working, always driving always out there. It didn’t mean much to me, because that appeared to be normal. Mom too was always busy, working, and suddenly there was no one at home, my brother moved away from home, my sisters were always busy and engaged in their own lives, and that left me to my own devices. Something shifted in my life. Looking for attention I became quite a naughty rascal. I joined a gang, and we terrorized the neighborhood. I didn’t have a bike, so went to a park, waited for the kids to go inside, and not content with one bike, I stole two – at the same time! I began to develop this inner sense that something was not well, but couldn’t, for the life of me stop, this rollercoaster ride I was on. Amazing how doing wrong becomes the norm, and already as a kid your conscience begins the journey of being seared by sin!
Coming back to Rhodesia – we found the nation in a state of change. Soon Zimbabwe would be born, and she would be independent from her colonial masters. I remember Bob Marley coming to our city, and performing in what was to be his last major concert, dying a short 11 months later from cancer – that started in his toe, and refused surgery because of his religious beliefs.
It was soon after this time that my life escalated down a path of destruction, which I managed to hide from everyone. Here I was a teenager, restless and hungry for attention, but in all the wrong places. It wasn’t long before we started growing, curing and selling weed. Can you imagine being in high school, selling drugs, not only to peers and kids but to the teachers too? That wasn’t enough and soon we started selling pornography to anyone who showed interest. My friend and illicit business partner and I became more daring, more adventurous in our adventures. We would go and sit at the golf course, get high, and wait for players to tee off; sneaking into their lockers we would take their car keys, and proceed to take their cars on city wide joy rides, always getting back in time to return their vehicles, unscathed. Something about drugs and their effect makes a person believe you are invincible, probably one of the biggest lies from the pits of hell.
Fast forward my life to my technical college days. I was an apprentice printer, and traveled to the capital for a year as part of my training. This was a year of incessant partying, drinking. My life was set to change one fateful weekend. We lived on campus, and had befriended a host of kids from other regions of Zimbabwe. One of our friends had gone home to his family, and had asked us to take his motorcycle to the local transport depot, and send it to him, so that he wouldn’t have to ride it home. Friday came and went, our priorities were to get out of class, buy beer and start partying! Along with the drinking came the weed, and before you know it the weekend had come and gone in a blurry state of inebriation. It then became obvious that our friend had caught the train, and come back to the campus, collected his motorcycle and ridden it back home. Monday he wasn’t back in class! We learned from the word spreading through campus that he had reached the outskirts of the city, and was killed in a head on collision. I realized that if we had not been partying he may still have been with us today. I cannot tell you the guilt and remorse that plagued me. I wanted to exchange places with him, but it was too late, the price had been paid.
Part Two; “who I am…”
“Vic – I know you are hiding from me! I know you are hiding under your mom and dad’s bed! I can’t see you, but God can! Come outside, let me pray for you to be saved, you must be born again!”
I thought to myself, “with friends like this who needs enemies?” Ken never relented. He would stop by the house daily after school, and yell the same speech. I was there; I was hiding, and didn’t want to know about this Jesus he was yelling at me about. What I really wanted was for him to either go away, or change topic, but he didn’t. I think started questioning myself. How did Ken know I was home? How did he know I was hiding? Why was he being this persistent? What did I need to do, to stop this friend of mine calling out his message of doom for all the neighbors to hear? He continued seeking me out and finally shared something that caught my attention. “I don’t mean to scare you, but when judgment day comes, the Lord is going to remind you of this day, that you turned down an invitation to invite Christ into your life, and then I won’t be there to yell at you to change, you will give an account and have to answer for your life…”
That Friday, I went with Ken to the local youth group meeting in May of 1980. I do not recall what was preached, I do not remember who was there. I distinctly remember sitting at the back of the hall, feeling as if I was the only person there. Inside my chest my heart was pounding, and I had a sense of urgency come over me while the youth pastor preached. At the end of the meeting, he asked if there was anyone who wanted to invite Jesus into their lives to come and be their Lord and savior, and before he finished asking, I was standing up front sobbing. That night, my life changed. I asked Jesus to come into my life, to forgive me of all my sin, and to give me a fresh start in life.
Something changed in my life. I felt brand new. I felt clean. I remember because of my lifestyle and what I was doing as kid, fear was a very real issue to me. I was always looking over my shoulder never knowing what awaited me around the corner. I had done some outrageous things, and didn’t have too many friends, but had established a pretty decent network of enemies. But that Friday when the Lord met me and began to transform my life, the fear that had secretly gripped me melted away. I instinctively knew that I could no longer carry on the way I was living, and that changes needed to occur.
When some people give their lives back to the Lord, a radical transformation takes place. Some have to be coerced to stop living the same treacherous life styles. Others literally make a 180 degree turn around, and never look back. I wouldn’t typify my experience as a radical transformation, all I know is that I felt amazing, and that something had happened in my life, and I never wanted that secure warm and contagious feeling to stop.
As I am sharing snippets of my life, I cannot overlook being transparent, and this is part of that vulnerability that all of us face when we unzip our lives and share with the world.
I met Nancy in a night club. Our friends were having the time of their life, and I looked at Nancy and told her how uncomfortable I felt, being in the night club, and how we really needed to make a change and start going to church, and leave this ‘lifestyle’ behind. She looked at me and told me that she had been searching, wanting a change in her life, and how she had asked God to bring a man across her life that would help her come to the Lord. Six weeks later we were married!
It wasn’t an easy road. From almost every point of view a mixed marriage in Zimbabwe at the time wasn’t fully embraced in certain circles of society. We would be taking a walk down the street, and have insults hurled at us. Some friends discontinued relationships. Within both our families we faced difficulties and opposition. Two different cultures coming together as one meant a process of learning and adjusting. When I proposed to Nancy, I figured simply asking her dad for his daughters’ hand in marriage would be the right thing to do. After I sat down with him and asked him, he let me finish, and then told me “thank you for asking, but in our custom, you are not supposed to ask me directly. You must go to her Aunt, and she must come and ask me, and then we discuss how we will proceed forward. She will come back and tell you what we have discussed and how much the dowry will be. If you are serious with my daughter you will do this.” WHAT? I have to buy my bride? What madness is this? The custom in Zimbabwe is known as “Lobola”, and usually involves cattle, sheep, donkeys, and in this modern day setting, computers and cell phones, and a bundle of cash! On my apprenticeship wage of $36 a week this suddenly became a mountain I couldn’t climb, but, marrying Nancy was my heart’s desire. Let me just say that some adjustments were made for me, and we were married, but the lengthy process of learning and respecting this new twist in cultures brought back memories of the headman villager who slaughtered the best chicken for us!
We moved from the capital back to Bulawayo, where we lived in a suburb called Thorngrove. At the time I was the only white guy in the surburb, and every morning as I walked to work, I would have a following trailing me of little neighborhood kids, yelling “kiwa, kiwa” loosely translated “white guy, white guy”. Center of attention for all the wrong reasons, but it was a fun experience.
As our cultures and traditions melded and we became the one flesh Christ speaks of, an event would occur that would shake us to the core. Nancy’s brother became ill, and developed complications that would see him confined to hospital. Nancy travelled to the capital and visited with Tryon, and he gave his life to the Lord. A few days later the call came that we all dread at 1:00am in the morning, Tryon had passed away. Sometimes things happen in life where there are no rules and steps to follow, and you simply go with what is happening around you. Part of this new culture I had embraced included having to slaughter a bull at the funeral. A celebration of the life of the departed, I had never in my life experienced let alone done such an act. It is customary to slit the bull’s throat, yet once again, Nancy’s father had grace for me, and while explaining the procedure to me, even though he had lost his son, he was intent on teaching me the ways of his culture. I will never forget that day, the experience and the lesson I learned.
Over the years, Nancy and I would experience a whole array of interesting circumstances. And yet, never did we turn from the Lord. Through opposition, through difficulties, through hard times, we continued to love each other, and trust in the Lord. Yes there were many roller coaster rides that we didn’t like! Often we would want it to stop so we could get off and run. When we give our lives to God, we must understand that we are His, to do with as He pleases. There were some moments when this was extremely difficult. We would be called to go and pray for families, and upon arrival, only I could go inside the house because I am white – Nancy would have to stay out in the car. In moments like these, all kinds of emotions can rise up, and yet we would desire to see the Lord move in a situation, and so I would be inside praying for the family, and Nancy would sit in the car and cry out to God for them too. Through such events we would be humbled and yet feel deep anguish at the disconnected society, but had to continue trusting in the Lord to open doors and ultimately bring glory to His name.
In 1988 I was poisoned at work, and spent three weeks in the local hospital. At the time Nancy was pregnant with Victoria, and Tammy was all of two years old. The doctors gave up hope and sent me home to die. Fearing the worst, it was agreed I be taken to my folk’s home. I remember one night as I lay there looking up at the ceiling, with the light on, a surreal darkness began closing in around me. I thought I might be hallucinating, because I could see two huge figures looking over me, and talking to each other. I couldn’t hear them, but I knew they had come for me. I called out to my mom and dad, and when they came in the room, I began to ask for forgiveness for all I had ever done to hurt them. They asked me what on earth was going on, and I looked up and told them, “they have come for me, I am going tonight”. My parents had a choice to call an ambulance or call for the elders of the church. Within minutes, Pastor Billy Nel and Max Mercer were standing over me, they laid their hands on me, and anointed me with oil, and prayed the prayer of faith over my life. As they finished, I became violently ill. I threw up copious amounts of black liquid, and drifted off into a deep sleep. The Lord had extended His grace and mercy upon my life, He touched me and I was healed. Totally and fully recovered within 24 hours, we went out as a family to celebrate my recovery. Of this I am certain, the angel of death is real, and when he is on assignment and your name is on the roster, he will show up.
Part Three; “where I am headed…”
1 Peter 3v15 “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
All experiences and accounts aside, what is there to say concerning a life that has endeavored to walk in a manner worthy of being called a Christian? I believe that it is more so what is not said that speaks the loudest, than trying to justify the life we live in Christ. Since turning to the Lord I have often found myself trying to muddle through circumstances by making my own decisions only to reach the end of the road and discover that even though I believed the Lord was involved, I had actually been walking in my own strength and abilities. I have learned by the same token to ‘fail forward’, never give up, never retreat, never surrender – regardless of what obstacles come across our path in life.
Some of my personal obstacles that I have cried out to God to carry me through have brought me closer to Him, and allowed me through His grace to see life through His lens and not my own.
Romans 8v38 “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
There have been moments in my life where I have found this road very difficult to navigate. I have discovered that not everyone will be your friend, not everyone will want to hang out with you because you are a Christian. But I have also discovered by the same token that when a crisis hits someone close, they know that they can call on you, and reach out for comfort and these are moments that are cherished because we are able to allow our lives to become a conduit for what the Lord wants to do.
If you asked me what is the hope that I have in Christ? I will tell you that he saved me from a life of separation from His presence. He came into my life at my invitation, and has given me hope, hope that no matter what this life throws at me, in Him, through Him, and by Him – I will never be alone, I will never fall again without having the assurance that He will be right there to lift me up, and that when I call upon His name He answers, and gives me His peace.
Over the past 8 years, I have seen Christ working in amazing ways that have given me reason to believe that He truly is Lord! In 2005 mom had open heart surgery, and despite technology and the safe accurate hand of the skilled surgeons, she slipped into a coma, and breathing her last breath, went to be with the Lord.
In 2006 dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, we spent massive amounts of time sharing together, and he turned his life around and gave his all to the Lord. He too, left us in 2007, surrounded by family and brothers and sisters singing worship songs, as he stepped into eternity.
In 2007 I was diagnosed with an arrhythmia in my heart. After two heart procedures my physical life would never be the same again. I could not understand what was happening to me, and in the short space of three months had read through the entire bible marking every single verse that popped off the page. I drew closer to the Lord than ever before in my entire life.
I knew that Jesus loved me, but couldn’t reconcile why such immense suffering was necessary to the point of being stripped of everything that I held dear to my life.
In 2008 with mounting pressure, we lost our home, our vehicle and business. The past 8 years of toiling to start a new life in the USA had all but been ship wrecked, lost in the storms of life. Many a sleepless night, anxiety attacks, fight or flight, the need to escape, run as far away as possible from the unrelenting difficulties. Even as a Christian, a believer in Christ – nothing can prepare you for situations that will come and buffet against your life. I sincerely believed that I was invincible and would stand against any opposing circumstance that came my way. I soon realized that what was taking place was a peeling away of layers that I had created over my life that in essence had nothing to do with the Lord and that I needed to come to that place where I saw Him, and not the mountain in front of me. Actually at the time there were a few mountains, not just one!
I can say today without a doubt, that I would do it again, and go through whatever the Lord requires of me. I have seen Him come through for me in my own life constantly, and I am assured that when this life is over, and I too breathe my last, I will see Him as He is, face to face, and will spend eternity in His presence.
But before that happens, I know in my heart that there is much work to be done. There are many who still need to hear that Jesus loves them. There are even those in my family, and in my circle of influence that must see Christ in me. Not through what I say, but through how I model my own life in such a way that those who are looking will be able to see the Lord and desire to serve Him and receive Him into their lives.
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was born into sin. My life has been filled with wretchedness. I know the person I was, I partook of every conceivable sin known to man. Yet I also know that one day, this all changed, and my life became His life, and though I stumble, though I fall, yet He remains faithful, and lifts me up so that I continue walking towards Him. I know that my life is secure in the hand of God, and that I will spend eternity with Him in heaven, because I invited him into my life. Though every day still presents with massive challenges, one thing for sure, is that I have a friend and Savior and his name is Jesus Christ and I can call on His name, His presence any time!
This is the account I am convinced of, and will never relent in my belief that Christ is my Lord and Savior, and how much I desire that you reading this would too ask Him into your life so that you too can tell of how He has transformed you and changed you.
Do you know Him the same way? Are you tired of the treadmill you are on called “life without Christ”?
Proverbs 14v12 “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”
If you were to die today, do you know for sure where you will spend eternity? If there is any doubt in answering this question…I would be humbled and honored to pray with you. Leave a comment, or shoot an email back, and while there is time, let’s make sure that we will spend eternal life together in His glorious presence.