WHAT IS LIVING BALL ABOUT?
In 1996 there were thirty six players brought from all over South Africa to start up a professional rugby team, The Eagles in a town called George in the Cape Province of South Africa. I was one of them and through God’s plan for my life – I believe I was the last out of this group of players to remain.
I was a professional rugby player who ‘ate, drank and slept’ rugby, and saw it as being ‘everything’, with my whole life revolving around it. I was brought up in a Christian home with loving, godly parents but sadly I chose sport over a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. I did love God however wat not ‘in love’ with Him or in a daily relationship. I thought I did because I went to church and did all the ‘Christian things’, focusing on my ‘works’ rather than being obedient to His voice and plan for my life.
But this idea I had of being a follower of Jesus Christ was about to change drastically. It began after we lost terribly to the Pumas by a mammoth 114 – 13 in Witbank. That night after our humiliating loss Frans Ludeke who at that time was the coach of The Lions came over to our hotel, and offered some comforting word to me.
Frans is a man who loves God and has a real heart for people. His philosophy has always been that ‘the player is more important than the game’. When Frans offered to pray for me that night I refused and said, “I don’t think that will help!” Such was my pride.
It is very clear to me now through the luxury of hindsight, that the Lord Jesus used this very sore point of my career to humble and bring me down to reality.
I was at a state where I was blaming my team mates for the loss and didn’t think that I played a role in it. The problem was that I was so full of myself that there was no room for The Lord Jesus!
On the night of the 21st August 2001 I know for sure that I ‘died’ – not physically but spiritually. It was the night when the old Manie du Toit was laid to rest, and the new Manie du Toit was born again. It happened when I was in bed busy writing the response to our humiliating loss that I was going to present to the team the next day.
My wife was asleep alongside me, when I experienced a supernatural encounter with God Almighty.
There was an overwhelming presence of God that came into my room and touched me. Today I know that it was the Holy Spirit, as I felt this incredible amount of love and peace radiating all around and within me. It was a totally amazing experience that left me feeling so ‘light’.
It was as if I was walking in the clouds. Prior to this encounter I was quite consumed with myself and my personal ambitions, because of my pride and self-righteous, but the Lord Jesus clearly spoke these words to my heart,
Manie, this life you are living is not about you, It’s all about Me!
Jesus spoke directly into my heart and spoke this very important truth that I had conveniently overlooked. In all the busyness in our lives today it can become so easy to forget this.
At that time in the rugby world I was consumed by, as a player it was all about your ego, and nobody mattered more than yourself.
You were ‘Number 1’, and basically everything revolved around you and your needs. Being a professional environment it had become more about the money than playing the sport that I had so much loved as a child.
The reality was that playing sport had become my idol that had separated me from receiving the fullness of the love of Jesus.
But God loves us all too much, and that night in my bedroom, His unconditional love overflowed all over me.
So much so that I had a burning desire and felt compelled to want to go out and tell others about this loving God that I had just encountered.
That night I had written down my match analysis and had everything on paper ready to hand out to the rest of the team for the next day. I had highlighted the areas that they needed to change in and where there faults and mistakes were.
But Jesus had the final say and overrode my pride when He said to me,
“No. You don’t try to change anything. If they want to change then let it come from them and not you.”
The next day at the team meeting the coach gave each team member a page to write down their views on the game. Everyone was writing except me, which caused the coach to come up to me and enquire as to why I was not writing. My response was that it was not about me and more about team. After one and half hour they had all completed writing, and we began to talk about the game we had lost.
When they had all finished I said that was the mistake I has also made. I explained that when I had begun writing last night, Jesus came and personally told me to stop and hand it all over to Him.
I shared with the team about my amazing experience with Jesus and how He had filled me with His incredible love. He had also revealed to me that I was living a self-centred life that did not please Him. The team could see that this was a ‘new’ Manie that was speaking to them and responded positively to the message I was sharing with them.
They admitted that we all were not playing for each other but were doing our ‘own things’ on the field. Thankfully this bad attitude that we had picked up was to change for the better.
Not too long after this in November 2001, Jesus showed me in a dream that revival would start on the South side of Africa. It was to start right from where I was living, George.
The amazing thing was that Jesus was going to use what I had loved so much, sports, to spread His message all around the world.
In my dream, I was walking on our farm when a sea water fish jumped into my hand. I thought to myself that this could not be possible as there was no seawater around for this fish to live in, as there was only fresh water around.
When I enquired of God as to the meaning behind this dream, He explained to me with these words that He laid on my heart, I was only living up to a small amount of the potential that He had placed inside of me by me playing rugby. God wanted me to give up my ‘first love’, rugby, which was limiting me for the great potential he had placed in me to be realised. Rugby was my limited surrounding like the fresh water. Through the dream of the sea water fish, He was showing me that He wanted to set me free from the limited into the ‘limitless’ and bigger surroundings of the sea.
Receiving this dream and Jesus speaking to me the meaning behind it was pretty overwhelming for me. Through this dream and me seeking God for wisdom, He showed me that He was going to use me to share the Gospel message. I had a lot of questions as to how I was going to continue to provide for my family, and where I was going to get an income from after rugby. You can appreciate that these were very valid concerns, but they reflected I was not operating out of Faith, but rather doubt.
It was this doubt that made me continue playing rugby rather than pursuing the call that God has given me. I figured that I could have the best of both worlds: play rugby and also do the sports balls ministry.
I was however not prepared to give up playing rugby to fulfill the ministry calling. Being a professional rugby player was my ‘comfort zone’. From rugby I was receiving a steady income and I thought that I could still do the ministry whenever I wanted to.
I played a further two more seasons of rugby and knew in my heart that I had to give it up as it was not fulfilling me as it used to. I was getting more fulfillment out of the outreaches and sports balls ministry than rugby.
I can remember praying to God before my last game of the season around October 2002. I prayed and asked Him to take me out of rugby as I had played enough and wanted to serve Him more.
A real defining moment took place at what was going to be my last professional game. It was against Western Province. Towards the end of the first half I took a severe knot to my shoulder, tearing my ligaments. As soon as I hit the ground from the tackle I knew in my heart that his was my last game. I was substituted and taken off the field.
As it was the last game of the season, and me being the last person to sign to renew my contract for the next season, I approached the coach after the game. That’s when I received the ‘bombshell’ from him. Just one hour before, out club’s major sponsor called to cancel their sponsorship. All the other players had signed before this news except me.
You can imagine how upset I was and cried out to God how this could have been possible.
As I had previously mentioned, playing rugby for me before my encounter with Jesus was my life. Everything I did revolved around rugby and to have to give it all up would have been a real test of my faith.
As much as I was disappointed, I knew in my heart that God was answering my prayers through this sponsor not renewing their sponsorship.
As the Scripture says in Romans 8:25, and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to this purpose.
I can honestly say that had I not ‘encountered’ Jesus and experienced His great love for me, it would have been a difficult decision for me to give up playing rugby.
But after encountering Jesus, when it came to making the decision to five up my earthly passion, it was not difficult. I could see clearly the ‘hand of God’ at work in my life.
When I looked at what Jesus went through on the cross, when He had to die and pay for mine and your sins – all the beatings, pain, humiliation and suffering He endured, me having to give up rugby was nothing in comparison to the great sacrifice He had made for us.
People that knew me at the time were quite taken aback when I announced my plans to retire from rugby. They couldn’t believe that I would do this. According to them,
“I still had more years of playing rugby left in my tank.”
All I could say was when you had encountered the loving and gracious God that I had, there was no turning back from obeying His call over my life.
The story that best describes my situation and one that I relate to often was when Abraham was tested with having to sacrifice his son Isaac, in Genesis 22:1-2,
Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the regions of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
We need to appreciate how much Isaac meant to Abraham, because before Isaac arrived, Abraham and his wife Sarah could not have children of their own. But in their advanced old age God did a miracle and Sarah was able to conceive Isaac.
So, Isaac was the promised child for Abraham and Sarah. He must have been the centre of their attention and affection, a true reminder of God’s supernatural ability to supersede natural limitation. When we read this, we can sometimes think that God was being unkind to Abraham by having him go through this test.
However, God is concerned with the conditions of our hearts, as our heart is where our innermost thoughts and feelings are stored. He wants to have priority over this important place in our lives. With everything around us we can often replace God as being the priority in our life with other things.
It can be material things, our job/business or like in Abraham’s case our family and friends, or in my case our live for sports. God in asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac was actually testing his heart, to see whether Abraham would obey Him or whether his love for his son, Isaac, had replaced his love for God.
In my case before my encounter with God, I had made rugby my priority. But thanks be to God for allowing me to see clearly that rugby was not my priority.
Yes, it was a great opportunity through which God had given me to serve Him, but now like Abraham I had to be prepared to place it on the altar and be prepared to give it up.
God is merciful and in seeing that Abraham was fully committed to serving Him, was able to save Isaac as reflected in
Genesis 22:10-12, Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angle of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
The key principle that we learn from Abraham here is to trust and obey God. Through this God blessed Abraham and raised him to be the ‘father of many nations’. This was only possible because he had obeyed God. Like how God had given Abraham a promise, so He had with me, that revival would start from the town what I was living in.
But there was a condition, which was for me to give up playing rugby to pursue this calling through the sports balls. Please understand that this was God’s word for me, and I am in no way saying that it is a word for everyone to give up what they love.
I had to learn a very important truth that,
‘Where God guides, He provides’.
When we respond to God in faith, He begins to work out supernatural provision.
THE VISION IS BORN
Soon after finishing and leaving the Eagles one night I got the feeling that my stay in George was going to be over. I did not know exactly what God’s plan for me was going to be, but I was sure that I was called to serve God in some type of ministry role.
Two months after my Repentance I got a call from England that a club was interested in offering me a contract to play for them. I disobeyed God and pursued my ‘comfort zone’, rugby.
My reasoning was that since there were many rugby players who dreamed of having the opportunity to play in Europe, I thought that this was God’s way of rewarding me and also me starting up a ministry in England.
I could not fly there immediately as I needed to apply for visas for me and my wife. At that point, I was giving my testimonies in the churches about the encounter I had with Jesus, and that we were now headed for England. Within a week my wife received her visa and I was invited for an interview with the British embassy in South Africa.
I began to question God as to why this process was becoming difficult for me. During the interview, I made a dreadful mistake and lied to the official. I didn’t think it was a ‘big lie’ because I only said to the officer that I had visited Australia on holiday when I actually had gone there to play rugby.
That was not how they saw it and my visa to England was denied. I wanted the visa so much that I compromised my stand with God.
As a young Christian at the time I learnt a valuable lesson about being honest at all times. It’s one thing to know what is the right thing, but is another to do the right thing. The night after I had the interview I knew that by me lying I had missed a good opportunity. However in faith I had to put my mistake pas me and move ahead.
God doesn’t condemn us and neither should we if we have repented.
I had to trust God as He always has something better in the future for us.
As a new Christian you are faced with many challenges as the devil is after you. At that stage I went through difficult times in my life but I maintained my focus on Jesus at all times.
Sadly people that are in the world cannot even see the destruction their sinful lifestyle will bring them. Two month after my encounter with Jesus another defining moment occurred where He clearly gave me direction for the rest of my life. This was one of my greatest moments in my life. I received a vision from God that was for me a hundred times more important than rugby ever was in my life. The vision God gave me was to promote the Gospel on sport balls, displaying it with different relevant colours. At the time I as listening to some worship music and reading the Bible when God got my attention, and gave me this amazing vision.
This was the Scripture form the Bible that confirmed God’s plan for my life that I was reading when I received the vision.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand – when I awake, I am still with you. Psalm 139:13-18
I started ‘Sportballs for Christ’ through a financial blessing from a local businessman.
Through these sponsored funds I purchased one hundred and fifty soccer and one hundred and fifty rugby balls which we gave away at various outreaches. Through this the ministry was birthed. It was very early days but I was glad to have started.
God had opened up the whole world to me to use sport balls to reach out to countries that played rugby, soccer and netball. I thanked God for this vision however it does not belong to me but to our Heavenly Father,
Just as our living ball, Earth, is for everyone to enjoy.
At the time, I prayed to Jesus to send me like minded people who had a similar passion and love for God as I did.
Around November 2002, I was invited for an interview at Radio Pulpit. Listening to the interview was Franna Cillie, who currently plays a huge role in Living Ball.
Now promoting the Gospel through sports balls is my life vision and passion. I believe that it is important that we should ask God for what His calling is for our life and what does He want from us.
In 2005 it was decided through wise counsel and advice to change the name from ‘Sportballs for Christ’ to Living Ball. My heart was now more focussed in the ministry which was my passion and no longer playing rugby.