“I think if you do things differently, you make people think differently,” shared Van Zyl from South Africa. “Cause normally someone my age doesn’t train as much as I do. Or change careers and work twice as hard as he’s normally done in his life!”
“The last 40 years consisted of four careers and now I’m on my fifth one,” he explained, citing his time spent in the air force, defense industry, working in an investment bank and as part of a small corporate finance team facilitating transactions for small companies and listing them on the local stock exchange.
Looking at retirement, Van Zyl decided he: “wanted to contribute to other people’s lives with no expectation.” So he began sifting through volunteer opportunities from around the globe on the internet. But the more he looked, the more Van Zyl felt God telling him he was supposed to stay where he was in South Africa. One night at his church’s home group, he spoke with another member about the organisation she served with. As she described her role in financial development with OM, Van Zyl was amazed and said: “That sounds like what I’m doing in the finance world. Do you have a job for me?”
The answer was yes.
It was the link between faith and his work experience that interested Van Zyl. Now, he helps teams raise funds, plan strategically and communicate with donors to help further the work God is doing in 13 countries across southern Africa. “I have found that, working with the different fields, I can help the young people grow in their roles and support the Field strategically – aspects of my career that I loved to do, and now continue to do so,” said Van Zyl.
“I had lunch with one of my clients and he said: ‘So, what are you doing? Are you getting paid for [working with OM]?’ And I said: ‘No. You don’t realise that what I’m getting is much bigger – you can’t comprehend it in terms of money returns. It’s multi-dimensional. It’s much bigger than anything money can give you.’”
Van Zyl started cycling at the age of 53 as a way to stay in shape but it quickly became something more. “When I’ve got something, then I use it – it’s not going to collect dust in the corner,” he said. “So I got a bicycle and I cycled.”
Today, Van Zyl cycles a minimum of three times a week, covering around 200 km total. The mornings he rides he sends out a WhatsApp to a group of cyclists describing the route and people join if they can. “I can see that it has changed some people’s lives in a different way because they hang out in that group,” said Van Zyl.
The group is made up of riders of different fitness levels and goals; some are riding to improve their overall health while others are training for races. “The group provides this environment – you’re never alone on your own fitness journey whilst being involved in the journey of others,” explained Van Zyl. Cycling together—sometimes for hours—also provides time to talk. “I have found that there’s a lot of counselling happening on these long rides,” Van Zyl said. “I just listen and try and provide a different perspective on the situation that [the person] finds themselves in.”
In 2019, Van Zyl joined Ride 2 Transform Malawi (R2TM) – a seven-day cycling trip through Malawi with the purpose of praying for and ministering to the unreached people groups living there. “The cycling is actually easy,” remembered Van Zyl. “For me it’s more about spending time with missionaries, seeing what people do and engaging with them.”
It impacted Van Zyl to see missionaries’ dedication to—and excitement to continue serving—the rural people of Malawi by sharing the gospel in different ways.
Van Zyl grew up in the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. There was a period in his early twenties when Van Zyl wasn’t very committed to going to church but “somewhere along the line I decided you either take your faith to a serious level or just ditch it – it’s not like a hybrid.”
So he took his faith to a serious level.
In living out his life for Jesus, Van Zyl became involved in serving within the various churches he attended over the years; usually as an elder, deacon or by being on the church board. “Now I’m a car guard,” he said. “I smile at people and make small talk in the parking area.”
Van Zyl said that while the job might not be what the average church-goer would volunteer for, he enjoys it. “I’ve had some serious chats on relationships with other guys on the team, whilst on duty! Oh, and I do manage to welcome the people!”
‘Doing things differently’ has helped Van Zyl start conversations and share Christ’s love with the people around him and he urges others to do the same.
“Walk out of your comfort zone. See what opportunities God opens up for you; and with His guidance and assurance, embrace them and get involved. It’s a world full of surprises – like me ending up in my current role in OM!”