Ivan Strydom is thankful for a youth leader who noticed him and gave him time


I am from Zimbabwe and don’t come from a Christian family, I was introduced to faith by a good friend who took me to youth group when I was aged 16.

I went to an all-boys school in Bulawayo, south of the country, and went to youth group like most boys did back then, to go and find a girlfriend and see what was going on! It was based at a gun range on the outskirts of town.

I was into sport more than my studies and motivated to do my very best. But I would never have stayed or come to faith or been who I am today but for Kevin.

He invested in me each week, which on reflection felt like hundreds of hours each month.

I guess he could tell I needed to talk things through and he basically took me by the collar and said, ”I think there’s more going on here than you’re letting on. Let’s just put aside the nonsense and let’s do real life!”

Kevin was a volunteer in his early 20s who gave up his Friday nights for youthwork. He worked full time and didn’t have a car. He cycled everywhere and came from a really humble background. He lost his dad quite early on and his best mate passed away in his sleep due to complications with diabetes.

I guess he must have invested in other young people, but he certainly made me feel like I was a priority.

In addition to youth group on a Friday,  we were at Kevin’s place on a Tuesday night for Bible study and would stay for hours. Then on Saturdays, he would join us for volleyball, and he got me plugged into church on Sunday. We lived on the outskirts time. So it was a good 10km round trip cycle for him to get to youth or church. It was never a problem; he was passionate about letting us know he was always there for us.

As well as investing in me, he would involve me in helping out, doing things to keep the group running. And about two years later, the then leader Warren King, was in the process of planning to step down and asked me if I would take over. I led with another young guy, and we were probably aged 19 at the time. Kevin and Warren were always there to supporting and guiding as we led.

This was at a time of strife within Zimbabwe and was a key moment, because a lot of the unrest was starting to come into town from the farms. We were in the discussion of how do we run things safely with the youth and the kids coming around? We’re in the middle of nowhere, essentially.

I left Zimbabwe to begin ministry at Oasis Trust in London but had to return to Zimbabwe, as our family farm was in the process of being taken away from us by the Zimbabwean government. Over the years I had been burnt by church life and it had taken its toll. I drifted, I moved around a few areas but ended up meeting up with Kevin who was living in South Africa. He once again stood in the gap for me and helped me see that God had a plan for me. So, God clearly used him to help me stay on track.

I now live in Andover, Hampshire and have been working in Andover Baptist Church for over 10 years, leading Youth and Yong adults as well as working part time for the Further Faster network as NextGen Ministry Area champion - all because a three decades ago someone wanted to show me God had more for me.

Church life is full of unsung heroes like Kevin. He inspired me to be my best and to serve God. If you have opportunity to invest in young people, take it. There will be people like me who need time and energy, and God will bless whatever you offer.