Equipped for ministry by formative years

THERE was a small turnout for the first Christian Men’s Association breakfast of the year last Saturday, but those who did attend enjoyed the testimony of businessman and former Baptist pastor Louis Marais.

JOY IN THE JOURNEY: Guest speaker at the Christian Men’s Association breakfast Louis Marais, centre, with old friends Lyn and Eldin Rudolph of the Port Alfred Celebration Centre Picture: JON HOUZET

Marais, who pastored churches for 16 years, started with a humorous story of how he made a point of never standing at the door after church services to greet all the people.

“I couldn’t bear the thought of shaking people’s hands while they looked me in the eye and told me how much they enjoyed the sermon, and I’d seen them sleeping through the service. So rather prevent them from lying and greet them at the beginning of the service,” he said, to laughter.

Marais said he had the privilege of growing up in the “States”, by which he meant Milner Estate, a poor white suburb in East London.

If you ever went to Jock’s Café the challenge was to get back home while avoiding the neighbourhood bullies

“If you ever went to Jock’s Café the challenge was to get back home while avoiding the neighbourhood bullies who would grab chunks of your loaf of bread or take a swig out of the milk bottle. I learned to run fast.”

After that his family moved to a boarding house in Southernwood, where they family shared one room. His dad put some cupboards up between parents and children.

“One thing I learned was to treasure your privacy and space, and to hit the bath first.”

He attended Cambridge Junior School.

“Those formative years flew by. I was headboy – it was a tough choice. I wondered why I was part of such a big group in the headmaster’s office, and he said, ‘This year we’ve decided to choose someone to lead the best of the worst’.”

He came to faith when he snuck into a youth camp his older sister attended while she was involved with First Baptist Church in East London. At 12 he was a year younger than the cut-off for the camp.

I heard the gospel in a very simple way

“I heard the gospel in a very simple way,” he said. He asked to meet with pastor Rex Mathey, who explained the gospel to him and he was saved. “That was 50 years ago.”

Through the mechanical work done by his father, Marais developed a passion for engines. “I would be tuning cars at eight years old,” he said.

He started working at 15 and a half, and lied about his age for a few months until he got to the legal working age.

“During this time God was very much part of my life, but He wasn’t my life,” Marais said.

At 19 he was a qualified automotive machinist. He packed his Cortina and went off to join the air force, aspiring to work on aircraft engines.

“Three days after my 20th birthday I was married. I was ready – I had been working for five years.”

While serving as a flight engineer with the SA Air Force, an incident at the Angolan border made him reflect on life.

“We flew in to do a casevac [casualty evacuation] and I came across the Kaffrarian Rifles from East London. They had got into some chaos and went over a landmine and the Bedford was blown into the air,” he said.

Someone he knew called Mossie Mostert was killed. “I was sitting in the back of the plane and thinking I need some direction in my life.

“Together with direction there’s got to be a time of decision.”

Marais referred to the story of the Prodigal Son in the Bible. “It’s such an incredible story. He knew the direction he wanted to go – back to his father. He made a decision and got up and went.”

Marais attended Baptist Theological College from 1981 to 1984, and shortly after that felt called to plant a church in Richard’s Bay, at that time a town of about 20 000 people, but with potential growth because of developing industry.

His experiences ranged from being called a communist, to having a gun pointed at him after he was dragged into a domestic dispute, to being hauled off to the police station for putting a pamphlet under a windscreen wiper.

They made the move through Baptist Home Missions and prepared for their first church service in a double garage on February 3 1985. He walked the streets handing out 3 500 pamphlets inviting people to the first service.

His experiences ranged from being called a communist, to having a gun pointed at him after he was dragged into a domestic dispute, to being hauled off to the police station for putting a pamphlet under a windscreen wiper.

But the biggest disappointment was that only three locals came to the service.

He described Richard’s Bay as a “wild, incestuous community”. But on reflection he considered how growing up in Milner Estate and living in one bedroom in Southernwood had prepared him for the journey.

Marais spent five years in Richard’s Bay, then pastored Benoni Baptist Church from 1989 to 1995, before returning to the business world, first in the Bearing Man group, and now a director for Jacobs Holdings.

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