Mark Ellis (with Michael Ashcraft, Special to ASSIST News Service) brings an inspirational story of trusting God:
Chris Van Heerden wasn’t supposed to get anywhere near a boxing ring. After doctors operated on his kidney at 3-months-old, he was strictly forbidden from contact sports.
So today, Van Heerden (27) is the current holder of the IBF International welterweight title.
(Left) He beat the previously undefeated Cecil McCalla at Madison Square Garden in 2015.
‘I’m blessed by Jesus Christ,’ the native South African says. ‘Win or lose, I’m blessed.’
Chris may call himself blessed when he loses, but he sure has won a lot. Starting on his native continent, he now holds a record 22-1 (and one draw) including three fights since he’s come to the US. His only loss was in Serbia. Eleven of his wins were by knockout.
Kidney negative prognosis
When he was growing up in Johannesburg, his dad never told Chris the negative prognosis from the doctors. He found out many years later. He bears a scar over his left kidney that is still visible.
‘My dad simply said, “Ain’t no doctor gonna tell me what my kid can and cannot do.” He just believed and declared “In Jesus’ name, my son will be okay,”’ Van Heerden recalls. ‘I’m glad he did that. I’m glad he prayed and believed for me to have a normal childhood. I played rugby and boxing. I was a fit kid.’
Since his father was a respected heavyweight fighter in South Africa in the 1980s, it was easy for Chris to catch the dream. When he turned 18, his dad gave him two options: ‘I’ll pay for you to study at the university and be an accountant, or I’ll support you to get started in a boxing career – but not both,’ Van Heerden says. He chose boxing.
But the dream was doomed immediately. At 18, he failed the physical fitness test to obtain his boxing licence in South Africa. Then the doctor diagnosed diabetes.
Driven to prayer!
The heartbreak drove him to prayer – for the first time in his life.
‘I found myself on my knees. I’d never done that before. As a kid you just go to church every Sunday, and you’re back in school on Monday, and you forget about it,’ Chris says. ‘I prayed. I made a promise to God that I would tell people about this, that I would give the glory to God, if he would heal me.’
Three days later he returned to the doctor, who discouraged him from testing again. ‘It’s my money, doctor, just do the test again,’ he told the sceptical doctor.
The test came back negative and Chris got the professional boxing licence. Dexterously he won the South African and ABU titles. After losing to Serbian Ivica Stevanovic, he returned to his winning ways by downing countryman Kaizer Mabuza to capture the IBO welterweight belt.
All the while, Chris was using the fame to tell people about the reality of Jesus Christ in his life. He would interrupt conversations and go out of his way to inject the good news about Jesus.
‘I used to be that kid that would tell people about the Lord, he recalls. ‘I would stick to my promise.’
Then, America beckoned with the illusion of greater boxing prospects.
‘I was living a comfortable life in South Africa. Money was coming in. I was famous,’ he says. ‘But my dream was always to come to America. California is the boxing capital of the world. The rewards are so much better here. Everybody sees you. The best of the best are here.’
Crying out to God
Chris moved to America. His contact promised that all the paperwork would be taken care of, but it wasn’t. Because he lacked the proper visa to ‘work’ in the United States, he couldn’t defend his title and had to relinquish it.
Alone in his apartment, Chris Van Heerden cried out to God.
‘How did I go from being on top of the world and being a world champion without me doing anything?’ he wondered. ‘Then I realised that almost without even realising it, I had slowly stopped talking about Jesus and testifying like I used to. I kind of went off the path a little bit.
‘It was my mistake. I stopped keeping my promise,’ he told congregants of the Lighthouse Church, where he now attends. ‘It’s so easy for the Lord to teach us a lesson. So I got back on track, and now I’m happy again. It just feels good.’
Chris with some Lighthouse Church School students
Chris Van Heerden got his paperwork in order and in 2013 he set up residence in Santa.
In January 2014, he prevailed over Mexican Cosme Rivera. Two-and-a-half months later he defeated Gahnian Ray Nahr. He was working his way up to the big fight against the American McCalla, who had never lost in 20 bouts.
To win in Madison Square Garden in New York was a dream come true!
The real dream – touching lives for Christ
As a Christian boxer, Van Heerden receives sarcastic remarks about God helping him in the ring.
A new kind of Bible belt!: two winning belts, but what matters most is his Bible in hand (in Afrikaans, of course, for the South African)
‘I’m not praying that I’ll beat a guy up,’ he says. ‘I’m a believer that the guy who deserves it the most will win.’ His favourite verse is 2 Timothy 1:7, ‘For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’
Chris added, ‘I’m never afraid when I go into the ring. On May 9, I just want to stand in that ring and tell the 15,000 fans that I’m blessed by God. If I touch one person’s life, then I’ll be happy. That’s my dream.’