Interview by: Gillian Fraser
Article source: JOY! Magazine
Siya Kolisi is well known in South Africa for his incredible rugby skills, and for being the first black man to captain the Springboks. He is loved by many for his passion for the sport, yet it is his passion for Jesus that is more impressive! Kolisi is outspoken about his faith, and captains the Boks by drawing his strength from the Word of God. I had the privilege to chat to him about his walk with Christ.
Came from nothing
Siya’s story of success began in the impoverished township Zwide in Port Elizabeth, where He grew up. He endured a tough upbringing, being raised by his grandmother, aunt, and uncle in their cramped home in the settlement. His gran was a Christian and took their family to church every Sunday from an early age. His father lived in Cape Town, and his mother in the periphery, too young to raise him.
Heart breaking beginnings
Siya mentioned that didn’t have much growing up, and that a plate of food was a rare site. He didn’t have toys, he didn’t have a proper bed, but he grew up grateful. “I remember just being very happy,” he said in an interview with MensHealth. “I didn’t have much, but what I had – it meant the world to me.” His grandmother was his rock, and he was heartbroken when she passed away. “She was everything to me: my parent, my best friend,” he says. He was at home when she collapsed in the kitchen and died in his arms. He remembers running outside and pleading for help, asking, in the final moments of his childhood innocence: “Is she dead?” “But I’m glad I was there, that she didn’t die alone,” he says. “Always, I wish she was here right now, to see what I have made of myself. I wish I could repay her for what she gave me. For the advice, the inspiration; for all the days she put me ahead of herself and suffered so that I could be what I needed to be.”
A family man
Siya grew up faster than any child should have, yet he learnt the value of family through it all. His mother passed away when he was a teenager, and left behind two young children – his half siblings – whom he had not met. They spent 5 years in orphanages and foster care. Kolisi had a desire to bring the family together, and would travel to PE in the off season to search for them. He scoured the township, interrogating extended family and knowledgeable strangers. But he always returned to Cape Town empty-handed. At this time in his life, Siya had drifted from God and had left the Church.
A wonderful discovery
In 2014, Kolisi was successful in finding Liyema and Liphello, and instantly fell in love with them. He was only 23 himself, with his entire rugby career ahead of him, but he could not leave them behind. He officially took custody and brought them back with him to Cape Town. They now live together with Siya and his wife, Rachel, and their two children, Nicholas and Keziah.
Inspirational rugby career
Coming from a township in South Africa, Kolisi did not always have access to the best rugby opportunities. He set out to overcome his circumstances and become more than a statistic. His tenacity and drive ensured that he stood out from the rest, and his skills on the field impressed scouts from an early age. Kolisi was offered a scholarship at Grey Junior School at the age of 12, and subsequently enrolled at Grey High School in his teens, where he kept his focus on rugby and joined the first team.
His rugby career went from strength to strength, until he was appointed captain of the Springboks rugby team in February 2017, a move that Bryan Habana praised as, “A monumental moment for South African rugby, and a moment in South African history.” Speaking with SA Rugby, Siya said, “Whoever you are, whatever your colour or your situation, your past doesn’t determine your future. If you keep pushing for what you want, you will get it. That is true in life as well as sport. There will be tough times, but you have to use those challenges to drive you forward.”
Drawing close to God
In 2015, three weeks after the World Cup, Siya felt the Lord calling him back. He expressed how he had drifted so far from God, yet how him and his wife sat together and spoke about how they needed Him in their lives. They made a decision to start attending church, and joined Hillsong Century City. Siya spent a lot of time with Pastor Phil Dooley, who mentored him in his walk with Christ. Siya’s life has never been the same again, and him and his wife are now absolutely on fire for Jesus.
Q. The rugby world is difficult to live out your testimony, you are exposed to much temptation, how do stay strong in your faith and your walk with God?
A. The temptations are real, at times we all struggle and make mistakes. The best is to always surround yourself with Christians – there are many in the team. They will encourage you, build you up, and will always keep you accountable. We have Bible studies as a team and often pray together. I try to also read the Word as much as I can when I am alone, every single night before bed. I also love reading devotionals!
Q. Rugby is a very competitive sport where winning or losing can test your self-image. How do you process it?
A. I always tell my teammates that your talents are God-given. We must always remain humble. It is a great blessing to know that no matter what, nothing can deter God’s Will – it will always be done. I tell my teammates to always ‘train your best and give it your all’, I always ask God to use me. I put it all in His hands. Knowing that He is in control gives me peace. It is important to know your value, to know who you are in Christ.
Q. How has your game changed since you have become captain?
A. I’m taking on a lot more responsibility. My game took a dip initially – But it just got better and better as I started relaxing. I’m working harder than ever before, and I am giving it my all.
Q. How do you grow in your faith walk as a family?
A. I’m away a lot of the time, which makes routine more difficult. Rachel is an amazing mom and has a great support group from church. We go to church every Sunday when I am home, and she takes the family to church every Sunday when I am not around. Rachel makes sure to lead us all in example, and encourages us daily to read the Word and to lean on God.
All things through Christ
Siya is bold about his faith and leans on Scripture to get him through the tough times, on and off the field. Keep this man of God in your prayers and he shines Christ’s light in South Africa. Pray for his strength, for his faith, for his family, and for his commitment to always honour Jesus and seek Him first.
This interview first appeared in JOY! Magazine in January 2019.
Date published: 31/10/2023
Photographer: Waldo Swiegers / SA Rugby
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