Adventurous fun never stops for the daring, says Olympic Chaplain-General David Smethurst
Since the Sydney Olympics in 2000 David Smethurst has been at the forefront of the Olympics chaplaincy services, a challenging role he loves as much as sport.
David is perfectly suited to this role of Chaplain-General as a former under-20 national water polo and discus champion in South Africa, and is presently an international seminar speaker for the Latvian Military Forces, which trains troops for many Eastern European nations.
His love for sport and adventure, David says, "was instilled in me by my great family." His father was a national boxing champion and his uncles were national competitors in wrestling, swimming or soccer.
In his youth David lived among rival ethnic groups and bullies in a poor South African ex-serviceman's village. During this time he learnt how to box from his dad, stand up for his siblings and became best friends with many Zulu kids.
"As this was the apartheid era, I often got into trouble with the authorities (for befriending Zulus)," David recalls, "but I told them to mind their own business!"
These early experiences birthed in David a sense of compassion and justice, which ultimately has lead to his present Australian work that supports 6000 orphans in post-communist Latvia and Ukraine.
As brave as he was, at age 14, the sudden deaths of his grandmother and friend came as a "big shock", he says.
"I realised life was so fragile. Coupled with grief and disappointment, a fear of death began to grow in me.
"After my granny's funeral, I could feel a personality alongside of me that suddenly entered me, and then seemed to disappear. Over the next four years I had suggestive thoughts that didn't come from me, like 'You're not going to succeed unless you do this little ritual'.
"I knew something was wrong as this entity in my head would pressurise me into doing illogical things."
In his final year of high school, David began dating Patsy, a younger woman that he says "had an attractive natural inner beauty that I discovered was the presence of Jesus Christ in her young life."
David always refused to go to church with Patsy, but as he began improving his distance swimming with a sprint swimmer named Trevor, David realised this friend had the same kind of peace, and he acknowledged Jesus Christ as the answer.
"I knew Trevor was terribly lonely 1800km from his friends and had a bladder disease called Bilharzia that could cause liver damage, kidney failure and bladder cancer, but I never once heard Trevor complain about all this.
"To me, Jesus was only a historical figure. The peace Trevor had through Jesus remained in my thoughts for months."
After speaking with Patsy's father about what Trevor had, David went to Patsy's church and enjoyed every part of his time there. When an invitation was given to begin a relationship with Jesus, David shocked many when he shouted, "Yes please!"
“A fear of death grew in me”David continues: "I still did not understand everything, but I was ready to take a step of faith in someone I could trust. Pastor Earle helped me pray this prayer, 'God, I am a sinner. I believe Jesus died for the forgiveness of my sin, and is alive right now to be my Lord and Saviour. I ask Jesus to forgive me and give me a fresh start. Please help me follow You for the rest of my life."
In that evening, David remembers, "I felt a deepening peace in me, and that the war of frustration and lack of purpose was over. Earle gave me five verses from the book of John that gave me victory over later doubts that I was a child of God and had His everlasting life."
Although Trevor and David's friendship grew, Patsy later married another Christian pastor. David met his wife Margurita as they worked together in youth ministry. After ten years as an auditor and finance officer, David became a full-time pastor.
"Over 15 years, speaking at schools, universities and military bases, God raised up leaders for a new South Africa in the future. For six years, security police thought I was a security threat and tapped my telephone, but only found that God was putting a blanket of peace over many troubled areas."
Since moving to Australia in 1988, David has continued training churches in how to share the love of God he had experienced, and began visiting Eastern Europe and supporting orphans there 23 years ago.
Since 2010, David has run seminars with over 20,000 Eastern European solders in Latvia to prepare them for the possibility of facing death, and help to reduce family and marriage failures. He has been told he was asked to help them "because you support orphans in our countries."
"After 53 years," David says, "I still maintain serving Jesus is awesome, and a lot of adventurous fun!" •