By Darryl Budge
Aussie rugby league super star on incredible NFL journey
A near-miss with a bullet was the catalyst for Jarryd Hayne's transformation from being in the wrong crowd to an international sports star who has played for the San Francisco 49ers.
The former NRL star all-rounder was out drinking with three Parramatta Eels teammates in 2008 when one got into a scuffle with a group of bikies at Kings Cross in Sydney.
Later in the night Jarryd recalls he and his friends saw these men again and they became upset. As Jarryd and his friends fled, one bikie fired a bullet mere metres from him.
"For probably the next year I had sleepless nights, waking up at 11 o'clock running out of the house... [and thinking] 'They're coming for me'. I was a marked man, I was told," Jarryd shared in a 2011 radio interview on LightFM.
In fear for his life, Jarryd resolved, "I am a rugby player – I'm not a bikie, a gangster, a person who should be mucking around with guns."
That tumultuous year he says "was a God-glorifying year and something that changed my life. It made me who I am."
Honouring God is the new focus of Jarryd's life, and the core reason he gives for overcoming the formidable odds of transferring his rugby league skills to NFL success in the USA.
"For me I've always put God first in this journey," Jarryd told Channel 9 TV in September.
"I know that without Him there would be nothing... no hope," he said.
Without the spiritual aspect, he added, "it just doesn't make sense."
For 20 years of his life Jarryd was agnostic about God until he experienced a living connection with God through the Fijian team at the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.
During the team training and month-long tournament, he recalls being impressed how the team and chaplain prayed twice a day, shared Bible verses and sang hymns during half-time.
"The things they were saying [to encourage each other] were really good, pure and authentic," Jarryd remembers.
"There was just something about this team... confident, passionate and knows how to win. We all just fed off each other."
After their underdog team defeated France, Jarryd began to wonder, "Who is this God fella? What else can this bloke do? This person they're talking about is alive, real and authentic. I want to know more."
When he saw and felt things he had never felt before, Jarryd says he felt so fulfilled by God that he wanted to give the Lord Jesus Christ control of his life.
"You are going to be that fulfilled (by God)", he says "that you will understand who He is", that is, to know and receive His goodness and perfection.
With Jesus in control his life, his performances in 2009 led to the highest accolades, the Dally M. Medal and International Player of the Year.
In 2013, TV presenter Ernie Dingo asked Jarryd what his religion means to him on the Pacific Sport 360 show.
Jarryd replied, "For me, relationship with God is everything. Religion is something you have to do, relationship is something that you want to do.
"When you're in a relationship with someone you're going to want to be in connection with them, you're going to want to be with them and show them love and show them time."
In another interview Jarryd explains that Jesus represents "The ultimate sacrifice... He gave His life for us. Shed his blood for us [to pay for our sins].
"His sole purpose was to show love and make everyone understand that there is something bigger and better and greater," he adds, referring to having an intimate relationship with God.
The alternative according to Jarryd is to "be curled up into this life and lifestyle that we have now."
Earlier in 2015 Jarryd explained to the world's press that being a Christian is not about being flawless, but about submitting to the Holy Spirit's supernatural transformation.
"I'm the worst Christian I know," Hayne said at a March media conference confirming the San Francisco 49ers had secured him as an undrafted free agent.
"I'm not perfect. I struggle with sin and temptation all the time. For me, they are the key areas where I want to improve as well. They're part of that journey now. It's not just about playing in the NFL.
"Christ comes before everything. That is why, when you make those decisions, if you don't have Him to lean on or focus on, there's going to be a lot of dark days over there. It won't last. I won't last."
Even in the dark times and mistakes of his past, Jarryd believes God "works for the good of those who love Him" (Romans chapter 8, verse 28).
"For sure I regret my past, but if I didn't go through it I wouldn't be able to glorify God's name now the way I do," he concludes assuredly. •