When Rynelle and I came to pastor London Road in Johannesburg, South Africa, I was introduced to Wim as the man who had built the steel structure that held up the roof of the auditorium. The giant structure looked very sturdy, and when Wim shook my hand I understood why. I would describe his handshake as a bear hug with hands.
One of the pastors at the church during that time was Nick Saltas, who is one of the elders on my team now. Nick oversaw the whole building project, and told me that Wim and his crew were very good at their work, but that Wim was extremely harsh with his workers, swearing and shouting at them often. On the completion of the building, Wim and his crew came to the opening ceremony where they were honored for their work. As the Gospel was preached, the Holy Spirit took Wim's heart of stone and changed it into a heart of flesh. This massive bear of a man, with his baseball-mit hands and door-frame shoulders stood weeping like a new born baby. Wim was born again. He got baptized soon after that and he came up out of the water speaking in tongues, full of the Holy Spirit. The transformation was so stark, the next week Wim's crew of workers came to one of the pastors and asked, "What have you done to our boss? Why does he not shout and swear at us any more? Why is he so patient and kind? We do not recognize him."
A few years passed and although God did some remarkable things in Wim's life, some family and work struggles began to wear him down. He started coming to church less frequently and I began to worry about him. He seemed to have lost the early joy of his salvation. So I asked him for a coffee. Now I cannot remember exactly what I said to him over coffee that day. All I can remember is being rather nervous of speaking truth to Wim. His soft heart did not mean that he was any less formidable. He could have bent me like a paper clip.
Nevertheless, Wim, in recounting that coffee to me said that I told him to "get over himself" and come back to church, because God was not done with him. I'm not sure I was quite that bold,
but what I do remember is that Wim responded with humility and began to engage back into community, particularly in evangelism and praying for the sick. I felt very relieved, I must say. Wim could have rested back on his initial story of conversion, but he kept journeying with God. He finished stronger than he had begun because he kept on responding to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
He didn't allow his heart of flesh to become calloused by the trials of life, but kept his heart soft towards God and people. This is as noteworthy as the initial story of his salvation.
What a trophy of grace he was. And what an example of a man who kept walking with Jesus. I pray that His life would spur many people on to fix their eyes on Jesus today, not fixated with past victories or tragedies. Jesus is faithful to lead us on. Will we follow?
We will miss you, Wim Brandhorst. But God's legacy in your life remains.
May it be multiplied in many more men, who have your strong, willing hands and soft, faith-filled heart.
It was an honor to be your pastor and friend.