Farmer makes miracles

To draw more than 60 000 men to a non-sporting, Christian event is not just an achievement, it could be deemed a miracle.

From all parts of South Africa and various corners of the globe, they came to the Mighty Men's conference in the small KwaZulu-Natal town of Greytown last weekend.

In three Boeings from Cape Town, 17 buses from Nelspruit, with cars backed up for nearly 30km on the road from Pietermaritzburg to Greytown, men converged on the farm Shalom. There was even a contingent of 140 farmers from Queensland, Australia.

Lawyers, doctors, businessmen, farmers, an army general - from Ireland, America, England, Australia, Swaziland, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa - were there for one purpose: to hear farmer-turned-evangelist Angus Buchan, of Faith Like Potatoes fame, speak, and hopefully turn their lives around.

About 80 percent of those present were Afrikaner men - and many of these Mighty Men were soon weeping as they listened to the powerful message that they "should take back the family unit".

For Buchan, 60, what was particularly staggering was that men responded in such numbers.

While even a mixed gathering of such proportions, including women and children, would have been difficult to comprehend in a small rural town, for men to feel the call and make the pilgrimage was literally earth-shaking.

As businessman Myles Buxton of Durban put it: "They were shaking the ground with the power of their voices as they sang."

Buxton said many of the participants had not really been sure why they were there. "But we knew we were there for a reason, and boy, did it arrive. There were these big, strong men crying like little babies. So did I."

Buxton had never before sung praise and worship in Afrikaans, but joined in with gusto. He felt that people often saw faith as something they could turn off and on depending on the circumstances. "But this was no Disney World experience. What we all encountered was a very real experience."

One of the Sharks coaches, Balie Swart, who was a Springbok rugby player and one of the World Cup-winning squad in 1995, said he had persuaded about 30 men from Cape Town to attend the conference.

"We need to understand that many men have problems with ego, machoism, pride," he said.

Obviously, the spirit of the conference remained with these men. One of them told Swart that on the flight home the plane had resounded with cries of amen and songs of praise.

The flight attendant giving the safety instructions finished off his routine with an amen.

"Then the pilot asked them to pray for a safe flight home and told them he, too, was a born-again Christian," said Swart.

Clive McMurray of Kloof said he had been to several Mighty Men conferences and had watched the numbers grow each year. "Angus's messages don't change dramatically from year to year, but are always based on telling men they must get their act together."

McMurray said the emphasis was on committing and recommitting, on going back home and loving the people around you. The focus was also on repentance and praying for South Africa and on loving one another in the way Jesus had loved.

If people were harbouring prejudices against other races, they should get it out of their systems. "He cries 70 percent of the time on stage," said McMurray.

For Buchan, what brought all these men together is easily explained. "God gave me a directive to turn fathers back to sons and sons back to fathers, to take back the family unit," he explained, saying he was still pinching himself to see whether it had not all been a dream.

Although he has been asked why there was no conference for women, he said his directive had been to challenge men to stand up and be counted: "To be prophet, priest and king. They must be the breadwinners, protect their wives and discipline their children."

Telling how the Mighty Men conferences first started, Buchan said that, some years ago he had been booked to make appearances in places as far afield as Newfoundland and India.

At the first Mighty Men gathering five years ago 240 men turned up; 600 the next; then 1 060. Last year the figure rose to 7 400. Then came this year's mind-blowing 60 000 to 65 000.

Buchan believes that with this kind of support, South Africa can flourish; that it will not start with the politicians, but with people learning respect for each other. To this end, he has booked the 50 000-seater Loftus Versveld stadium for July 19 - and tickets are already sold out.

"We were told we would be lucky if we could sell 10 000," he said. On August 2, he hopes to fill Kings Park in Durban.

Port Elizabeth, East London, Kimberley, Windhoek and Kroonstad all are in the pipeline.