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'I have seen the change Angus has made'


There must be some magic in it. Why else would thousands of men travel to camp on a farm in the Midlands to listen to a man in a cowboy hat berate them for not being "mighty"?

The idea of a men-only gathering in the bush without wives or wine is interesting. Curious, too, is that most of the men are white Afrikaners who have come to listen to a Bible-bashing evangelist who can't muster more than a few words in Afrikaans and until a few years ago was largely unknown.

Then consider that the organisers don't prescribe the age of participating men, because in some cultures, according to Buchan, you are a man if you can shoot a rifle and that could be nine years old. This might seem sinister to some.

Righteous religious folk are as loved as they are loathed. Consider how people react to wars of faith, Catholic priests fiddling with boys, or thieving, womanising televangelists propping up politicians. The world is fraught with hypocrisy and it stirs people.

But what has this got to do with Buchan and the thousands of Christian men who have journeyed to his Greytown farm for seven years to seek spiritual guidance?

Nothing, except that cynics are sceptical of matters of faith.

The first person to agree is Bruce Winship, a no-nonsense Durban businessman who became a born-again Christian 15 years ago. He was among the 200-odd men who gathered at Buchan's first Mighty Men Conference and he has attended every one since.

He has also heard just about every criticism of Buchan, including that he is a false prophet.

"Angus preaches a simple faith. Potentially it lacks some detail, but the reality of Christianity is that it is a simple message to follow... it's about being down-to-earth, living an honest, wholesome life and correcting your priorities. I have seen the change that Angus has made in many lives, including my own."

Winship says Buchan is not being exclusive in holding men-only gatherings. He believes he was called by God to speak to men.

"At the end of the day it is not about what your mates say. It is about what your wife and your children say. Do you honour and respect them?"

Winship says Buchan attracts criticism because he uses evangelical tools, miraculous "signs of wonder": "Naturally people are sceptical about that. Unless you have heard the message you would regard the whole thing as unusual. But people come back feeling motivated and ready to make the changes in their lives."

What of Buchan's critics who say he advocates unequal relations for men and women in marriage?

Winship says the conference is as much for women as it is for men. But men need to be mentored by men to accept that they have abdicated their role in society, "and society is paying for it".

Former Springbok rugby player Balie Swart says Buchan's gospel is aimed at restoring families. To those who haven't attended, the idea of men gathering in the bush sounds "bizarre".

"But it is about being humble before God and behaving like a gentleman."

Swart said Buchan's message was about "standing up and being counted" - putting the family at the centre of your life, rejecting injustice and remembering "God is a God of forgiveness".

Scott Hamilton, a Durban preacher, says the concept comes from the Old Testament where King David gathered a group of "mighty men" around him who performed great deeds.

But Hamilton says the event is far from a chest-beating "rah-rah" rally - it's about being meek. He says men gather in small groups and draw strength from one another, to live better lives. "It's about humbling ourselves before God. About being less opinionated; it might actually make you less mighty in the world's eyes."

The Reverend Fred Shaw, head of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in South Africa, has no beef with Buchan, but is wary of big evangelical events. "A rock concert and a rugby match can also create a stir and euphoria. It only lasts until bed time."

Professor Johannes Smit, head of religious studies at UKZN, says Buchan's events wouldn't attract such big numbers if there wasn't a need. "We should take note of this phenomenon. It is one of a leader who doesn't have the normal credentials of being a leader... but who has something ordinary people can associate with."

Buchan has sold a million inspirational DVDs in the US. He uses the money to hold his rallies. "Not one cent goes to Angus. He lives in the same wattle and daub house that he built on his farm. He drives the same old car. He doesn't even have medical aid," Winship says.

"Unless you hear the message for yourself you'll never really understand... at some stage in your life you realise there is more to life than putting yourself before others."


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