From veterinary to preaching the Word

Be careful what you read. It might change your life.

Even if it’s only a bumper sticker.

Consider how unlikely it was in the first place that Matt Viljoen was even in a position to see that bumper sticker as a 34-year-old in the coastal village of Broadstairs, England.

He’s not from Broadstairs, for one thing; or even from England. He’s from South Africa, where he was educated as a veterinarian. He was in Broadstairs on that day in 1999 because he and his wife and their two young daughters had moved there on word that South African veterinarians were much in demand in the United Kingdom.

“My wife actually suggested … six months, and then tour a little bit with our children,” Viljoen recalled.

He was on his way to work on that Thursday morning, but driving the car was atypical. He ordinarily made the three-mile commute by bicycle, finding that to be the most efficient way.

The intersection where he was stopped behind the car with the bumper sticker was the only one in Broadstairs with a stoplight. The bumper sticker carried the name and frequency of a Christian radio station.

Viljoen was intrigued.

He and his wife had already made the most important decisions of their lives. Though both had grown up regularly attending church, they had been “cultural Christians,” in Viljoen’s words. But three years earlier, having blown through the original six-month plan, the Viljoens had met another South African couple – another veterinarian – who had come to faith in Christ. Their new friends led them to a relationship with Jesus as well.

Course change

The Viljoens had gotten involved in an evangelical church and were growing. But Matt Viljoen, who describes himself as inquisitive, wanted to go deeper. Until seeing that bumper sticker, though, he hadn’t been aware there was such a thing as Christian radio. (At the time, he said, there was only one Christian radio station in all of the south of England.)

He tuned in the frequency on the bumper sticker at first opportunity. The first thing he heard was a teaching by Charles Swindoll on Insights for Living from TWR. He was hooked. He still has books from several of Swindoll’s sermon series in his home.

It was the beginning of a course change for Viljoen.

“I’m a positive kind of person, so listening, especially listening to the Swindoll sermons … I wanted to teach other people,” he said. “So in practice, in the consulting room, I would use that to start evangelizing people. … The consulting room was a training ground to me.”

Within another three years, Viljoen had made the decision to switch from veterinary practice to preaching. He enrolled at The Master’s Seminary in Los Angeles, California. His desire, after completing seminary, was to return to Europe, and he had offers to teach at Bible schools in Berlin and in Zurich.

“I was keen for that,” he said. “I wasn’t heading back to South Africa.”

Return to South Africa

But 18 months before graduation, a seminary graduate who had returned to South Africa contacted him. He invited Viljoen to join him at his church with a three-year plan in mind for planting a new church with Viljoen leading it.

“Eventually we decided to come back to South Africa at the end of 2007 in October, and the church plant that was a three-year project literally happened within three months,” Viljoen said.

The church, about halfway between Pretoria and Johannesburg, started small, he said, with 14 adults and 14 children. But in 11 years, God had grown the church to the point that another church could be planted. This was in Pretoria, because a number of people had been driving from there to the first church plant. Viljoen is pastor of the second church plant, called Pretoria Christian Congregation. Services are conducted in Afrikaans.

Along the way, the preacher whose career was inspired by radio teaching spent time on the radio himself. For more than four years, he was featured on a weekly question-and-answer program about the Scriptures.

One of the reasons he decided to come back to South Africa, Viljoen said, is to counter a superficiality he sees in many of the country’s churches today. But clearly, some are as hungry for spiritual truth as he was back in England in 1999. People drive as far as 100 miles to attend Pretoria Christian Congregation.

His life hasn’t always gone in the direction he expected, but Viljoen is OK with that.

“So, no, the intent wasn’t initially to come back to South Africa,” he said. “But as Proverbs 16 says, ‘Man plans his steps, but it’s the Lord who directs them.’”


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