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From Test Cricket To Exile To Evangelism

by | Tue, Dec 26 2023

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Feature Story From 2023

Henry Olonga is an Adelaide-based Christian evangelist who played test cricket for Zimbabwe before being forced into exile after he wore a black armband during a game to mourn the death of democracy in his homeland under the rule of dictator Robert Mugabe.

He told Vision Radio some Zimbabweans still despise him even though Mr. Mugabe was eventually deposed and died in 2019:

“They were celebrating on the streets when he was deposed. But when I did my protest, there was a lot of opposition internally in Zimbabwe. I was vilified by my countrymen. It wasn’t unanimous. There were people who felt that what I did was the right thing. I think today attitudes have softened.”

“I was informed by my Christian faith to take that stance. I was reading the Bible one day and read Isaiah 1:17: Contend for the widow and the orphan, rebuke the oppressor. I’m not saying that God spoke to me with a loud, booming voice from heaven. I just sensed that we needed to challenge what was going on in Zimbabwe. And there were a lot of things, there were human rights abuses that had occurred historically, there were farm invasions, which many people may have heard of. And of course, there were unfair practices against people who were in the opposition in politics in Zimbabwe. So those were just a number of the things that led me to a place where I felt someone’s got to speak out, someone’s got to say something, someone’s got to do something to show the world that we don’t agree with what’s going on here. And we [with former captain Andy Flower] made an appeal to the powers-that-be to stop those abuses.”

Henry Olonga believes God created the circumstances that saved him from being arrested or killed or “disappeared” and ensured his safe “escape’ to South Africa and eventually England. He had given his heart to the Lord while on a Christian youth camp during his school days in Zimbabwe.

“On the penultimate night of the camp, the gentleman who was running the camp got up and preached the common Gospel message. He preached from the book of Romans. Romans 3:23: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. And then he read from Romans 10:13 which says: All who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. And so he encouraged any of us who weren’t sure about where we would go when we died, to say a little prayer, which I did, inviting the God of creation into my heart and asking God to forgive me of my sins and grant me eternal life.”

“So I did that at the age of 16. There was no emotion surrounding my decision which was very much a cerebral decision. I didn’t hear any trumpets blowing from heaven. There was no weird stuff going on. It was just a decision to believe that God was real, that indeed, Jesus was real, had lived the sinless life and had died on the cross for me, for the forgiveness of my sins, and that if I trusted him, that my sins would be forgiven. And so I did that almost 30 years ago.”

Henry’s cricket career took off as he was considered one of the fastest bowlers in the world, even though he admits he often lacked accuracy and a consistent line and length. But he never lacked enthusiasm to preach the Gospel while on tour.

”I got taken under the wing of an American Southern Baptist evangelist who came to Zimbabwe. He ran baseball camps and he used baseball as a vehicle to share the Gospel. He mentored me for about 3 or 4 years and even when I was an international cricketer he would give me Bible tracts to take with me to Sri Lanka, India or Pakistan, Bangladesh even, because back in the day there was a big focus on the 1040 Window [embracing Asia, the Middle East and North Africa]. So I would go off there and not only share in churches, but I’d write or email churches and tell them I’m on tour, I’m coming, I’d love to fellowship with people, I’d love to share my testimony, which wasn’t much of a testimony back then. It was just, hey, I have heard the Gospel and this is it, and I encourage you to give your life to Jesus.”

After his cricket career’s sudden end, he spent 12 years in England where he worked with evangelist Roger Carswell. “He travelled around the UK and did evenings of evangelism in which he would interview someone like me. We would do it in a lot of churches, schools and universities and that’s how I got my start.”

Henry then moved to Adelaide with his Australian wife Tara and earlier this year became a true blue Aussie after being granted citizenship. He’s a stay-at-home dad and part-time motivational speaker, writer, Christian ambassador and singer.

He first recorded a song he wrote called Our Zimbabwe in a small bedroom. It was banned in his homeland, but eventually became the anthem for change in Zimbabwe and the ousting of Robert Mugabe.

“Our Zimbabwe was a patriotic call to all Zimbabweans, irrespective of their colour, their creed, their backgrounds, to join together with one voice and say, this is our Zimbabwe, this is our country. Very much in the vein of I still call Australia home.”

He often performed Pavarotti’s trademark Nessun Dorma as a “party trick” which led to an invitation to appear on The Voice talent quest, making it through to the battle rounds.

“I’m getting more and more into music. I’m going to be producing new albums, new music in the coming years. I’m going to sing a lot of traditional stuff like the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, recently there was a very famous cricketer who passed away by the name of Brian Booth who was a very wonderful man. He was a Christian and a great evangelist in his own right. I sang at his funeral the Crimond version of Psalm 23. Any good Anglicans will know that version. And I also sang The Lord’s Prayer.”

“If it’s a Christian event, I’m not going to do the secular stuff. Of course I’m going to do the more Christian things. And there’s a beautiful song called Give Me Jesus. It’s a very moving piece and it’s an invitation to people to invite the God of creation into their hearts. And that’s my favourite song that I sing.”

Henry’s most recent project has been updating his autobiography Blood, Sweat and Treason which was first published in 2010. He prepared a 17-hour audio version with a lot more Christian content than the print version. But he believes his main calling is to preach the Gospel:

“I’m obviously available to share Christ wherever I’m invited. I love to work with churches, I love to work with universities. I do go to prisons when the door is opened, but ultimately I’m just so aware at the age of 46 that my time is finite and the most important thing that I can share about my life isn’t how many wickets I took, being on The Voice or any of that stuff, but the fact that there is a loving God who wants people and he invites people into a personal love relationship with himself and that’s the most important decision people can make. More important than the mortgage, who you’ll marry, where you’ll live.”

“The question of where you will spend eternity, I think, is the most important question human beings can grapple with. And if I can be a catalyst for people to consider that in their own lives, then you know, I would love to do more and more of it. So that’s how the next few years look like. At the moment I’m a stay-at-home dad. I’m married to my wife, Tara. We’ve got two wonderful daughters. I’m trying to be a dad and juggle all of this stuff at the same time, but watch this space. There’s lots happening on this front.”

Click below to listen to the full interview with Henry Olonga.