From AmaZulu FC to scoring for the Kingdom

Craig Bouchier is a proud family man and this is evident in the way he talks about his parents, siblings and son. For most of his childhood he lived in Greenwood Park, a lower-middle class community in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). His mother worked as a school teacher and his father was an expert tiler. Church was an integral part of their family life and he enjoyed a good relationship with his parents and three brothers.

“Two of my brothers are excellent singers and led the praise and worship team at church. One of my brothers was so brilliant that he would be invited by international artists to perform when they travelled into the country,” he says. “Another brother and I excelled in sport.”

At school, Craig was on the cricket, athletics, volleyball and soccer teams and he set a goal that by the age of 20, he would play professional football at a national level with a vision to join a club abroad.

AmaZulu debut

“At the age of 20 I made my debut for AmaZulu Football Club but found I wasn’t getting enough game time because I was very young and the team was fighting relegation. I was allowed to go on loan to Durban City and did fairly well but the club was experiencing financial difficulty and couldn’t afford to keep me,” he says.

He then joined African Wanderers but once again left the team because they struggled to pay him.

“Throughout my life I pushed to achieve my soccer career goals, I played in the top amateur league, and represented KZN in the National Currie Cup tournament, and also represented the SA Technikon team. I was earning R400 per month as a footballer which I did not believe was enough money for me to live comfortably and in that time I also met my wife Lynette,” he says.

As life would have it, in 1985 he landed an opportunity with one of SA’s largest retail stores to undergo management training as the first black trainee manager in KZN and since he was keen to tie the knot with Lynette, he saw it as an opportunity for financial stability.

“It was a tough decision to end my soccer career but I also knew this was a massive opportunity,” he says. “I decided to do the two-year training course and completed it within fourteen months. I was promoted to assistant store manager and then manager after two years and faced new challenges dealing with skeptical white customers who often tried to overlook me.”

Nevertheless, his career continued to flourish over the years. He later worked as a manager at a fashion retailer and then at a Garlicks department store which was known as the “Harrods of SA”.

“It was an exciting time in my life. The store had ladies, men and children’s fashion, home decor, three restaurants, hair salons and spanned six floors in a large building,” he says. “At the age of 26 I managed three floors of the department store and about 100 staff members. I was so sad when the brand closed after 127 years.”

However, he continued to excel and went on to work as a regional manager in KZN for another popular clothing brand.

Following a ministry calling

“In 1999 I decided I wanted to heed God’s calling for my life to leave the corporate world and worked full time as a youth pastor engaged in community work and running life skill programs in high schools,” he says. “In order to improve my finances I started two business ventures which didn’t work out. I found myself in debt, struggling financially with a family to support and doubting my decisions.”

But the experience taught him to strengthen his faith and in 2007, he had a breakthrough.

“An opportunity to join an NPO called World Changers Academy became available and I knew that was where I wanted to work, but it was a 50km drive from home and I didn’t have a car,” he says. “But I received a message from my mom to call an old friend who, unbelievably, wanted to give me his car.”

The experience re-ignited Craig’s faith and he enjoyed working at the organisation as an operations manager and later as CEO. In 2013 he was introduced to the Heartlines' Values & Money campaign via his association with Heartlines church mobilisation programme manager Brian Helsby, with whom he had formed a deep connection over the years having met at a youth camp in 1989.

He then went on to roll out Heartlines’ What’s Your Story? programme and in 2019 expanded his commitment to Heartlines by joining the organisation as a regional representative.

Craig says there have been three defining moments in his life that have taught him to be the man he is today.

The first was the loss of his youngest brother at the age of 21, which made him realise the importance of taking up opportunities. The second was learning the true meaning of servant leadership from his local pastor who would sweep and mop the floor at the beginning and end of every occasion at their church while he was growing up. Lastly, his relationship with his son, who also has a talent for playing soccer and had a full scholarship at Taylor University in the USA, but who is now incapacitated by myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

“Looking back at my story when I gave up my soccer career and working in corporate to follow God’s calling in my life, my son forced to give up his journey as a sportsman, as well the exemplary life our pastor, I realise that it’s important for all of us to embrace our unique stories because they have the power to inspire others,” he says.

“It’s not just the exciting parts of our stories that inspire others, it’s also the bad or sad parts. I don’t know what the next journey is in my story, nor do I know how my son’s story will pan out, but God is still writing our stories and that’s what gives me hope.”