Derek’s Story: From a Zero in the World to a Hero in God’s Kingdom
Derek Bell of Cape Town, South Africa, has had many struggles throughout his life. His story begins with the awkwardness of navigating his early school years with low self-esteem and coping with the devastating divorce of his parents. From there, he was able to pick himself up and achieve success at university, and although the road was sometimes difficult, he was able to reach his career goals as well. After some painful breakups, he finally met the woman of his dreams and became a father. While he sometimes felt alone, he now knows God was with him, guiding his journey every step of the way.
Here is Derek’s story.
I wholeheartedly believe that every person should be the hero of his or her own life story and that God created each of us perfect in His image. This is my version of my journey and how God guided me through both good and bad times.
A Kid with Low Self-Esteem
I was born in Cape Town in September 1984 and stayed in the Mother City until I was four years old. I am an only child, and my memories of my early years are good. However, during that time, my parents struggled financially, and my mother took time off work to take care of me, putting enormous pressure on my father to be our sole provider. Eventually, my father got a promotion, and we moved to Johannesburg (JHB). The move was hard on me. I thought of Cape Town as my home, and I made it my mission to return one day.
In school, despite my parents’ support and encouragement, I struggled with self-esteem and had a hard time associating with the other kids. Going to school every day felt like being in prison. I didn’t apply myself in my studies and didn’t participate in sports or other extracurricular activities. During my school years, I had just two friends I could trust. Both of them later became groomsmen at my wedding.
My parents got divorced when I was 13 years old. After the divorce, I moved in with my mother and stayed with her until I finished the 11th grade. My schoolwork was still average, at best, and I was close to failing. One afternoon after I got my report card back, I went to my room and was in tears for a long while. Deep down, I knew something was wrong and that things had to change for the better. In that moment, I realized it was time to do some serious soul-searching and ask myself some deep and serious questions:
What is wrong with me?
Why am I allowing this to happen to me?
How am I going to get myself out of the mess I’ve created for myself?
Then I began the recovery process. I’m not sure what triggered this, but unknowingly, I must have called out to God because that afternoon, I pledged that going forward, I would do the following:
Stop letting my parents’ divorce affect me.
Stop believing the bad and negative things I kept hearing from others.
Start taking my school work seriously, and with time, the results will start to show.
Above all else, start showing everybody around me that I am a fighter (not with my hands, but with my mind).
I knew that the road I was about to embark on was going to be difficult. I knew I would have to make certain changes to my lifestyle that I wouldn’t like and that there would be people who would try to discourage me and throw obstacles in my path. I knew I needed to persevere because the end result would be worth it. I was called by God’s purpose and knew that He loved me and would guide me.
The results started to show. I moved in with my dad just before my final year of high school. The environment was much more suited for me to perform better. My father didn’t (and still doesn’t) take any nonsense. I started to focus on my school work and even got my junior black belt in karate. I was achieving above the standard and left the last year of exams with three distinctions, which also allowed me an exemption to study at university.
Launching My Career
With university presenting its own challenges, my daily principles and standards remained the same. A song I kept in my arsenal was “Not Alone Anymore” by the Traveling Wilburys. The song motivated me on my journey and was a friendly reminder that even though I felt alone in my early years, I never truly was. God was always watching over me. During my university years, I traveled to other parts of the country with my father and began to exercise by running. I studied financial management and completed my degree. I still went to visit my family in Cape Town regularly, and my hope of moving back one day was still in the back of my mind.
In my final year of university, I craved more time with God. It was the Holy Spirit planting the seed that I needed to build a better relationship with my Creator. I had gone to Sunday School in the past, but I never really felt I completely understood the impact that Jesus’s death and resurrection had on the world. I ran into an old school mate, and I started attending weekly small group meetings at church with him. We also became a part of the ushering team. We served for seven years in God’s kingdom and became the best of friends and brothers. My social skills were also blossoming.
After finishing my university studies in 2007, I spent six months phoning companies and praying to God for job vacancies. After my first interview with a global company, I was told that I was inexperienced and that I “would be eaten up for breakfast.” I wanted to prove them wrong. I kept applying and ended up getting a job in the communication center of one of the most respected and professional organizations in the world. I would be working in the JHB office, but the headquarters of this company was located in Cape Town. I set myself another goal: In addition to returning to live in Cape Town someday, I wanted to transfer to work at the company’s headquarters.
It's What God Wants
I started at the bottom with five months taking calls in “learning school.” Taking phone calls from clients, both happy and unhappy, can be one of the most stressful but rewarding things to do. I assumed more responsibilities along the way and, slowly but surely, found my feet and earned credibility and recognition — not just for my work, but for being good at “doing the little things,” which is my recipe for success that I follow to this day.
The year 2011 was challenging. When things did not work out for me, I got frustrated and angry. Just when I thought things were getting better, disappointment crept in. I began to feel hopeless. Then one Sunday at church, the pastor spoke the following verse:
That was exactly what I needed to hear to revive my faith and to redirect my focus. Every day from then on, I said to myself, “It’s not what I want; it is what God wants.” With my focus changed, I moved to a different team at work with more responsibilities, and it was the start of more amazing things happening in my life. I started to trust and put my faith in God, which helped me make more sense of God’s purpose for my life.
In 2012, I attended an off-site meeting at my company’s headquarters in Cape Town. I started to get a taste of what working with the Cape Town team would be like. I went back to my office and continued to uphold a strong work ethic, coming into the office before 7 a.m. and sometimes leaving after 5 p.m. I moved on to more advanced teams with more responsibilities.
Outside the office, my school mate turned best friend/brother and fellow servant in God’s kingdom got married and wanted me to serve as a groomsman at his wedding. In my speech, I ended with a promise that I made to God. Normally I’m not the kind of guy who makes promises, as I’m a firm believer that you must always “underpromise and overdeliver.” However, for my Heavenly Father, I had no hesitation in making a promise that I’ve been trying my utmost best to keep to this very day. I promised that as I came to this Earth a son of God, I would leave this Earth a son of God and that nothing (not even the enemy himself) was going to change that. I gave myself the personal job title of a loyal, dedicated and faithful servant — a disciple and warrior of Jesus Christ.
Learning from Two Breakups
At that point, I was 28, and I met my first girlfriend at church. The beginning of a relationship is always the easiest; you’re madly in love, and you can’t wait to see and spend quality time with each other. Then, after three or four months, the cracks start to appear. She called the relationship off after four months. They say that “the first cut is the deepest.” Well, that’s exactly what it felt like for me. For months, I felt heartache.
Later in the year, I met my second girlfriend through online dating. I wanted to meet someone who was beautiful both inside and out. She eventually started to express her intentions of taking our relationship to the next level. I could not give her pre-marital sex. I did not want to jeopardize my biggest and most important relationship — the one with my Creator. After guidance from my pastor, I once again turned down my girlfriends’ advances. She asked me to leave, and I packed my bags. I had a heavy heart but also had the knowledge and assurance from the Holy Spirit that I did the right thing.
Then I sat down and came up with five life principles that I would try to follow in my daily walk with God. I call them the “Big Five.”
To love, glorify and trust God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength
To try to live every day of my life according to the Word of God
To ensure that my relationship with God is as good, solid and intimate as possible
To never, ever risk or compromise my relationship with God for anything or anybody
To help preach the Word of God and be an example for others to follow
During a visit to Cape Town, I applied for a job at the home office. I spent an entire day at the office interviewing. After the day was over, I left the outcome in God’s hands. I later received news that my application was unsuccessful. I asked the human resources agent if I was wasting my time applying again, and her answer was, “It will never work out.” It was a bitter pill to swallow, but I knew that when it was God’s time, He would make things happen for me. I assured myself that it would happen according to His time and His way.
I entered my third relationship, which lasted for eight months. We had different views about both God and life. After this breakup, I assumed I would end up living the rest of my life alone. Yet the Bible says that God’s thoughts are higher than ours. God was probably laughing at me for even having the thought that I would be alone for the rest of my life.
The Start of Something Amazing
I had to go through my breakups to continue walking in the path God had for me. Soon after, I was doing fine. I was used to being alone. But somewhere along the way, I felt the Holy Spirit tell me to give online dating one last chance. I was hesitant. I browsed but wasn’t interested in anyone. Then I came across a profile I really enjoyed reading. We began messaging, and after a few days, we exchanged cell phone numbers. Not long after, we were ready to meet in person. I planned a road trip to meet her. I started getting second doubts. Should I or should I not? But again, the Holy Spirit convinced me to go for it.
We met and had coffee. We clicked. It was also the first time I kissed a girl on the first date. I returned home, but we decided that we wanted to pursue a relationship. I planned another trip to visit her, and I spent time with her and her family. Before I left, she wanted to give me a pre-birthday present. She presented me with a cupcake with a small candle and a little note saying how much she loved me and how much I meant to her. She told me I needed to make a wish, and my wish (in my head of course) was simple: “Father God, make this woman my wife one day!”
Around my 31st birthday, I saw that the job I had previously applied for in Cape Town was available, but the application date had passed. Soon after, I got a call from somebody I knew in human resources. She asked if I would like to apply for the position, even though I didn’t have success applying for the same role the previous year. For me, it felt like God was speaking to me through the HR agent.
Before I submitted my CV, I said, to God, “God, I’m giving this a 99 percent chance of not happening, but I will trust you with the 1 percent that remains because You can do far more with 1 percent than I can do with 100 percent.” That 1 percent was my “faith as small as a mustard seed,” which is all you need.
About a week after I submitted my CV, I got the call — the job was mine!
At the time, my girlfriend was in the process of looking for jobs in JHB to be closer to me. She ceased that search and requested a transfer with her current job as a nurse to a job in Cape Town. We found a nice apartment to live in together and began our move. When it was time to leave my job in JHB, I was presented with a diary of farewell messages wishing me luck and thanking me for being an inspiration to my co-workers. I sent them a message saying that my journey was not by my own strength — I gave all the credit to God.
New Life in the Mother City
There was a transition from life in JHB to Cape Town. The lifestyle, culture, atmosphere and people felt like night and day. I took my girlfriend traveling on the weekends to places she had never seen or heard of. In 2016, I surprised her with a birthday weekend at Victoria Bay. Earlier in the year, we had placed our Love Locks on the fence and threw the keys into the sea. We returned to this place where we had committed our undivided and unconditional love for each other earlier in the year. I got down on my knee and asked her to marry me. After nine months of being a couple, we were engaged. We got married in March 2017. In January 2018, we found out she was pregnant with our first child. We moved into a new house, and in August 2018, our little girl was born. Two months after she was born, I was offered a promotion at work and started my new role in January 2019.
I thank God for making me into the person I am today. Without Him, none of this would have been possible. Some of the things I wanted to achieve years ago, such as having a lot of money, the best job, the fastest car and the best lifestyle, are no longer important to me. I just want to live my life every day for Jesus and let Him be in control. My biggest desire is that one day I will stand in front of God, and He will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
There will always be things you wish you could have done differently. For me, looking back at the person I was compared to the person I am today I know I’ve turned out quite well in the end.
My Take on Derek’s Story
Like many of us, Derek has experienced many ups and downs. Despite sometimes feeling alone, his faith always came back to remind him that God’s grace always surrounds him. His story is a great reminder for everyone who is going through life changes that God is paving our life path. All we need to do is let Him into our hearts and trust Him to guide us through every decision. Derek once desired to have a lot of money and a lavish lifestyle, but now he knows what is really important: living a life that is pleasing to God.
Time for Reflection
Do you sometimes feel alone? What do you do in those times to surround yourself with God’s presence? How do you remind yourself daily to live in the way God has intended? Learning to guide your life based on the path that He has set for you will always lead you in the right direction.