He spoke to EN about his life as a professional sportsman and his Christian faith.
EN: Can you tell us about your home and how you got involved in rugby union?
DM: I was born in New Plymouth to a Maori father and a Fijian mother. From the age of five through to 17, I attended Catholic schools and went to Catholic church on Sundays. I felt as if religiously I was ticking all the boxes.
I was first of all interested in golf, but at the age of 16 really got into rugby. Following school I went to the University of Waikato, achieving a BSc and a postgraduate diploma in marine sustainability. I had been involved in rugby at school, but during my college years I played for New Zealand universities and also the New Zealand under-21 team.
EN: How did you become a Christian?
DM: While at university I felt as if I stumbled and lost my way. I got carried away with the lifestyle and was not living the kind of life I should.
After graduating, I immediately signed to be a professional player with Waikato Chiefs and in 1999 made my debut against a Japanese XV. I had a successful career with the Chiefs between 2001-2006. In 2005 I played for the New Zealand Maori in the memorable game when we defeated the touring British and Irish Lions at Hamilton. Soon after this I agreed to a move to Wales and the Magners League playing for the Scarlets.
But, despite on-field success, I found myself searching for real fulfilment in life. I had many questions about my Catholic faith. The more I read, the more questions I had. As I investigated further I realised that a relationship with God required both an emotional response combined with a rational approach. The more I read the Bible, the more I felt that my Catholic upbringing wasn’t the right path. So I prayed for God to show me the way.
With only six months to go on my contract with Llanelli Scarlets, I was ready to move house. It was through my neighbours that I actually came to the Lord. They are a Christian couple in their 70s and their lives of thankfulness and care really impressed my wife and I. They did not force their ideas on us, but just answered our questions and emphasised to me that fulfilment and that special relationship with God I had been longing for could only be found through Jesus Christ and personal faith in him. I realised I needed to place my trust in Jesus and give my life over to him. I didn’t move house and I’m still playing for the Scarlets.
EN: Being a Christian in a rugby environment must present some challenges?
DM: There can be a lot of resistance to what I believe, but when I think of how many Christians are persecuted throughout the world I realise it is insignificant compared to what many suffer. Some are torched to death for their faith.
Often I have written Bible verses on my wrist bands before I play a match. I expect to be challenged. One of my favourite verses is Ephesians 6.10: ‘Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power’.
EN: What do other players think of you being a Christian?
DM: A lot of people have opened up and talked about going to Sunday school as a kid. I feel that if they are thinking about it, then that can be a beginning of their spiritual journey. I have noticed a degree of respect. If they are doing something that they don’t think is morally right they won’t talk about that around me.
But the Fijian national team is completely different. It was a great honour and privilege for me to captain Fiji, but also there is a deeply spiritual side to the team. When we are together, most evenings we will have a church service. That is so refreshing.
EN: Rugby is a very physical sport. What is it like during a game?
DM: Contact sports may seem to go against what Christianity stands for. When asked about doing big tackles, the All Black legend Michael Jones put it best: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’!
But I will use any means to get the Lord’s message of salvation out. Although I would like to become a doctor I was given a talent to play rugby and I need to use that to the best of my ability because that was a gift from God. Professional sport means that you are in the limelight and making sure that you remain humble can be hard for young players these days. Pride can become infectious. But realising that everyone will be treated as equals in God’s eyes is important to remember.
EN: What would your answer be to people who say that Christianity is for old ladies and wimps?
DM: I would tell them to go down and spend a day with people on the front line working for Christian organisations locally and around the world, people working in poverty-stricken, disease-ridden territories. Such absolutely humbling places are certainly not suitable for old women and wimps. Failing that, they can come down to my training session and I’ll tackle them!
EN: What do you have in store for the future and how can readers pray for you?
DM: Do pray for me and my family. Professional sport is a fickle environment and changes rapidly. I ask for people like me in professional sport to make a difference for Christ. Pray that I may make an impact in people’s lives as I tell the good news of Christ and that God loves us and wants to bring everyone of us closer to him.
Deacon is willing to speak at evangelistic events and can be contacted through Facebook (deacon manu).