8 December 2023

Witty, a no-nonsense type of guy, and a leader. District Apostle John L. Kriel of South Africa is a man of many talents, and he knows how to use them for the Church. He will be retiring this coming Sunday. Here is the portrait of a man who grew the Church.

Wearing a shirt that is miles too big for him, Johnny sits in the church pew. As the youngest of eleven siblings, John Leslie Kriel (born in 1956) had to wear his father’s shirts so he could attend divine services. The love and faith radiated by his parents made their house a place to go to for the brothers and sisters in the area. And so, at the age of twelve, he went out and started testifying with the brothers. ‌That is one side of John Kriel.

The other side: John and his brother Allister, who is two years older, were no saints. The pair was known as the naughty Kriel boys. Together with eleven other young men they were ordained as Subdeacons in 1977, only to all be suspended two weeks later. One of their friends got married and he had a stag party, and somebody went to tell the rector that they would be into some strong drink. That's how strict times were back then.

John Kriel’s leadership skills were already evident at school. His schoolmates looked up to him and were more likely to call him than the headmaster when the school bully had it in for them. It stayed that way as an adult. He did not just stand up for his friends, but for everyone who is weaker than him.

A man of principles

A welcoming “good morning everybody” would ring through the office floors. That way everyone knew the boss is in. He is not big on protocol. When he became District Apostle in 2016, he relaxed the dress code and got rid of ties. He also got rid of dedicated parking for managers. First come, first park.

John Kriel has his principles. “Know your members” is one of them. “Only if I know who you are, where you are, what you are, can I take care of you.” “Only spend the money you’ve got.” Because this is a gift from people who are struggling to make a living.

That is also why he does not drive a big company car. He continues to drive his Toyota Corolla. He never changed vehicles. And this message is so important to him that NAC TV is happy to pan the camera to show him arriving in his old car.

With open ears

“What policies are in place?” This is one of the first questions when it comes to making decisions. Because such policies protect against arbitrariness and capriciousness. John L. Kriel is extremely principled but is not a stickler for principles. He listens to dissenting voices and dissatisfied people and asks himself, “Are we missing something?”

“We can change,” he says. His motto “Just because we have always done it this way does not mean we will always do it this way.” Even if he himself was part of this “always having done things this way”.

With clear words

He tackles problems directly. He does not put them off for long. Nor does he beat about the bush. The first thing is, fix the problem and then ask questions. But then he also addresses them clearly, almost painfully openly. First in private, and later—only as a collective lesson—in front of the whole team.

Sometimes the District Apostle can also get a little hot under the collar. In their Thursday meetings, the Apostles would sometimes nudge each other and say in Afrikaans, “Oh, it’s Donderdag, Thunder Thursday.” And yet he has broken with the traditional practice of “follow and swallow” and developed a culture of open dialogue and listening.

With a big heart

John Kriel knows how to win over people’s hearts. At lunchtime he comes down into the lunchroom and has his lunch with everyone else. And he talks to everybody. It does not matter who you are in the hierarchy, everybody is important. Whether it is the sweeper or a manager, you are part of the team. And when he talks to people, he can make them feel as though they are the only person in the world right now.

With his super power, an indomitable sense of humour, he can resolve tension between people with just a few words. One minute he might seem angry and the next he is laughing. Not a day goes by in the office without him cracking a joke. And he is a man of stories and does magic with stories. For every situation he has something suitable up his sleeve. Particularly inspiring was his, “I’m not limping, I’m walking without crutches!”

With plans for the future

And what is such a man going to do in retirement? Well, maybe he will take up rugby coaching. At least he is said to not only like this sport, but even understand it. He is a good analyst and seems to know how the team could have played better. Or maybe he will perfect his barbecue skills. He would love to barbecue every night.

In any case, he intends to keep physically fit in retirement. He is disciplined and walks regularly. He also has a watch that tracks his steps and reminds him when to get up. It can happen that he suddenly gets up from the coffee table and walks around the table because his watch tells him that he is short so and so many steps. Yes, the man who has moved a lot in the New Apostolic Church Southern Africa will continue to keep moving.