He was a nice boy from the burbs, but his desire to fit in derailed him. His life became so drug-fuelled that eventually he didn’t care if he lived or died. ‘I was resentful, belligerent and empty to my core’ he says. What made JAMES LE ROUX turn to a completely different trajectory in life? He told KAT FARQUHARSON
‘Given all that I did to myself, the fact that I can tell this story today is a miracle,’ says James Le Roux | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers

James (26) grew up in Cape Town’s Edgemead, the son of property manager dad Kobus, and operations manager mom Aileen. He finished his schooling at Curro School in Durbanville, and studied film and television production at AFDA. He has one sister, Hannah

I GREW UP IN A WARM HOME with parents who modelled maturity and faith to me. I was involved in church from a young age and served in church throughout my school life. I can’t actually ever remember not believing in God and his message of love and salvation through Jesus.

But in high school, I hit difficulty. I experienced some bullying, and my teenage desire to be accepted and liked by everyone derailed my life and values. I knew the best place to take my pain was my parents, but instead chose to absorb it into myself and run away from them. I also knew a relationship with God was on offer to help me through these times, but avoided it because I wanted to be accepted by a particular group of friends.

I turned away from the health and warmth of my family and church to become the person my peers wanted me to be. I’d do anything to get their approval. I started with the entry-level ‘cool’ tactics of smoking, drinking and partying with friends, and every year it seemed to ramp up and I needed to do more to feel accepted. By the age of 18, I was a shell of my former self. Then my godmother died and I felt haunted and guilty that, because of a night of drinking, I hadn’t said goodbye to her. This drove me to abuse substances further.

Ocean-loving James grew up in a warm family but, after being bullied at school, he turned to substance abuse to get his friends’ approval. ‘By the age of  18, I was a shell of my former self,’ he says  

After my school valedictory, I got arrested for smoking weed in a park with some friends. Luckily, I was released without it going onto my record, but it shook me: it was a substantial step away from where I’d been as a person, and I shared what had happened with some people in my church. Because I was in a space that could be seen as leadership, I was asked to step down for a time from serving at the church. I understand the wisdom of this now, but at the time I felt betrayed and hurt, and became resentful and belligerent.

 betrayed and hurt

I stopped going to church and focused on another passion, film. I was accepted to AFDA Higher Education Institution in Cape Town to study film in 2015 and started bartending to earn money. This scene was even more intense party-wise and I engaged in some really reckless behaviour. My sense of betrayal by my church family, my endless need to impress and the desire to numb my resentment and guilt pushed me into this lifestyle even more, and I started dabbling in party drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy and speed. Given all that I did to myself, the fact that I’m alive to tell this story today is a miracle!

James stopped going to church and instead focused on his passion for film

While I was high my sadness dissipated, but the morning after a party the feelings of hurt, betrayal and emptiness came rushing back. I’d feel alone and physically drained, that there was an empty hole inside me. And so as not to feel that low, I’d seek out the next high.

missing something

I knew I was missing something but felt I had nothing to give unless I was high. Without me realising, the drugs were slowly but surely ripping me apart emotionally and physically.

After my AFDA studies I started working part-time in film and continued bartending. I got into the trance-party scene and started on psychedelics such as LSD and magic mushrooms, believing the lie that this would make my highs longer and more beautiful. I abandoned most of my passions, such as my love for the ocean, for spearfishing and hiking. While I’d still do them from time to time, I mainly looked to the next high so I could see the world the way I wanted to.

James had always loved hiking and spearfishing but now he abandoned these in search of the next high ‘so I could see the world the way I wanted to,’  he says 

I would, however, go bodyboarding with Stuart, a friend of mine from my church days. He never wavered in our friendship. No matter how far I wandered from church, faith and God, Stuart continued to reach out to me. He’d always play church music in the car on the way to the beach with me, though it drove me nuts and I ignored all his invitations to church.

Though he’d left most of his former passions behind, James still went body-boarding with Stuart, an old friend who never wavered in their friendship | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers

In 2016, I went to The Sunflower Festival in Cape Town. Given the number and combination of drugs I took that weekend, I shouldn’t be here today. I think subconsciously I didn’t feel the need to survive. I was reckless, aggressive and no longer in control of what I was doing. A friend tried to look out for me but I pushed her away. Then I realised the drugs weren’t actually numbing me. I felt I was heading for eternal loneliness, even death.


Unbeknown to me, the very hours I was gambling with my life, my mother was in church, the church in which I’d grown up, the church by which I felt hurt, praying for me. Despite her anxiety about me, she felt God tell her to hand me over to Him. She told me later that she’d done this in obedience, but it was one of the hardest things she’d ever had to do.

At the same time, despite the drugs that I was on, I felt God speaking to me, telling me I’d die if I continued on this path. I felt everything within me pull towards Him and towards a first step, which was telling my parents the truth and asking for help.

Waking up the day after the festival, I was empty to my core. My party friends had gone, I had bruises that I couldn’t remember incurring, and I’d spent all the money I had in the world in a single weekend. The next day, I went home. My mom was standing cooking dinner, my sister was in the shower and my dad was still at work. I stood in the kitchen archway and said to Mom, ‘I need help, I’m on drugs.’

I need help, I’m on drugs

She started to cry but walked over to me and hugged me tightly, flooding me with love and acceptance. This was the opposite of what I’d expected, which was to be condemned. When Dad got home, my mom and I sat down and shared everything with him, and to my surprise again there was no condemnation. He too took me in his arms and hugged me. It was love and acceptance, just as the father in the story of the Prodigal Son in the bible welcomed his son home, just as Jesus welcomes us home, and it shattered my need to impress my drug group.

My parents’ response, Stuart’s loyalty to me and my own sense of God reignited my faith. I started going back to church, eventually landing back at my original church in Edgemead. I felt trepidation walking through the church doors but I also felt that I was home, and loved and accepted by God. After going back repeatedly to church, I recommitted my life to Him, making the decision to live according to his ways, confessing that I’d sinned and lived apart from Him and choosing to live according to His ways. I allowed Him into my heart and life to do what I believe only He could do.

And so started a process of healing.

I started seeing a behavioural psychologist who helped me get off drugs and gave me tools to process life better. It was hard to be vulnerable and share the pain and the emptiness with someone. Bringing them into the light meant I had to feel them properly. The drugs offered comfort, they were what I knew, and where I wanted to go every time I felt lonely or rejected.

 temptation would overtake me

The psychologist told me it was ok to feel the urge to use and to want to go back to that lifestyle. When I felt this urge, I should allow it to exist, work out what was going on that was making me feel this way, then allow the urge to exist until it passed. If it was getting too strong, I needed to tell someone who knew my history what was happening.

At times, even with these tools, the temptation to use would overtake me. But then I’d turn back, acknowledge what I’d done, repent and start all over again.

It was an extremely hard process and very much a case of one step forward and two back until I got more plugged in at my local church, and began to know and seek Jesus more. As I began to understand God and His love for me better, the steps the psychologist had given me became more real and possible.

‘At times, even with the psychologist’s tools, the temptation to use would overtake me. But then I’d turn back, acknowledge what I’d done, repent and start all over again,’ says James | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers

I was able to put into practice the boundaries and steps I’d been given, and apply God’s principles to my life. This included removing from my life all the friends I had at that stage, and making new ones that I believe God placed before me. My family, new friends and church family kept me accountable, which I was willing for them to do. With their support, and what I think was the grace of God, I was able to stop taking steps backwards. I’d finally realised I was weak, that I couldn’t depend purely on my own efforts to change, that I needed to surrender it all over and allow God to change me and allow others to help me. This was not something I could have done alone.

Stuart took me to Christian Surfers, an outreach to young surfers. I went along not expecting much, but the moment I saw kids on the waves and their joy, it was contagious. I fell in love with surfing and was drawn to this ministry.

Volunteering with Christian Surfers ignited two new passions. ‘The moment I saw kids on the waves and their joy, it was contagious. I fell in love with surfing and was drawn to this ministry,’ James says

It was only now that I realised I’d never fully understood God and what He’d done for me personally. And while I’d known I could go to Him at any time, I had chosen not to when, really, I should have. Now I wanted to do what God wanted me to do. This process helped me forgive people who’d hurt me, both the school bullies and people from church, just as I knew God had shown forgiveness to me. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting what happened, but it does mean letting go of the hurt and resentment, surrendering it to God and letting Him have control of it.

Forgiving can lead to reconciliation if both sides are ready for this. In my case, it happened. I asked my family for forgiveness for not showing them love, then asked my church leaders for forgiveness for being aggressive, arrogant, resentful and defiant towards them. There was great reconciliation and I now consider them to be family and I hold them close. I couldn’t believe that after so much hurt we could make so much progress!

The filming bug had never really left me and I prayed that God would help me marry my love of filming and surfing. I lined up several shoots for the start of 2020 but Covid hit the world and everything shut down. However, my church needed help and I became involved with filming and getting services online.

James: ‘During Covid I helped my church get services online. The filming bug had never really left me and I prayed that God would help me marry my love of filming and surfing’

In addition, I spent a lot of time in God’s Word, starting with a devotional one of my church mentors gave me, called Seeking Serenity by Trevor Hudson. This breaks down the Serenity Prayer line by line and applies a verse of scripture to it every day.

Using the devotional and praying, I found I wanted know God in a deeper way. I began to read the different books of the bible, starting with the gospels, and would ask God what He was wanting to reveal to me. I’d stop in the morning to be with Jesus and spend time alone with Him in quiet to listen to and read about His heart for us. That time alone in the quiet was then, and is now, a space where I slow down to come into God’s presence and allow His Spirit to create a clean heart in me.

I was also back in the water a lot more, switching from body-boarding to surfing and I’ve never looked back. I felt prompted to create content for Christian Surfers, to help surfers share their experiences of God’s love with other surfers. As soon as the beaches opened after Covid, I started doing just that and soon felt called to do it full-time. I asked God if this was what He wanted for me, and felt a prompting from Him to call the head of Christian Surfers to ask what it would look like to work full-time for the team. I couldn’t believe it when he said something like, ‘Funny you should mention this. I’ve been feeling God prompting me to create a position for you!’

‘I’d stop to spend time alone with God and allow His Spirit to create a clean heart in me,’ says James

So I’ve just relocated to Jeffreys Bay to work full-time on the national staff team of Christian Surfers South Africa. It’s an unpaid position but, amazingly, I’ve been able to raise prayer and financial support from individuals and churches. Fundraising takes its toll. It’s hard not to feel the old triggers that come from my fear of not being liked, but it doesn’t affect me as much as it once would have, so I can see how far I’ve come. I know that ultimately I can trust God and that if people say no to supporting me, it’s not me who’s being rejected. Learning to rely completely on God has been daunting but the dependence I have on Him now is humbling and intimate.

James: ‘I love the people I’ve met and the relationships I’ve formed’

I love the people I’ve met and the relationships I’ve formed in the fundraising process, and a wonderful thing is that Edge Church, the very church that I felt hurt by, has just sent me off as one of its missionaries, and is supporting me through prayer and some funding.

I’ve come to realise that I always had access to the ultimate acceptance, which is acceptance by God, and to the sense of belonging that I now experience through Him. I want to live my life to help people share this reality in their stories.

Now I’m living free! I no longer hold hurt in my hands or carry it on my shoulders, it’s in God’s hands now. I know that He loves me. And for me, this is enough.’

Edge Church, the church that James felt hurt by, has just sent him to Jeffreys Bay as one of its missionaries
James (left) at work, filming in the ocean for which he has found a renewed passion | Photo: Ernst Ohlhoff 
Prodigal surfer: ‘I no longer hold hurt in my hands or carry it on my shoulders. I’m living free!’ says James
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