Surviving in the jungle away from war to joining Derby County, Offrande Zanzala: “God is my everything”

Derby County striker, Offrande Zanzala has gone through more hardships in his life than many of us could ever imagine. Ollie Baines talks to him about his incredible story and why his faith in Jesus means so much. 

Offrande, tell us about your upbringing, you’ve got quite a story to share.

“I was born in Congo where I lived with my 4 brothers and our mum looked after us as our Dad was out in Austria looking for work. We had to live out in the jungle because of the war in Congo. We were running away from the rebels for years on end. I nearly lost my life many times because of the terrible conditions we lived in, I’d collapse on many occasions and my family never thought I’d make it through. We’d see awful scenes of violence, suffering and even dead bodies just lying on the streets, it was horrific.

After 2 and a half years of surviving in the jungle, we made it back to the capital of Congo because we heard that the war had ended. Our Dad managed to get in contact with us from Austria and he started to send us money that he had be saving for us. We had to then move to Nigeria were we applied for a visa. We were based in Lagos  for 6 months before we finally got the paperwork to  join our Dad in Austria. We lived there for 6 years. It was a tough time with racism, bullying and we were just made to feel like we didn’t belong there. I remember being told we weren’t allowed to join any of the football teams out there because of the colour of our skin. We never believed any of us would be able to make any sort of life for ourselves.

Our Dad then moved to the UK to make a life for us there. We later moved out to join him. We were based in Nottingham and it was just far better. I remember I was playing football in the park in Nottingham with my brothers, then a scout came up to me and said I have a chance of going professional because of my pace and power. I couldn’t believe it. For years I had been told I wasn’t allowed to play the game I loved because of the colour of my skin and now I’m being told I could make it as a professional. It just went on from that moment really, I then joined Derby County when I was twelve years old and it’s been such an incredible journey.”

What an incredible story, so would you say that you’re living the dream now?

“I wouldn’t say I’m living the dream as of yet. I’ve still got a long way to go and it’s just the start of a long and busy career for me. It’s great that I’ve been able to see it in myself. It’s not just football though, throughout my whole life I’ve wanted to do well and make my family and God proud.

Football is a great way of allowing me to do that. I’m hoping to achieve big things, physically, spiritually and both on and off the pitch.”

If you weren’t a footballer, what would you be doing?

“Without offending anyone, I think I would just be doing some 9-5 job. I’m so thankful God has blessed me with this talent and I want to use it to bring glory to Him.”

What was it like signing for Derby at twelve?

“Obviously I was delighted when I was offered a contract at twelve. It was a wonderful feeling and coming through the ranks was nice. I’ve gone from playing academy level football to now playing professionally. With God at my side, anything is possible. In my life, I have overcome things I would never thought I’d be able to achieve. I’m really enjoying being at this club, it’s a great place to grow up and play football, there are some wonderful people here and I am very thankful to each of them for helping me in my career.”

Best player you’ve played with at Derby?

“That’s a tough one! I was playing a first team against Notts County alongside guys like Darren Bent, Andreas Weimann and Jacob Butterfield, but I think I’d have to go with Tom Ince. I love how he plays the game. He has great awareness and wonderful ability.

He scored a hat-trick in that game and it was a wonderful game to be a part of. With that said, it was a real honour to play alongside Darren Bent in that game.

What are you like as a player?

“I would say I’m a hard working striker. I’m a physical player who has a lot of pace. I’m determined, I think dribbling is my best asset but I’m also a goalscorer, I thrive off scoring goals. I play the game with a smile on my face. Knowing what I’ve been through, I’m happy to be alive let along playing football.”

How did you become a Christian?

“We grew up as Catholics in Congo. We knew there was a God as he was watching over us whilst we were in Congo and Austria through to the UK. When we moved to Nottingham we attended a church and I gave my life to Christ at twelve years old. Our whole family are Christians and I now put Christ at the centre of my life. I am so thankful for what God has done through my life to get me where I am today.”

How would you say God has been working through you and your career?

“One thing I always say to myself is that, there’s lots of people who want to become a footballer. Not many make it, but it’s so important to keep the faith, not only in my ability but with God too. It’s vital to keep God at the centre and remain on fire for him. It’s important that even when things are going well, to give God the glory and the praise and when things aren’t going well, to ask him for his help and provision. I want to use this God has given me for his glory.”

How does God feature in your match day routine?

“Before games I will pray. I will always take my Bible wherever I go. I love to read the word of God, listen to some music and just be in his presence. For me, I think it’s more important to be ready spiritually opposed to physically.  I pray for my team-mates and the fans, that we can enjoy the game and play to the best of our ability.”

What advice would you give to young players who have gone through similar hardships whilst growing up?

“The decision you make after the hardship is all down to the person, but you do have a choice. I could have thought ‘Oh well, I have no hope or future, I’ll just give up now’ but I didn’t; I worked hard and now I’m seeing the fruit from that dedication. But most of all, I’d say trust in God and know that he has a plan for you. Keep your faith in him and know that he is able to do all things.”

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