The Message’s Mark Slessenger shares Abongile’s story of transformation from prison gang to follower of Christ…
I first met Abongile in Drakenstein Youth Prison in 2008. In the Western Cape most young men in prison are caught up in the ‘Numbers’ gangs. The ‘Numbers’ operate through three dangerous gangs called the ‘26s’ (money), the ‘27s’ (blood) and the ‘28s’ (sex). It’s heartbreaking to see so many young men caught up in these gangs, looking for acceptance and identity in all the wrong places.
Abongile was a ‘26’-gang member when I first met him. Throughout 2008 I regularly shared the love of God with him and explained what Jesus had done on the cross so he could be forgiven, no matter what crime he had committed. For a long time he seemed to reject this message but to my surprise, one day he let me know that he had made a commitment to follow Christ in his cell.
The transformation was immediate. Abongile left the gang and began spending time reading God’s Word and grew stronger and stronger in his faith. It was so exciting to see his progress: Abongile shared that finding Jesus had an enormous impact on his life. ‘My mindset, my heart and my future has changed ever since I met the Lord’, he said. He began witnessing to young men in prison and sharing his love for Jesus with others. It was a joy to see what God was doing in his life.
So often when working in the prisons, young men face enormous challenges once their sentences come to an end. This was no different for Abongile when he was released in March 2010. He had no father figure in his life and came from a poor family in one of the local townships. Although the circumstances were stacked against him, he had a strong desire to continue in his education. But how would he be able to afford it?
Thankfully, God opened the door for a bursary with the College of Cape Town and I managed to secure funding through a family in the US which allowed Abongile to carry on his studies in electrical training. This was an amazing opportunity for him and he persevered through all the levels of training to complete his electrical training. This even meant him seeking further bursaries to complete the other levels of the course which he did, of his own accord. Abongile found that it was not easy but learned that God was with him throughout this time: ‘God opened doors for my future and taught me to be patient so I could reach my destination,’ he says. The dedication he showed to pursue his studies was an inspiration to many of his friends and peers.
In mid-2013, Abongile finished his studies and passed his exams – a wonderful achievement. His mum worked hard to support him during more than two years of study. At the end of it all, Abongile secured a job working for Medi-Clinic and is now working there full time. He has come a long way since prison and continues to dream and trust God for the future. He says: ‘The Lord opened the door for me to be an electrician and I would love to open my own electrical and air conditioning company in the future.’
Abongile’s life is a testimony to the awesome life-changing power of Jesus and evidence that a life lived in obedience to Christ will always bear tremendous fruit. He is now an active member of his church and often witnesses to his friends and to the men back in Drakenstein. His smile and his joy is all the proof you need that Jesus is the centre of his life.
Seeing what God has done in Abongile’s life fills us all with hope and expectation that Jesus will change the lives of many others in prison. There are thousands of men and women in South Africa’s prisons who need to know that there is a Saviour who died for them so they can be forgiven and live a new life full of new hope and new meaning.
Please pray for Abongile and the other young men and women in contact with The Message’s prison ministry.