We all find ourselves in challenging times and places with different seasons of life, yet of all the challenging places to be found, South African prisons are some of the hardest. Prisoners are living in darkness, with overcrowding, violence and inadequate access to healthcare, with the occupancy rate of prisons at 137.7%*. Although the overcrowding leads to daily physical suffering — worsened by gang-related violence — the emotional and spiritual suffering of the inmates represents another world of darkness.
Yet in this darkness, the light of God’s word is transforming lives.
Conrad lived in darkness his whole life. “I grew up in a small town in the Eastern Cape Province, where poverty and gangs are rife. I started missing school at a young age and joined a local gang. I was also drinking and taking drugs. Soon, I got involved in crime, breaking into people’s houses and stealing. I was involved in a robbery and hijacking which led to my arrest.”
In prison, Conrad continued walking in darkness. “I joined a gang and quickly rose through its ranks. We were organising stabbings of prison officials, taking them hostage and organising strikes.” When Conrad was transferred to another prison, he contracted tuberculosis and had to be hospitalised. It was there that the light began to break through the darkness.
Conrad received a Bible, donated by Bible Society and distributed through World Hope Ministries, along with access to the Bible Discipleship course. This changed Conrad’s life. “I started doing your course and reading a Bible for the first time and every day. One day, as I was reading my Bible that I received from you, I recognised things I never saw or knew before. It was in my hospital bed that I gave my life to the Lord.”
When Conrad returned to the housing section of the prison, he says, “I was a changed man. I started serving God.”
Many others have also moved from darkness to light, encountering God through his life-changing and ever-relevant word. “I was a gangster,” says Jay. “I found myself empty, foolish and no direction. I regret my old life, even the group I used to hang around with.” The Bible Discipleship lessons were crucial for Jay. “These lessons gave me direction; reshape my life. I discovered my life from the word of God … Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The Bible became real in my life and gave me hope in a hopeless situation.” Jay is so thankful for his Bible, and for those who donated it. He says, “You touched my life with the word of God.”
Behki’s life turned into a nightmare when he and his best friend were playing with guns. “I murdered my best friend,” he recalls. “I didn’t kill him intentionally; it was a mistake. I was living my life the way I liked, telling lies.” Things changed for Behki in prison, when he took the Bible Discipleship lessons. “I started to dwell in the word of Christ and started to share Christ with other people. The Bible means a lot to me because when I want to connect with God, I always read the Bible, and it helps when I research other Scriptures.”
“My life was so empty, I never been happy,” says Zenzo. “There was something that was not there, but I did not know at that time what was short. I became selfish. I did not believe in anything, but only in myself.” Zenzo’s life was changed by the Bible Discipleship course. “After I became a child of God, I became happy because of the good news about Christ. Before, I didn’t know my purpose in this world but now I know. I know the truth now and I am trying by all means to live by the word of God because it won’t make me stumble.”
“Without the word of God, I will be lost. It always reminds me what to do and it comforts and encourages me,” says Zenzo.
Edson’s story is similar to Zenzo’s. “My life before I’ve received Christ was a mess. I used to live like the world; doing all bad things.” His life changed because of his encounter with God’s word. “When I started studying the Bible Discipleship lessons, I became a light of the world and a light for everyone around me. I know that God so love the world and now I have received eternal life. I may suffer, but I suffer for doing what is right … I also have confidence and hope that God will not leave me nor forsake me.”
Bible Society Australia is working with World Hope Ministries as they advocate for the Bible in the dark places of South Africa’s prisons, and especially in the darkness of prisoners’ hearts. “I started to forget the reason I was in prison because of the teachings and knowledge I received from the program; it gave me peace,” testifies Mvuzo Jack, who felt God’s presence as he attended the program. “The lessons have revived the Spirit of God in me.”
*according to the Department of Correctional Services’ 2020/21 Annual Report