“Fighting, robbery and hate were my trademarks” Bongani remembers, but today he stands as a radically transformed man
Deeply hurt by the lack of love he received from his parents, Bongani Dlamini says his heart was bitter and hardened towards all people at a young age.
"I grew up in the care of my grandmother, and the fact that I did not know the love of my parents really affected me," Bongani says.
During his teenage years Bongani lived with his mom but he did not receive much attention or care from her.
"When I turned 17 I ran away from her, thinking I could better care for myself," he recalls.
"I could not find a place to sleep, so I ended up sleeping in a forest. I also made some bad friends and started drinking alcohol."
Bongani thought alcohol would numb his pain and hunger but it soon became an addiction he could not live a day without.
"I was convicted for rape and I know I was not thinking straight because of the alcohol," he confesses.
"I thought nobody in the world cared about me and I got really angry with everybody. Although I did not know some people, to me everyone was the same. When I turned my back on people, I thought they would gossip about me so I had acted out to prove a point."
He often thought about God before his conviction and sentence but he admits that he was "too lazy" to follow Him.
"My heart was rock hard [against God]. I did not want to welcome God into my life because I thought everybody was telling me about God just to get money out of it somehow," he adds.
Yet it was in prison that Bongani saw God pursue him.
"Some people saw my bitterness and knew that I was like a sinking ship crying out for help," he says.
"They talked to me and reminded me that God loves me unconditionally and that He wanted a relationship with me, which I could have by reversing my opposition to God and believing that the Lord Jesus Christ paid the punishment I deserved for my sin."
“I was like a sinking ship crying out for help”Bongani started to go to the prison church service and says the pastor had a big impact on his life.
"My pastor in prison is an amazing guy, he showed me the wonders in God's name alone and how to pray to become a child of God," he explains.
"I decided to become a follower of Jesus because He promises that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life [John 3:16] and will go to be in heaven with Him one day. I know that I am a Christian and have salvation because I now believe in Jesus with my whole heart and know that God's Spirit lives inside me."
Bongani says the hate he used to have for people was quickly replaced with genuine love for all people and an unexplainable joy that comes from faith in God and His promises.
"It changed me from the inside and today I am proud to say that because God has forgiven me I have also been able to forgive myself," he says.
"God has given me so much love that I do not want to kill myself anymore."
As Bongani continued to read
the Bible he realized that he needed to forgive his enemies and his mother, and love them because God had done the same for him.
"I still do not receive any love from my mom and it is very painful but I know God is on my side and He loves me so I know I can overcome this," he says.
"Knowing that Jesus loves me and is always here to help me through hard times has made me a wiser and happier person. I pray every day that God will continue to change me to be more like Jesus in my character."