Alcohol seemed like the way to happiness for Zanele Bhembe until it became a trap that ultimately lead her to prison.
"We used to lie to our parents that we went to school but instead we followed our feelings, and wanted to be happy. We saw others who were drunk and appeared happy, so we joined them and ended up becoming alcoholics," Zanele recalls.
"As a result we continued to skip school and did everything that was bad."
Getting drunk may have brought a temporary happiness but Zanele admits that she had no lasting peace in her life, and her family's acceptance of 'sangomas', witchdoctors, was no help either.
"By using sangomas, my family believed all would be fine. I never went to church in my life. If something was wrong with me, my grandmother used 'muti', charms," she explains.
This empty feeling worsened when she ended up in prison feeling completely lost.
Around her Zanele began to notice fellow inmates full of joy and praising God.
She began to ask herself, "What do these people have that I do not? Those who know Jesus are happy and have peace."
A Christian inmate invited her to a church service where she heard a challenging message that she needed to confess her sins and submit control of her life to Jesus.
"It was not easy to accept Jesus. But I know now that if Jesus wants to talk to you, nothing can stop Him from reaching you, because He is the King of kings. He said, 'Be still and know that I am your Lord' (Psalm chapter 46, verse 10)."
Yet, in prison, Zanele explains, "I accepted Jesus as my Saviour and believe He took the punishment on the cross.
"When I met my Lord, everything started to change and I have never stopped going to church."
She quotes from John 3, verse 16: "God so loves the world that He sent His one and only Son that whoever believes in me should not perish but have everlasting life."
In reference to this verse, Zanele explains: "God tells me that He loves me and He sent His only Son to die for me, so that I can live forever with Him one day.
"He is the only God and no-one is like Him. As Jeremiah 33, verse 3, says, 'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.'"
Other Bible verses encourage Zanele like Hebrews 13, verse 5, and Jeremiah 1, verse 5. As she shares, "God says in the Bible, 'I will never turn away from you. I chose you before you were born and I will never leave or forsake you.'"
"That is why I chose my Lord," she continues, "because He will never leave me no matter what people do. Since I came here to prison I lost everything in my life but I know that, whatever situation I am passing through, I am working with the Lord."
Her parents have passed away, but Zanele affirms God's sustaining power: "I am still strong because of my Father in heaven. He is the provider, my guide and my protection. Matthew 6, verse 33, says 'Do not worry about tomorrow.' And, Mark 9, verse 23, says, 'Everything is possible for God, if you believe.'
"God is faithful always and He will never change and His promises are true and alive."
Zanele appeals to her fellow inmates: "Please let go [of your selfish life], our Father is waiting for us to surrender to Him. He does not want your money, He wants you.
"My life changed and now I have peace in my life and I can forget about my mistakes. Now I am focused on my Lord because He knew me before I was even born."
Referring to Jeremiah 29, verse 11, Zanele continues: "God says, 'I have plans for everyone, that plan is not to harm us, but is a good plan.'"
The change in her life also affected Zanele's sister and brother, who she says no longer believe in sangomas.
"My brother and sister said, 'If God can change you then God can change us.'"
As she has overcome all her troubles with God's help, Zanele concludes, "I can't even remember the past I once lived, because I am serving God. Now I am the one preaching to other inmates about this one true God and what He did in my life." •