Thabo Mathe's life story sadly reflects the slide from unfortunate circumstances into crime, but prison is not where his story ends.
Thabo's parents divorced when he was young and he and his brother were abandoned by their father and left to fend for themselves. Thabo started drinking at 14, followed by smoking cigarettes and later marijuana. He fell in with a bad crowd who introduced him to stealing and one day they killed a man they were trying to rob.
"We were robbing a minibus taxi and the taxi driver tried to resist. We kicked him to death while under the influence of alcohol," Thabo confesses sadly.
At that time, not only was Thabo an addict, a drunk and a thief, but he admits he was also behaving in a sexually immoral way and full of hatred for his father for breaking up their home.
Now Thabo, at 25, is in prison serving a life sentence for murder.
There he heard about Jesus and even responded one day to an invitation at a prison chapel service to come forward and accept Jesus as his Saviour. But he says it did not make any difference to the sinful life he was living behind bars.
Then another inmate began a fast [abstaining from food for a period for religious reasons] and Thabo decided to fast too.
During this time he heard an inmate preach from Jeremiah 29:11, which says: "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Thabo realised God did not want to kill or destroy him but had good plans for him, and at that point he truly turned away from his sin and started to live for God. He became a new person in the Lord Jesus Christ.
"I saw that a life sentence apart from Jesus Christ would be very hard. But Matthew 6:33 says that we must seek God's kingdom first and all the other things we need God will supply. Today I live my life sentence knowing that God cares for me. All my problems I handed over to Jesus.
live my life sentence knowing that God cares for me”"Becoming part of a gang was the worst decision I ever made, but the best decision was to make Jesus my best friend. His friendship has given me a reason to live. I have gone from a life sentence to real life in Christ."
How? Thabo did what Romans 10:9 says: "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
Thabo says his life now has purpose and he preaches in prison to his fellow inmates, telling them that God wants to be their Father and give them life in abundance.
His favourite verses are Ephesians 2:10, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do", and John 10:10, "The thief [Satan] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
Thabo also gains hope from Jeremiah 1:5 that says "before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart," and knows that even at his worst, when he was dead in his sin, God loved and called him.
Thabo says he is living proof that 1 Corinthians 1:27 is true that "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong."
"Jesus wants all who have lost hope, the fatherless and the heartbroken to come as you are to God," Thabo declares, "and God will make you a better person."•