When Thabo Manase walked into a prison church service with some fellow gang members, intending to stab someone in the congregation, he didn’t realise he was the one who would be taken by surprise and forever changed.
At the time, Thabo was only 18 years old and one year into a life sentence plus ten years for rape, robbery, kidnapping and possession of firearms and ammunition.
“I was full of hatred,” he admits. “I was controlled by alcohol and the infamous drug ‘Double Star’, and I wanted to exact vengeance on anyone and everyone because of the pain and grief in my life.”
Until he was 13, Thabo’s life had been happy and simple. He grew up surrounded by the love of his kind mother. His father had died when Thabo was a toddler, so he was very close to his mother and she was very protective of him.
Then his mother died, and Thabo thought he would never be the same again. Bitterness welled up within him.
“Love turned into hate, joy into sorrows, happiness into sadness and an easy life into complete trouble,” he shares.
“The biggest thing I struggled with was hatred,” Thabo admits. “Hatred was my weapon and I was more than ready to use it against anyone and everyone – even my own family.”
While Thabo was in prison he got news that his sister, Madillo, had died. This added to the grief and anger he felt about losing his mother, but his sister’s death also brought a new realisation.
“Her death caused me to be paralysed with such pain and grief, it was at that point that I asked myself ‘Is this how the families of my victims feel?’” Thabo wondered. This feeling of guilt softened his heart towards hearing the message of Jesus.
However, that day in church he was not there to listen but to exact revenge on a fellow inmate. Nevertheless, when asked if he wanted to respond to the Gospel [Good News about Jesus] by coming to the front of the church to pray, Thabo walked forward.
“Being a Christian is not a religion but a lifestyle and when I heard the message of the cross I felt a weight fall from my shoulders and I knew that Jesus was the only one who could save me and change my life for the better,” he shares.
Thabo prayed a prayer of repentance to God, to turn from his old ways, and asked God to forgive him of all of his sins. He knows that it is only through faith in Jesus Christ that he is saved and given the right to be called a child of God.
Since Thabo has accepted Jesus into his life he is a changed man, “I’m no longer addicted to cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. I am now able to forgive someone who wrongs me and not hold grudges.”
By the grace of God Thabo’s sentence has been reduced to 15 years, so he is studying theology, hoping to become a pastor when he is released. Some of his fellow inmates tell him that he will never be accepted by the community as a pastor because of his past, but Thabo knows that anything is possible through God.
To other prisoners who don’t know the good news about Jesus, Thabo says, “Jesus Christ has changed my life and He can also change yours, making you a better person than who you are now.”
As 2 Corinthians 5:17 in the Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”•