Ralph Joseph has had a hard life. Born during apartheid in a little shack in Cape Town to a very young mother, he grew up as a Xhosa in a coloured community, never knowing his real father. When his family lost their home in Manenberg in 1976, they "became like beggars, staying here and there".
What followed for Ralph was a life of poverty, crime and addiction.
"My life was about drinking and dagga," he admits. "I was full of myself, judgemental and a ringleader in getting others into trouble."
At times during his life, Ralph had thought about God because his mother went to church, but he admits, "I allowed my pride to stand in the way of my salvation. I did not know forgiveness was possible and I couldn't overcome my sinful desires.
"Then the Lord [Jesus] allowed me to get caught so that He could have some time with me alone!" he grins.
At that stage, Ralph was working as a night security guard for a civil engineering firm. He had an unlicensed firearm, and admits that he had a strong desire to kill someone under cover of darkness. However, God prevented Ralph from going through with his plans. Someone reported him and he was arrested and sentenced to five years in jail for having an unlicensed weapon.
In prison, Ralph realised he could lose everything that was important to him, and the fear, loneliness and stress caused him to search for God.
Through the preaching he heard in the prison, Ralph learnt that only the blood of Jesus could save him from his sins. He realised that it was the grace of God that had put him in prison – not only to get his attention, but to protect him from the enemies he had made on the outside, who wanted to kill him.
"I committed myself to the Lord by admitting that I was a sinner who had done wrong things," he explains. "I confessed that only God could save me through His Son Jesus Christ, who He raised from the dead.
"I understood that the only way out of sin was to repent [turn away from my wrongdoing] and be baptized [dipped in water as an outward sign of my decision].
"I admitted that I had allowed the devil to control my life, but now I gave the control to God."
That was three years ago and Ralph was already 51 years old. He says the changes God has brought about have been incredible – including allowing Ralph the opportunity to reconcile with his enemies and to earn the respect of those who once hated him.
"The Lord has opened doors for me in ways I could not have imagined," he says. "If you don't know God, come and try and taste that the Lord is good. You won't be sorry, I know I am not!"•