Raised on the streets of Philippi under the care of his mother, Jerome aspired to be a soccer star which was a dream inspired by his brother Gerald.
I met this man in Drakenstein Correctional Center where he was serving a 15 year prison sentence.
Where did it all go wrong? How did this soccer-loving young man end up in prison?
Growing up, Jerome looked up to his brother Gerald who was also a good soccer player. Gerald taught him about football and the importance of team work. He was also Jerome’s coach on and off the football pitch.
Jerome soon learnt that his brother was a member of a notorious gang in Philippi, yet Gerald always encouraged Jerome to stay away from the gangs and focus on his schooling. Despite Gerald’s warning, Jerome found his brother’s lifestyle appealing because he used to share in his brother’s spoils. Gerald entrusting him with his possession made Jerome feel important and cared for.
One fateful day, Gerald was fatally gunned down, which proved to be a turning point in Jerome’s life. Swearing revenge upon his brother’s killers, Jerome found that joining the gang was the next logical step. Trading on his brother’s status, he was readily accepted by the gang. In his ensuing spiral of crime, Jerome was dragged into the darkest places, driven by anger and vengeance.
In his gang life Jerome committed many crimes, but was eventually caught and sentenced in 2008. His involvement in various gangs saw him being moved from prison to prison, until ultimately landing in Drakenstein, where he met Mark Slessenger who coached soccer in the prison. Jerome’s love for football was ignited when he discovered there was a soccer team in Drakenstein, and after committing himself to securing a place on the prison team, he was eventually successful. He also finished school in prison, and in fervently seeking to further empower himself, he joined The Message Trust Enterprise Programme (MEP) in 2015.
Later in that same year he felt that it was time he gave his heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, which wasn’t easy for him as he had been following the Muslim religion in prison. Nevertheless, he eventually gave his life fully to God and became an extraordinary leader within the MEP class.
We saw how God used Jerome to impact lives within prison, and now he is doing the same in the outside world. Jerome is passionate about the youth and always looks for ways he can mentor or empower young boys. One tool he uses is sports ministry as he works for Message Eden, where he coaches Ubuntu football club based in Nyanga.
Now we see Jerome develop and grow into a “urban hero” as he uses his testimony to encourage young people to hold on to their dreams.
When I was arrested I lost all hope of becoming a law abiding citizen as I knew the implications of having a criminal record. My life was over, or so I thought; actually, my life was only beginning. Little did I know that God had His own plan for my life, and in that moment in my life when I was bereft of hope, He came and saved my life through Christ Jesus my Lord and Saviour. It’s only by His grace that I am where I am today.
My experience in prison wasn’t easy, but because of the Lords love who grants mercy to whomever He wants, I was privileged to study further and achieve my matric in prison with flying colors. Just when I thought I was finished with studying, the Message Trust brought a Job Readiness course into prison, so I joined up to bolster my CV; however, when I enrolled, I experienced God’s favour in an incredible and awesome way. As we extensively explored the cause of the problem in our lives, I was truly blessed to learn that everything that has ever happened in my life had grown from a root that could be pulled out to give way for new seed to be sowed into my life. Through this course I developed a good relationship with the facilitators of the programme. They really demonstrated the love of God in our lives.
In 2015 The Message Trust introduced a new course for us called the Message Enterprise Programme, which dealt with Entrepreneurial skills, Life skills and Spiritual development. It is a year-long course which required me to leave my section and join in a room with other 26 guys with whom I didn’t (yet!) have a relationship or brotherhood with. It was hard at first but when we grasped the vision we saw how powerful the programme was. Not only that but the fact that there is aftercare for when you get out of prison was a bonus because it showed me this organisation was really invested in my long-term development beyond prison. Today I’m on the outside and I still work with The Message Trust SA as a Social Media and Creative Intern and I’m growing in work that I love doing. All thanks to The Message Trust SA.
SPEAK OUT: STORIES ABOUT THE FUTURE OF INCARCERATED YOUNG MEN.
The Message Enterprise Program (MEP) proudly announces the launch of the inaugural #speakout2016 public speaking event in Drakenstein youth prison.
South Africa’s prisons are notorious for high rates of HIV, overcrowding, abuse, sexual violence and gangsterism. According to South Africa’s Department of Correctional Services (DCS), over 360 000 move in and out of prison per year with 80 percent coming back to prison after being released. Joblessness and poverty, rejection by family members and a lack of rehabilitation projects all hinder ex-offenders from successful reintegration. Upon release, they are pressured by their families to provide for them and when they can’t find an income, many will re-offend through the lucrative opportunities offered by gangsterism and crime.
Come and join our first MEP public speaking event where our very own incarcerated students will deliver powerful speeches from prison. These inspirational talks illustrate the power of transformation and hope and it is something you do not want to miss! These personal accounts encapsulate their transformational lives and lead the audience to engage in a conversation about restoration for our local communities.
The Message Trust In-Prison Program calls on the general public to join this event in Paarl on the 20th August 2016 from 09:00am-12:00pm. Entry to the event is free, but booking is essential. For further information go to our facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1147143668676583/. Drakenstein Prison will host the 2016 edition of Speak Out.
The partnership between The Message Trust and Department of Correctional Service continues to grow from strength to strength as we work to reintegrate ex-offenders back into communities as positive influencers. These young men have gone from being the problem to now becoming the solution.
The Message Trust hope that the event will give these young men the opportunity to use their past experiences and draw out lessons that the audience can learn from and bring a positive impact on the greater society.
Over 450 people attended our third annual Vision Night banquet hosted at Jubilee Community Church. Through the amazing cooperation of the Department of Correctional Services, 21 students from our in-prison Message Enterprise Programme (MEP) were among the guests. Angus Buchan, our key note speaker, had been into the prison earlier that day and shared the Gospel with around 300 offenders, as well as spending some time with the MEP class. “When I look at these young men I have hope for the future of our country… they’ve got fire in their eyes!” he told the Vision Night guests.
Vision Night provides The Message with an opportunity to share stories of what God is doing through the organisation, as well as show appreciation for our partners and supporters.
KineticIV kicked off the evening giving the audience a taste of how they share the Gospel with young people in schools and youth groups across the city. Following Uncle Angus’ inspirational address, Tim Tucker (Message SA CEO) shared about our goals to empower young people, equip the church, eradicate gangsterism and expand into Africa. “We want to see young people become role models, build strong Christian families, become constructive and positive citizens, and be empowered to shape the future.”
Chumani Ndzala gave insight into what this looks like in reality. He works in one of Message’s micro-enterprises – Gangstar Furniture. “My job reminds me of my life. I turn old wood into beautiful products… the things people cast off as rubbish, still have amazing potential. And that is what God has done with my life.”
The evening culminated in a powerful and emotional performance by the MEP students who led the guests in two worship songs. Many in the audience were in tears as they witnessed first-hand the transforming power of the Gospel in the lives of the young men.
Message UK CEO, Andy Hawthorne, closed the evening with a rousing challenge to support The Message and partner in raising up generations of urban heroes.
ON THE 25TH OF FEBRUARY 2016 THE MESSAGE TRUST HELD IT’S THIRD ANNUAL VISION NIGHT. THE MESSAGE TRUST VISION NIGHT IS A YEARLY EVENT THAT SHARES STORIES AND UPDATES OF WHAT GOD IS DOING THROUGH THE ORGANISATION. ONE OF THE BIGGEST JOYS OF THIS YEAR’S EVENT WAS HAVING 21 STUDENTS FROM OUR MEP CLASS COME TO THE VISION NIGHT. OUR STUDENTS PERFORMED TWO SONGS WHICH DEEPLY MOVED OUR GUESTS ON THE EVENING. ANOTHER HIGHLIGHT WAS HAVING ONE OF OUR STUDENTS CLINTON LE ROE AS THE MASTER OF CEREMONIES (MC) FOR THE EVENT.
HERE IS HIS EXPERIENCE OF VISION NIGHT IN HIS OWN WORDS:
“The man who fails, to fail, to failure, stands up and embarks on the journey of a thousand miles. On vision night I felt as if I reached my destination and stepped into my future. It was all playing out before my very eyes, many people listening to me, the guy with the mic. Never before have I been received by such a great audience as the guests who were at vision night. It was my first time to play the role of MC to such a large group of people. All I could see on the night was a dream coming true and despite my current status (of being a prisoner) I was not shaken or moved by fear, I accepted the challenge and faced every listener. It was an opportunity to show case the potential and gift God has placed in me.
I was humbled to be placed on such a platform receiving the respect of so many big names and people from abroad. One of my biggest highlights was being able to share the stage with Angus Buchan and knowing that my mentors at The Message Trust had my back.
The Message Trust has become my window of opportunity and given me a second chance to rectify my wrongs. I am still overwhelmed by the magnitude of Vision Night and what God allows me to step into, it’s shows his amazing favour upon my life.
The future leaders and our MEP class performed fantastically on the night and were a massive source of strength to me, they are my brothers in arms”.
Written by Clinton Le Roe – MEP Student and MC on our Message Trust Vision Night.
For me, there has always been something captivating about South Africa. Before my trip with The Message, I had visited the country on other occasions and had fallen in love with its people, its landscape, its heartbeat. So when I made the decision to spend three months volunteering with The Message – a charity I also love – in South Africa, I was expectant that I would see a great move of God happening. The trip exceeded my expectations!
The Message SA operates out of a little office space in a business park, which in no way parallels the scale of the charity’s vision. I was immediately welcomed in to the Message SA family as if I had been part of the team since it began. The Message in South Africa follows the pattern of The Message UK, with its unashamed focus on evangelism and the power of Christ to restore but adapted it to be relevant to the culture of Cape Town.
Gangsters to gentlemen
Prison ministry is a major focus here because of the powerful grip of gangsterism on South African society. I had the privilege of attending a session of the Message Entrepreneurial Program in Drakenstein Prison. This is led by Jennifer Belcher, a trained lawyer who has been completely captured by the need of the young inmates in South African prisons and spends her time training them to be entrepreneurs. In this class, the men were discussing their own business models and learning to think like CEOs – they were incredibly articulate and most of what they were talking about was way beyond my knowledge level! I was deeply impressed. Some of the men also stood up and shared about their past experiences and were treated by their inmates with encouragement and respect. There was such a feeling of unity within the room. When they led me around their cell, a small room where around 25 of them stayed, I noticed Bibles neatly tucked under pillows and Hillsong posters on the walls. You can imagine how different this must have been to their previous lives.
I was so happy to meet with the guys again for their graduation ceremony, which happens when they have successfully completed a year on the programme. This was such a joyous event, with plenty of family and friends present in the audience and many sweet old mamas tearing up at the sight of their sons in graduation robes. The most memorable moment for me was when all of the class held hands and sung at the top of their lungs, ‘My chains are gone, I’ve been set free…’ It was so powerful seeing young men who were in true physical bondage, jubilantly proclaiming the freedom they have found in Christ.
What I truly love about The Message is their desire to provide support for these young men once they have been released from prison. This is not only spiritual, but practical help. I became close friends with several of the ex-offender that now work under The Message running small enterprises. These include a clothing range, an ice cream company and a furniture business. It was eye-opening learning about their stories – not only the struggle of township life that led that many of them to make poor decisions, but the fact that some of them used to be South Africa’s most wanted men. I couldn’t connect the violent, dangerous men they told me they were to the softly-spoken gentlemen that I knew them to be. Every time I spoke to them, I felt so proud to be part of an organisation that offered men like this such a radical second chance.
Community up close
A third area that The Message focuses on is community transformation, known as Eden. To me, this was all about restoring hope to communities that had long felt forgotten about. I was part of leading a club called ‘Thursday is Girl’s Day’ where the young girls from the local area were invited to the Eden team leader’s house after school. Instead of wandering the streets or sitting alone in their run-down houses, they were able to find a safe haven to socialise, share their hopes and dreams and make rainbow cookies! This soon turned into a Bible study, which was actually what the girls were most excited about.
Eden also partners with a local church to deliver the most amazing feeding scheme for homeless women and their children, the majority of whom live in the most appalling conditions under a railway bridge. The women collect recycling all week and are then able to trade this in for points to spend on toiletries, clothes and food items. This system is especially effective, because it gives the women a sense of dignity as they have worked hard collecting items all week in order to earn points. It further enables them to choose what is most necessary for them at that particular time, rather than being handed a general package. Even though the actual day of points trading was noisy, messy and absolutely chaotic, it was one of my favourite things to be involved in. I loved seeing the delight and appreciation when these women found a little shirt that perfectly fit their child or their favourite flavour of soup was on offer that day.
A dream come true
I also got a chance to see a childhood dream come true and pretend I was part of the Message South Africa’s first mission band, Kinetic IV. I travelled with them to the rural community of Citrusdal to partner with Hebron Community Project. Here, I saw them perform to 250 unbelievably excited children at Paardekop Primary School and lead a three-hour creative programme. The next day, we opened the doors of Hebron’s community centre to the whole village. Tiny infants, high school kids and grandparents came from far and wide for the time of worship, dancing and prayer. I was able to anoint sweet old ladies with oil and pray for healing, despite my inability to speak a word of their language! After our trip, when reflecting on the impact of this mission to Citrasdal, Neil Hall, the Chairman of Hebron exclaimed, ‘The Valley will never be the same again!’ It was evident that the message of Christ had stirred hope and excitement in so many hearts that weekend, and the villagers felt united to one another in a way they had not experienced before.
A final memory for me that I feel is worth mentioning was taking on the Three Peaks Challenge. As The Message’s annual fundraiser, we challenged ourselves to climb the Three Peaks of Cape Town (Lion’s Head, Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain) in one day – which is an extremely physically exhausting task. There were around 60 of us that attempted at least one mountain and there was such an incredible team spirit present the whole time. I valued every minute because as I climbed, I was able to learn many people’s personal stories – whether ex-gangsters, the charity’s director or an international volunteer just like me. Everybody pushed themselves to their own limit and we raised much-needed funds in the process. Reaching the top of that last mountain was an experience I will never forget and reminded me that achievements worth having take time, effort and overcoming hurdles.
I am forever changed by my experiences with Message South Africa and I am certain that I will one day return to this country and the people that I love so deeply.
If you would like to do a short missions trip with the Message Trust or a one year internship, please email [email protected]
The Message Team arrived in Citrusdal on Friday morning, 20 November, 2015. The team partnered and were hosted by Hebron Community Projects who work with schools and farms in the community. The Message had planned a youth outreach weekend aimed at impacting many young people who come from difficult backgrounds.
The weekend began with our team running a school outreach programme at Paardekop primary school. Our team was welcomed by over 250 excited children, who had heard about KineticIV and were excited to hear from the band.
Our team prepared and implemented a three hour creative schools programme for the school. This involved hosting a school talent show that included grades 1-6 showcasing their musical and dance talent.
One of the favourites was a young girl called ‘Eljure’ who sang a familiar South African song called “Hoor hoe raas die stilte” and had the whole crowd singing along!
Before KIV performed our team spent time getting to know the children, engaging them through creative ice- breakers, jokes and Gilead (KIV band member) teaching them the popular dance called “the whip and nae nae”.
KIV then gave the school a taste of what they could expect at the full concert on Saturday by performing two of their original sound tracks , ‘More Than This” and “Storm” – it was a joy to see the children going crazy and enjoying themselves!
On the Saturday more than 300 people showed up for the first Hebron Citrusdal concert. The audience included a mix of kids parents and grand parents, this was a massive breakthrough as the whole family was present. Generally, in farming communities families are engaged in heavy drinking, to witness families coming together and engaging in positive activities was significant.
When KIV were due to perform excitement filled the room as Neil (Chairperson of Hebron Community Projects) introduced the band and The Message Team. Meryl (KIV female vocalist) came up to introduce the team individually and got the children ready for the evenings events.
During the concert KIV delivered an electrifying performance that even got the grandparents to their feet! In between performances KIV band members Jabulani and Meryl shared their stories to encourage and uplift everyone in attendance.
After the KIV performance Shaun (Band Manager) shared his story of overcoming a life of drugs and alcohol abuse. After sharing his testimony, he made a call for prayer and twenty people made a response.
KineticIV concluded the evening with some crowd interaction, including dancing and singing and finished off with a final performance of the crowd favourite, “Storm”.
The team were commended for their performance and received positive feedback from both the Owners of the life centre and the community.
The team completed the weekend by leading a church service on Sunday morning. Meryl and Jabulani, along with the local church band led worship and one of our team members shared an inspiring message.
Neil Hall, chairperson of Hebron, and some of the church members took time during the service to motivate and encourage The Message to continue in their work amongst young people and promised to pray for the team.
If you would like to know more about KineticIV and are interested in your church or oganisation doing a schools outreach contact us on [email protected]
This year’s Proximity Conference was held from the 23rd to the 24th of October. This was the second Proximity hosted by The Message Trust since we launched the charity in February 2014. The conference was held at the Warehouse in Wetton, Cape Town and was the first time we included a youth event on the Friday evening before the main conference on the Saturday.
The purpose of the Proximity conference was to gather like-minded Christians who are passionate about reaching urban youth in the toughest communities across Cape Town. It was encouraging to have many church representatives from some of our most challenging communities.
The Friday youth event was amazing! We had over 100 young people attend from all over Cape Town. The evening started with a session of inspirational worship led by a worship band from Common Ground Church. During the evening we also had our own Message SA band Kinetic IV perform a number of their songs to the young people in attendance.
Andy Hawthorne (founder of The Message Trust) gave an appeal for all young people to rise up and imitate the great heroes of the faith of recent years and commit themselves to becoming “Slaves to Christ”. One exciting outcome of the evening was 5 young people indicating that they would be interested in joining one of our 3 Eden Cape Town teams!
Saturday’s conference began with worship by the Jubilee Community Church band. Our two keynote speakers were Vuyo Nyabaza and Brett “Fish” Anderson. Both speakers challenged the audience to live authentic lives and match the gospel that we proclaim. The conference also hosted four seminars discussing topics around Urban Mission in Cape Town.
The afternoon of the conference included a panel discussion which was made up of all key note and seminar speakers and was chaired by Alastair Buchanan. The panel discussed questions from the audience which were texted in throughout the conference. The panel was followed by another stunning performance from KineticIV and was followed by an inspiring challenge by Andy Hawthorne about following in the footsteps and example of the Salvation Army in serving urban poor in Cape Town.
The conference closed with a rallying call from Tim Tucker our national director. Tim ended the day by inviting the whole conference to come up and pray for our latest Eden team who were commissioned for mission in Pelican Park with our partner church, Cape Gateway International Church.
Proximity illustrated that God is moving across Cape Town and stirring the hearts of his people to move into some of our most needy communities to share the love of God through word and deed. Eden teams are always planted in partnership with local churches with the goal to assist them in becoming more missional amongst young people in their community.
If you would like to find out more about Eden please contact our Eden Regional Director Alastair Buchanan on [email protected]