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.
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]
Look at the nations, watch and be utterly amazed. For I I’m going to do something in your days that you wouldn’t believe, even if you were told.
The Message South Africa hosted our first Academy Team from the UK in March. We were so blessed to have had the opportunity to meet 11 amazing individuals! The Academy consisted of a group of gifted individuals in the arts, who used their gifts not for their own selfish ambition, but to serve and bring glory to God who gifted it to them in the first place. The Academy Team gave 100% of themselves for two weeks. The team would come home at night and be exhausted but they were always in prayer and relying on the Lord to push them through. Even up to the last day of their visit the Lord used them in incredible ways. The team served with The Message Trust in Salt River, Nyanga, Khayelitsha, Drakenstein Prison and Pelican Park.
While in Salt River the Academy met a group of 70 people living under a bridge. The joy, love and grace they showed the people of South Africa was beautiful. They beat boxed, shared testimonies, performed songs and spoken words on a daily basis, and were able to reach so many individuals in the town ships and prisons. Something that really stood out was the fact and reality that God makes us strong when we are weak. In 2 Corinthians 12:10 it states, “For the sake of Christ, I am content with weakness, out of old mattresses, bits of burnt wood and plastic sheets. All of which had been saved from when their houses were set on fire. Even with zero income these individuals painted a beautiful picture of joy and beauty amongst a heap of rubbish.
When visiting Nyanga, where we are in the process of establishing an Eden Team, they took part in a church service and was able to go on a prayer walk through the streets. While walking one of the Academy members, Naomi, had the opportunity to speak to a woman. The woman explained to her the crime rates and how there isn’t a week where one family doesn’t get robbed. Another girl said since she could remember she hasn’t had her Christmas presents for longer than a week because they get stolen.
When they visited Khayelitsha, they did different outreaches throughout the area with 14 young men who are involved with City Mission Group. They meet in a room that can only be described as a square tin can in the middle of the township. The Academy Team played music, performed and shared testimonies. At one of the locations they were able to speak with a group of youth aged between 15-20. Eventually a group of 100 school children ran over they visited in the morning, and then the prison actually opened up in the evening for us, which has not occurred in over 13 years. The prisoners listened to their performances for about two hours. They were so grateful for the Academy to spend time with them. When Preston preached that evening we watched 7 men give their lives to Christ and were able to pray for even more. It was an absolutely beautiful experience. The prison became in my eyes a place of freedom that night, not of chains and incarceration.
The last part of the trip the Academy Team spent in Pelican Park. It is a new area in Cape Town and not well known amongst those living in the surrounding areas. It will also be home to the Message’s second Eden Team.
The Academy was involved in their Easter Sunday service, as well as, a concert. They spent the day building relationships with people in the community and handed out flyers to spread the word of the upcoming concert. Over 100 people ended up attending and it was such a great night. At the end of the night there was a response time and children, mothers and friends ended up responding. The moment was magical to say the least.
Having the Academy Team come down from the UK was such a blessing. To see them transform the lives of those around them and watch their lives be transformed at the same time is a perfect example of Christ. Christ is always moving and if that isn’t encouraging I don’t know what is.