Growing up in Soweto, Johannesburg, Jabu Ndaba and his boyhood friends admired older, violent, neighbourhood criminals who hijacked cars and trucks.
He says they started stealing from shops at an early age. “Sometimes we got arrested. They spanked us, then released us.”
Later Jabu and his friends graduated to stealing tapes from cars and breaking into houses Their arrests began to land them in prison — again and again.
In 2000, aged 19, he was sentenced to 7 years in prison and he had several criminal cases pending.
“In Sun City [the Johannesburg prison where he started his 7-year term] I was living the life I used to live because I also found my friends there. We were doing all the things we used to do — fighting, smoking [drugs], carrying weapons [like sharpened spoons].” said Jabu.
But Jabu’s life changed suddenly when he was transferred to a Free State prison where he had no access to drugs and where discipline was firm and harsh.
Jabu said he felt as if his world was crashing around him. He became exhausted, frustrated and desperately wanted to escape from that place.
He said many people lose their minds in prison and one day a prisoner who he regarded as mad because he was always preaching, came to his cell and invited the inmates to attend church.
Jabu said he normally wanted to have nothing to do with that man but that day was different. In his forced, sober-minded state he had been thinking about his life — how many times he had been to prison and how he was serving another sentence. He thought about the fact that even if he was to get out of jail he would not be free because police were looking for him in connection with other crimes and he would have to keep an eye out for enemies from other gangs.
He said he had been wondering what he could do to get rid of this hopeless life he had brought upon himself. And in that frame of mind he accepted the invitation to attend church.
“I borrowed a new Zulu Bible to go to church. It was strange because to carry a Bible in prison is a sign of weakness and a shame to your friends. They wont walk with you anymore because you have shown weakness.
“And to make it worse they were not even having church inside a hall — they were just standing outside singing and all the prisoners were watching. And they all thought I was mad.”
But then something unexpected and wonderful happened.
“The pastor asked the guy I thought was mad to read a Scripture — Matthew 11 verses 28 to 30. I was looking for someone who had never done crime to come and take my life and serve my sentence and pay all the consequences. It’s funny, I later realised there is Someone who can do that.
“And he opened that Scripture where Jesus says: ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden.’ And it spoke to my spirit. It was exactly what I needed. Those words of Jesus were not just words to me but a powerful force.
“My whole being was receiving those words. The sermon was over for me already. I felt burdens lifting off me and I got rest. ‘Take my yoke upon you, my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ Through those words I felt joy; I felt peace; I felt something I always wanted.
“It was like I couldn’t even see the inmate [the man reading the Scripture] that was speaking. Iit was like another person was speaking. It was like someone who has authority inside Him was speaking to me. And His speaking was not like a request but like a command which I had no choice but to take.”
Jabu said he gave his life to Jesus there and then.
“And when I went back to my cell, oh, I was a joyful person. Even my friends in the cell asked me: ‘What happened to you? Did you get a transfer that you are leaving this prison?’ Because they saw for the first time since they had known me that I was joyful, I was smiling, I was happy.
“But I told them: ‘I just went outside to the church and brothers, today I am free.’ And I started to share with them — to preach. I didn’t even know the Bible. I just spoke what I felt to them and they were amazed and laughed and said: ‘What has confused your mind?”
Jabu said he subsequently began to attend an Alpha Course led by a group who came to the prison on Thursdays. One day as they were teaching about the Holy Spirit they laid hands on the prisoners and prayed with them.
“Others burst out in tongues. But when they came to me. they prayed for me and they prayed for me — and nothing happened. Instead of getting worried they encouraged me: ‘Don’t worry, God is working in your life — something significant is happening.’ I received those words and went back to my cell.”
That night, he said he had a vision just before midnight, the time he normally got up to pray in his cell for his family and his friends who were still lost in lives of crime.
He said he can still recall the vision “as if it happened yesterday”. In the vision he saw a light and what looked like somebody carrying a torch. The light became bigger and brighter and he realised it was not coming from a torch but from the person. He said the light penetrated his heart and he felt a great joy inside and he woke up just before his prayer hour — praying in tongues.
“It was a wonderful experience. I realised Jesus is indeed alive. I realised that this is what I wanted in life,” he said.
Jabu said that during the remaining years of his sentence, he served the Lord joyfully in different prisons, evangelising in the yard and from cell to cell, praying for healing and deliverance and sometimes preaching and sharing his testimony at services.
Once during his born-again prison life he was visited by two police officers who were investigating an old case against him. They noticed he was different to other prisoners and learned from him that he was “a child of God” and “no longer a criminal”.
One of the policemen suggested Jabu give them something to make the charges disappear. But the other said: “Don’t worry my boy, I will do my job and the rest God will do.”
Jabu said when he got to court he learned that charges against him had been dropped because the people who he had wronged no longer wanted to come to court. “God put favour for me in their hearts”
After he was released in 2005 he had a burden to preach the Gospel — especially to young people in schools and prisons. Although he wanted to evangelise full time he got a job in order to support his parents. After they had both died he resigned from work to focus on ministry.
He started an outreach ministry called Christ Harvest and evangelised at schools, taxi ranks and at township drug dens where he encountered young people smoking drugs. He got some of the young people into rehab centres and started ministering at the centres.
After joining Grace Bible Church in Soweto he started serving in their prison ministry and currently ministers at different prisons on three days a week. He told me that during the previous week he had preached to a large group of awaiting trial prisoners at Boksburg Prison — and “almost all of them got born again”.
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