Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Prison Miracle

While I was still studying theology I worked at the Prison Service in Pretoria during the nights to pay for my studies. I had the wonderful opportunity to work permanent nightshift from 1992-1994. The nightshift started at 22:00 and ended at 06:00 which meant that we had very little contact with the inmates. One of my friends and I decided that we wanted to share the gospel with those around us. The problem was that the inmates were not interested in talking to the guards and especially not about religion. Then one night we realised that if we were busy talking to each another in hushed voices while standing in the hallways outside the cells, the inmates would press up against the bars to try and listen in on our conversations. We then came up with the idea to move from the one cell to the next standing outside and sharing Romans 5 with each other. We would make turns to tell the other in a hushed excited voice: “I have read the most amazing piece of scripture” Then we would take out a Bible and read Romans 5 in a hushed voice. We could see how inmates where pressing against the bars straining to hear. After we had finished, we would move to the next cell and started again.

Sunday the 1st of August 2010 I had the privilege to preach the Meditation Service at our church. The text was Romans 5. Romans 5 is such a powerfull scripture and if you have the opportunity to read a peace of scripture to someone in need of redemption, then this is it. In the beginning of the sermon I told this story to accentuate this fact. At the end of the sermon as I was handing out the Communion I realised that the man taking the bread from me was standing there with tears streaming from his eyes. He went back to his seat and when the service had ended, he left before I could speak to him. That evening before I had to preach at the evening service I received a phone call from Henri, the man from the communion. He told me about a miracle.
Today I had the privilege to spend time with Henri and we talked through 4 cups of Coffee. This is the story as he related it to me:
I grew up in a house where my Dad was absent. He was always busy with a scheme to make money, and to make money fast. He was in and out of the jail up to a point where my mother could not go on anymore. They got divorced when I was twenty five. Our whole family backed my mom, no we encouraged her, we were all fed up with my dad. In 1990 he was sentenced to ten years in Pretoria Central. We did not go to visit even though we were close enough because we came to the point where we could not trust him anymore and did not believe he was capable of love or change. In 1996 he was released for being a model inmate. We could not believe it! He came to us and immediately we realised something had changed. We did not trust him but there was definitely something different. He told us that while he was in his cell one night in May 1992, two wardens were standing outside his window and as he scuffled closer to hear what they were saying, one of them started reading Romans 5. He listened and while he had been listening, he experienced an intense need for this grace, this loving God. For the next few days he read Romans 5 over and over again until he came to a point where he asked a Christian inmate to help him give his live to Jesus. Then the miracle had happened, he made peace with God, with himself and then he started to focus on the needs of those around him. He always said “I was set free by being jailed”
It took a while for us to really accept that he had changed, but with time came the reassurance that this was real. Slowly but surely he won us over one by one. He became a beacon of faith and hope for our family. He lived the rest of his life focusing on those around him, serving Christ. Henri said that he gave his life to Christ because of his dad. Early this year his dad died of cancer. At his funeral Romans 5 was read and Christ was glorified.
By now I was sitting in the Coffee shop with people staring at me in horror. A big ugly man like me crying of joy. I am sure some thought I had lost my mind, but I was past the point of caring what others were thinking. What a miracle! The Word of God changing lives, and than I recalled Hebrews 4
12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
What an amazing miracle that Henri ended up in my service 18 years later when I had been telling the half of the story I know. I truly believe that this miracle was for me. God does not need me to come up with wonderful sermons, He wants me to share His Word, He will do the rest. I also realised that it is my task to proclaim the gospel any way I can. It is in our nature to always look at the outcomes of our results. In moments like these I realise it is not about my results, but about God’s results. He wants me to live Christ, proclaim Christ and to realise that Christ is doing the rest. He is the God of miracles. When Henri left he took my hand in both of his and said with tears in his eyes: “Dankie, my pa het gelewe, hy moes gevang word sodat God hom kon vrymaak. Dankie.” (Thank you, my Father lived, he had been set free by being jailed, thank you)
Tonight I thank you Lord for this miracle and that You have blessed me with the other side of the story.


  1. Paul,

    Dit is voorwaar 'n wonderlike verhaal. Mag ek bietjie Duiwelsadvokaat speel en vra: Sou mens dit nie dalk ook as 'n heerlike toeval kon bestempel nie?

  2. Johan jy sou verseker kon. Dit maak dit eintlik net nog 'n groter wonderwerk. As jy vat wat die ods is dat iemand wat 18 jaar gelede tot bekering gekom het se seun 18 jaar later 1400 km daar van daan op die Enigste sondag ooit wat ek nog die verhaal vertel het in die besondere diens gewees het. Statisties praat ons hier van 'n amper onmoontlike toeval. Maar wat ons dit ook al noem die eend ding wat vir my werklik is, dit was vir my 'n GOdsbelewenis. Jy sien my geloof is so eenvoudig dat ek glo God is ook die God van toeval.

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  4. Paul, dit was 'n baie kragtige getuienis. Baie dankie dat jy dit met ons deel. God is werklik wonderbaar en almagtig. Jacques