From Pastor Gobel, South Africa.
I grew up as a little boy in the heart of Cape Town, South Africa. I lost my dad in a car accident when I was around 3. My dearly beloved mother – bless her soul— put me in a boarding school from a very young age. Shortly after High School, I was recruited into the Army. We were not rich, but the little we had, I learned to appropriate because it came at a price.
Life was hard in those days as my mother needed to take care of me as a single parent. We had to make do with the meager salary she received as a nurse from the Provincial Hospital. I grew up with no father figure around. My mother took the role of a father rather than the loving, caring mother I so desperately wanted and needed.
Corporal punishment was the order of the day in our school and home. So, when I put out a foot wrong or got myself into trouble — which I did often — I would get a massive spanking from either the Principal or my mother when I got home. I remember the many nights I was left outside on the porch without food or a warm bed to sleep on, so I could learn my lesson.
Needless to say, after the military I wanted to prove to the world, myself and more importantly my mother that I was a man. I wanted to show everyone I could fend for myself.
What I didn’t know was that I was far different from the innocent child I once was. I had slowly been molded by wrong ideologies, false indoctrinations, and worldly desires. Mental and psychological disorders overtook me. My harsh environment, and lacking proper values and principles would eventually lead me to fall.
My corporate career started rather well. Soon, I realized that I had a natural gift talent for entrepreneurship. I found myself traveling the world, soliciting business ventures, and now in the illegal trade of uncut diamonds. Life was great. Glamorously good, I often thought to myself.
I didn’t see that; obsession, greed, and self-gratification slowly became my friends. My life was dripping with materialism, sexual immorality, fornication, and worldly pleasures. Lies and hidden agendas became my second nature. I engaged in trade secrets and unlawful behavior, breaking every rule of moral virtue and godly principle just to close the next deal.
In 1994, I made a decision that would completely ruin my life. I stole some money from an investor to purchase a parcel of illegal diamonds, which I sold on the international market and pocketed. During this time, I gambled obsessively. I mean, I was a compulsive gambler. Before I knew it, I was on the VIP list of nearly every casino around the world. The more money I made from my diamond and trade deals, the more I needed to make to fill the craving for more. I needed to cover the losses from my gambling obsession. It was an endless loop of making more and gambling. I was completely out of control.
I spent daily fortunes in the casino, not thinking of the huge black hole I was digging for myself. It never even crossed my mind that I was sinning against God whenever I walked into a casino.
For years, it appeared I had gotten away with the crime. Nothing happened to me – well, so I thought. But in 2005 (11 years after I had committed the crime), I heard a knock on my door. It was the Police with a warrant for my arrest. I was arrested and transported under high security to Cape Town. At that time, I was staying at one of the upmarket suburbs of Sandton in Johannesburg. They then took me to Goodwood Prison, where I had to appear before the Magistrate, who would inform me of my charges.
The day that I was to appear in Court, they took me to the Bellville Magistrates Court in Cape Town and placed me in what is known as ‘Die Gat’ (The Hole); these are’ awaiting trial’ holding cells— deep underground below the Bellville Magistrates Court building— retaining hundreds of offenders and awaiting trial prisoners from all over the Western Cape.
The holding cells are dark and dangerous. There are as many as 100, if not more, hardened criminals in each one of these cells. Many of them are repeat offenders, back to prison for their second, third, and even fourth and fifth offenses. Of course, the first thing that happens in prison to someone like myself, a “Frans” ( person with no name, no affiliation to any gang or Number), a nobody, is you are on your own. The only way to survive in such a harsh environment is to “buy” whatever you want or need with whatever “commodity” you have.
Naturally, as a white male dressed in a beautiful silk suit, fancy tie, leather shoes, and gold watch, I stood out like a sore thumb. I had no suspicion that this look won’t be my grooming any longer.
That day I got attacked by a large group of gang members from the Number Gangs. They robbed me of all my belongings and beat me up, I barely had any teeth left in my mouth.
Eventually, the Police came and took me out of that cell and transferred me to a single cell. The smells of urine, my blood, feces, and death still hung in the air, but for now, I was alone and safe – for the moment, at least. As I lay on that cold cement floor, unable to separate the blood from the tears, I realized for the first time in my life that I had messed up. I wasn’t that strong corporate executive anymore who always was in control of my life. I wasn’t the person who had asked God at the tender age of 16 at the Youth Camp in Stellenbosch to come into my life and be my Lord and Savior.
I had become someone I now hated, yet I had grown to find comfort in it. I was comfortable in the power and authority I commanded because of my wealth and connections to rich and famous people. I was rotten to the core. I was a criminal, yet I didn’t know. I called myself a Christian, and I convinced myself I could accomplish life on my own. I unconsciously and unintentionally rejected God on many occasions; He wanted to help me return to that place I once called my Salvation.
But on that prison floor, none of my wealth or connections held any allure anymore. I was far from the proud and respected corporate executive I claimed to be. I wasn’t the one who could source and introduce foreign businessmen, diplomats, and senior government officials from other countries to South Africa, anymore. The only remaining piece of property I could still call my own was a Bible I had taken to court that day.
As I went to my knees asking God to forgive me for what I had done and for what I was contemplating doing to myself, my Bible fell open in the Book of Hebrews. As I scanned the two pages that lay open before me, my eyes fell on Hebrews 10 as I began to read from verse 34 in which it says, “You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So, do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”
It was as though God had come into that cell that day and called me out by name. I felt the presence of God all around me, and as I opened my eyes, it was as though the entire cell was lit up with the glory and presence of God. As I fell to my knees in shame, asking God to forgive me all my sins, I tried to spell out every known sin I had committed toward Him and every other person I had hurt or caused pain. I asked God to help me get through this period of trials and tribulations that I knew I was going to have to face and that if He granted me His mercy and grace, I would serve Him for the rest of my life in spirit and truth as a servant of His Word.
Long story short, I got sentenced for fraud and spent seven years of my life in six of the most notorious prisons across South Africa. From Goodwood to Pollsmoor, Pollsmoor to Mdantsane in East London then transferred to New Kimberley, Sun City (Johannesburg Central Prison), and finally ending up at Zonderwater Correctional Centre in Cullinan where I was able to complete my Bachelor’s Degree in Systematic Theology and go on to become the Pastor to over 800 offenders at New Kimberley Correctional Centre and then later at Zonderwater Prison.
But my real ‘soul transformation’ began when I lay on that cold cement floor in ‘Die Gat’ (The Hole) at the bottom of the Bellville Magistrates Court after being beaten up to an inch of losing my life. Having been robbed of everything I had except my Bible, I pleaded to God for His mercy and grace.
God saved my life several times in incarceration. Still, the one incident that stands out would be the day I was standing in the courtyard in one of the most dangerous areas of Pollsmoor Prison called the ‘Awaiting Trial’ section.
Then, I’d become familiar with the heartbeat of prison life, ensuring I kept my back to the walk-in in case of any personal threat. I noticed that the Number Gangs (were hardened criminals divided into mainly three groups called the 26s, 27s, and the 28s, each more dangerous and ruthless than the other). These Number gangs are so named for their specific function in prison. It isn’t just a “number” that represents a code of honor (if you can call it an ‘honor’ to be affiliated with a ruthless criminal organization). Still, a Code that goes back decades into our history and, strangely, the so-called “Number” from where these gangs are today affiliated doesn’t come from prison. It came from the mines when they needed to identify the miners working underground in the low-light areas.
So they would use these codes and the special language of the “Number” to identify themselves according to the level they were working on and avoid others from knowing what they were doing. So one day, some of these men got arrested and put into prison, and there they began to use this same code of association, conduct, and language, which later became what is today known as the “Number Gangs” in prison.
Today these number gangs represent not merely a code of conduct or association, but they control the prisons throughout South Africa. For many newbies (“Franse”) that come into prison, there is no other way but to become a Number, as this is the only way to receive the protection you desperately need to survive. Like a military regiment, they have rules, strategies, code of conduct and language, including discipline, and ranks like: General, Colonel, Captain, Lieutenant, and even Judges that make sure that the “code” of the Number was respected and adhered to within the corridors of the prison.
That day I witnessed what in prison is called a ‘sabella,’ (that is a hit taken out on someone – usually, blood must flow). It arises when anything or anyone poses a threat to the Number’s territory, position or power. They control all the illegal trade of drugs, other contrabands, and any other trade in prison – from the bed, you sleep on to the food you eat. Everything in prison carries a price.
That day, as one of their members approached me from across the courtyard — a lower ranking gang member of one of the Number gangs, I was mentally and psychologically prepared to fight to the death. In a matter of seconds, the first thing that crossed my mind was if I should die today, where would I go? Heaven or hell? It was as though my life had flashed passed me in a milli-second.
I remember seeing an image of my son in front of me, but I couldn’t dare shed a tear or lose focus of where I was and the challenge staring me in the face. I needed every element of my previous military training and martial arts experience to come immediately into effect. No fear, no second guessing, just pure raw and ruthless survival tactics. It was all about my life or this person who had the advantage of possessing a huge knife that could do some severe damage.
As I mentally braced myself to fight, the unthinkable happened at that moment. As this unnamed assassin (or appointed ‘killer’) was about to attack his prey, he turned to the man standing not far from me, and in less than a few seconds, he had stabbed this person more times than I could remember. In a moment of absolute chaos, I decided – was I going to stand and watch a fellow human being be killed, or was I going to react? The latter decision became the story that changed my life forever in prison.
I jumped into action as though I was back in operations. I grabbed the attacker from behind, turned him around, and told him in a mixed kind of prison Afrikaans language that if he wanted to kill someone or had to kill someone today, here I was, I was willing to give my life in place of this unknown stranger. The shock of a white man (“a Frans”) who was willing to step into the battlefield of a gang war to save the life of a black man was unexpected and shocking to the “attacker.”
He dropped his knife and walked away. To cut a long story short, I picked the stranger up from the floor. He was bleeding profusely from his stomach, and I ran with him to the courtyard gate, where the wardens came and took him to the hospital. Without knowing it, I had saved the life of a high-ranking member of the 28s. That night in our prison cell, I was called by the high-ranking members of the Number gangs to give an account for my actions. They wanted to know who I was and why I had saved that man’s life. I told them I was “a Frans” – a nobody but that I could not stand and watch a man being killed in front of me, irrespective of his gang affiliation, race, or greed. By the end of that night, I was pardoned by the Number gangs and given what is known as a bulletproof vest – that meant for my time at least in Pollsmoor, I would be protected, and I would be given certain privileges that were unbecoming to a Frans in prison. To this day, I am convinced that God had supernaturally stepped into that dark and evil world and saved my life from certain death. That was how I survived 6 of the most notorious prisons in this country. That story jumped, as they say, over the walls, from prison to prison, and followed me as a witness to what I was willing to do to help a fellow inmate irrespective of our indifferences.
After leaving Pollsmoor and being transferred to Mdantsane Prison in the Eastern Cape, I went through the harsh reality of what it meant to be a prisoner. The conditions in prison are naturally not easy. I quickly learned to adapt to my violent and inhumane environment. If I wanted to survive, I would need to use every element of my intellectual capacity to find favor in helping my fellow inmates with their parole submissions, appeals, written motions, and various other applications. I didn’t know or understand it then. But, my justifiable suffering, pain, and isolation were indeed a means God used to help me. He used it to rebuild my moral foundation, strengthen my knowledge of God’s Word, equip me in the understanding of obedience, surrender, compassion, commitment, and empathy to my fellow man, and above all to an understanding of who God really was and what it truly meant to be a committed and obedient child of God.
After my sentencing, I requested a transfer to Gauteng, the region my son was being taken care of by his grandparents. Unfortunately, the authorities got it wrong and sent me as the first intake to the most modern prison facility in South Africa. Unfortunately, that never lasted long. Finally, I was transferred to Zonderwater Correctional Centre, where I started taking on the more serious task of rehabilitation and began studying toward my Bachelor’s Degree in Systematic Theology. I also became a teacher in the prison school, helping my fellow inmates with the task of learning to read and write.
One night God planted in my spirit the words’ Honor Program.’ Finally, it all started making perfect sense. Why was there so much discrimination, corruption, gender-based violence, abuse, hatred, and anger in this country? The problem is that we have tried to solve many of our issues with our youth, our schools, our universities, and the communities in our strength, excluding God’s divine intervention. It took me over 7 years to write The Honor Program, but in principle, it is an advanced restorative justice intervention that addresses the process of rehabilitation through soul transformation.
After leaving prison, I knew that the process of re-integration wasn’t going to be easy for me as a white middle-aged man who did not have a solid support structure or family and friends that would be willing to stand by me and help me get back on my feet and offer me a second chance in life. I realized my only way out was to trust God completely. Keep my eyes focused on Jesus no matter what pain or suffering I would endure.
If there is one thing that I have come to learn since my release from prison, that is that we cannot go through life as islands unto ourselves; we need people to help other people who are maybe suffering and desperate to get back on their feet. I, therefore, have many people to thank besides God for saving my life after leaving prison, as I have on many occasions wanted to give up but God has always made sure to bring someone across my path that was willing and able to help me see that there is always HOPE no matter how complicated or difficult the challenge might be. It’s never easy when you do not have your own home or have to depend on others for shelter, transport, food, clothes, etc.
I appreciate the opportunity I received to work as an Evangelist at African Enterprise for a few years. Unfortunately, the short-term contract ended at the end of 2020. African Enterprise is a ‘non-profit’ Christian Evangelical Missionary organization based in the heart of Pietermaritzburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal
God has transformed my soul. He is my Rock and my Salvation, in Him I will trust till my dying day.
God bless you for reading my story. I sincerely hope and pray that if my testimony touched you, you would pass it on to someone you know who might benefit from hearing this message.
The Bible says in Revelation 12: 10-12 “And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying: “Now have come the Salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ. For the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down—he who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. And they did not love their lives so as to shy away from death.
12Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea; with great fury the devil has come down to you, knowing he has only a short time.”
If God has done something to change your life or save you from certain eternal death then I would encourage you my friend to step out in faith and share that message with others. This is the one way we can be sure to draw unbelievers to Christ.
I would dearly like to hear from you and would appreciate your sincere consideration in helping me in my task to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to children and offenders in schools, universities, and prisons throughout South Africa. Please feel free to WhatsApp me at: +27 71 018 0768 or email me at email@example.com
In God’s service,
Ps Michael Gobel
If you have not made Jesus your Lord and savior. Don’t delay anymore. What shall it profit you if you gain the whole world and lose your soul in Hell? Mark 8:36. Come to the loving arms of Jesus Christ. repent of your sins and receive His forgiveness.
Say this prayer if have not made Jesus your Lord. From the depth of your heart. Lord, Jesus. I believe you are the son of God. I believe you died and rose again for my sins. You alone can save me. I am very sorry for my sins. I repent of my sins by your grace. Please forgive me and come into my life. Be my Lord and Savior. Help me to grow and know you more. Thank you for saving me.
Now, work toward your confession and find a bible believing church. Commit by reading the bible daily and hearing the word with other believers.
I trust that through my testimony and the reading of His Word, you will come to know and understand that no matter what you’ve done in life or whatever difficulty you might find yourself in right now, God is our Provider, Comforter, and Savior for those who wish to call upon His Name.
In closing, if you feel led to help my ministry or in any way possible to get me back on my feet so that I might be in a position to introduce my program and teachings to more children in schools and offenders in prison, then please consider sending me a WhatsApp message to: +27 71 018 0768 or if you would like to send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
I would love to hear from you and would be honored if you would consider becoming a global supporter of my ministry Planting Hope Ministries.
God richly bless you!
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