“He was the one who came to fetch me in my Egypt. I am here today because of his hard labour and his obedience unto the Lord.”
These are the words of an ex-offender from Drakenstein prison. The man he is referring to, the one who fetched him in Egypt, the one who he sees as a mentor, father and friend, and the man who is still walking alongside him on his journey to a new beginning, is former gangster and convicted offender, Mario Rousseau.
Born on the Cape Flats to his 16-year old mother, Mario was raised by his grandmother. By the time most young people his age were holding thumbs for good matric results, Mario had been charged with over 50 crimes – including murder, attempted murder and hijacking. At age 18, he was sent to Pollsmoor prison.
Six years later, he was transferred to Drakenstein prison. This was where Mario had a miraculous encounter with God. And it was here where Mario crossed paths with Johan Groenewald, who today heads up the Walking on Water prison project. A close friendship was forged – one that would help change the course of Mario’s life.
On 9 January 2012, Mario was released with a five-year parole sentence. With a staggering 82% of ex-prisoners re-offending, the odds were stacked against him. But he stayed on course. Working alongside Johan, Mario continued to be a mentor and friend to many prisoners and ex-offenders. He continued to visit prisons, build close relationships and mentor ex-offenders after their release – an extremely challenging time as they try and rebuild lives and relationships on the ‘outside’ again.
Last week, Mario officially launched Blueprint prison ministry in Stellenbosch. The good seed sown into his life by Walking on Water and several other prison outreaches, has multiplied – and an even greater harvest awaits.
Raising up liberators
The Walking on Water project works to help meet the physical and spiritual needs of prisoners during their time in prison; and to play a role in successfully reintegrating them back into society upon their release.
There are currently almost 4 500 inmates in the prisons of Drakenstein, Allandale, Hawequa and Paardeberg. Of these, the total number of inmates that are self-proclaimed Christians, actively involved in spiritual programmes, stands at around 1 000. “This means that all the spiritual workers and service providers are working with only 22% of the population. For this reason, my focus shifted from willing inmates to those who do not want to attend spiritual programmes,” says Johan.
The focus is on establishing strong Christian communities among the population of correctional institutions whilst tackling the issues that offenders struggle with most: family life, self-image, discipleship, friendship, conflict, anger, loneliness, agression and HIV/AIDS.
Freedom is only step one
For an ex-offender, the difficult journey does not come to an end when the prison doors open. Broken homes await. Reintegration into society is a real challenge. For this reason, the Walking on Water project is also launching an aftercare programme this year.
The first initiative in the aftercare programme will take the form of four weekend breakaway camps a year. Each camp will see a group of about 30 taken out of their environments and placed on ‘neutral ground’. Walking on Water will work closely alongside numerous partners* to minister into their lives in a variety of areas – from identity and purpose, freedom, faith, family, finances, future plans and even fitness.
Johan explains: “Our aim is to guide and help them to become and stay productive citizens in their communities. This aim is two-fold. We do not only want them to break free from the cycle of crime and become better citizens. We would also like to help them to become life coaches and mentors to youth-at-risk in their communities. We want them to become part of the solution. ”
“We need the community to work together – the community being organisations, churches, ministries, government, businesses and NGOs. For heaven to invade earth, we need to take hands and make this work.”
– Johan Groenewald, MD – Walking on Water
Walking on Water invites you to join them on a prison visit to get an idea of what the ministry entails. “Whether you would like to get involved hands-on or support through prayer or finances, it’s always a good idea to see first-hand that you will be sowing into good ground,” says Johan.
Contact Valcare for more information on how to help Walking on Water Ministries.
*Partner organisations include Calvary Chapel Paarl Church, Khula Development Group, Real Deal Trust, Message Trust, Hope Prison Ministry, Mid-Way Services, the Department of Correctional Services and Networking for Christ