Gabriel Masvora, News Editor
FROM an outsider, his life looks like one which was configured to alternate between the doors of the church and that of the prison.
Prison and church are two institutions miles apart in terms of functionality, they are two distinct institutions that house and welcome those seeking rehabilitation and those seeking divine intervention respectively. Often people in these two places are viewed very differently in communities, those in prisons are seen as outcasts who are being punished for their misdeeds, while those in church are associated with purity and holiness or at least those seeking to be.
But for one man, these two institutions have become his homes where he alternates from one to another so frequently that he now understands them like the back of his hand. In short, he started off as a “fraudster”, and then to redeem himself he turned into a pastor, but while he was developing his skills to be able to minister the Word of God, his past caught up with him and he was jailed for his past misdeeds.
After serving his time, he returned to the pulpit and today he is back in not just one, but many prisons. The only difference now is that he visits these prisons not clad in the prison garb to serve another jail term but to serve inmates. Such is the life of Pastor Jatwell Chikoka whose life has now become an incredible story of criss-crossing between the doors of “hell” and “Heaven”.
“My life has been a journey. Around 2013 in Mutare an incident happened where fake US dollars were used for a transaction. It happened that my phone was used in that transaction and that is how I was linked to the case.”
Pastor Chikoka, who is based in Gweru said after discovering that what he had done was bad, he turned to God, but not as just another number in the church but enrolled to train as a pastor so that he could minister the word of God.
“When I discovered the bad part (about the fraud incident) I went to Celebration Church, during a fellowship I discovered my calling and then went to Bible School to start training as a pastor,” the 41-year-old pastor said.
However, a few months down the line, he was sent for attachment by the church in Masvingo and that is when his past caught up with him.
“I was arrested for the US dollar fraud case while doing attachment and imagine the embarrassment of a pastor being arrested for such a case. I was taken from Masvingo to Mutare where the magistrate sentenced me to 18 months in prison,” he recalls.
He claims that one day while he was in Mutare Prison, God visited him through his Angels in a typical Saul to Paul of the Bible, and told him to “start preaching to my people”.
He recalls: “One night while I was still at Mutare Prison, God visited me and spoke with me through his Angel about how I was going to suffer in prison and he promised me to stand with me if I continue to trust in Him and preach the Gospel of Christ.”
Pastor Makoka was later transferred to Marondera where he met a group of women led by Mrs Alice Chitumba of the Women and Youth in Action Community Project who were moving around imparting skills to prisoners.
“The problem was how would I preach in prison, some nights I would find it difficult to sleep at Marondera Prison, things were tough the accommodation, food and even water to bath was not easily available. Another night the same Angel visited me and said ‘your time here is up so God will take you out and take you to the bush to prepare for his work’. When I woke up I was not sure what that meant but after just two days I was transferred to Ridikita Farm Prison still in Marondera.”
He said because of the nature of the prison, he once again found his love for preaching to fellow inmates.
“I started preaching in prison, healing the sick, casting demons helping even officers, counselling them. I also started furthering my Bible knowledge.”
While everything seemed to be shaping up as he prepared to complete his jail term, things were also taking a wrong turn outside. His wife could not stomach the idea of being a spouse to a “fraudster of a pastor” and she left him. His church was also no longer comfortable being associated with him.
“So when I came out everyone rejected me but again God told me to start another ministry. I am now a pastor at Victory Point International Ministries and through God’s power I remarried. I am married to Enery Chikoka, we have two girls.”
But that is not the end of Pastor Chikoka’s story, he has once again found love with prison.
“I am now on a mission to continue ministering the word of God in prisons, I have been to Marondera and the aim to is to make sure I visit a lot of prisons to just show them that I was one of them and it’s not the end of life when you are jailed. In fact inmates need to use that time to rediscover themselves so that when they come out, they can still accomplish what they intended to do.”
Mrs Chitumba who was instrumental in the rehabilitation of Pastor Chikoka chipped in and said her organisation has seen it fit to help inmates as some families have shunned them while they are in prison.
“We started helping inmates more than 10 years ago and the motivation was after we discovered that there are forgotten prisoners. Some prisoners have never had a single visit from relatives from the day they were jailed and we take it upon ourselves to bridge that gap,” she said.
Mrs Chitumba who is also a farmer in Marondera, said the mandate is to ensure that when prisoners are released they would be able to fit in the community.
“Rejection is not only while they are in prison, even after some face difficulties, broken families and even their communities rejecting them, we have had cases where some former prisoners come out without even underwear.
They need people’s help with even clothes.”
She said she wanted communities to offer unconditional forgiveness to former inmates.
“We have many projects with inmates. When we visit, we do Christmas parties, poems, dramas, sports and this helps cheer them up. We are training them in skills such as agriculture to help them when they come out. We also want to encourage other people to adopt prisoners.”