Ex-Convict Turns Evangelist

Harare, Zimbabwe — WHEN Onias Mawire, an ex-convict who had just done time at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison for carjacking recently cycled from Harare to Marondera to preach the gospel of Christ, his arrival there was something of a humble entry.

The 33-year-old Mawire, now a member of the Celebration Church Braeside, Harare, was the main act of a group of four youths who cycled 76km from the capital to Marondera on an "Anti-crime Cycle Campaign" which sought to discourage youths from criminal behaviour.

During the journey, the four young men delivered sermons and messages of reformation to young people they came across.

And when they arrived in Marondera about six hours later, it was a mission accomplished for Mawire, effectively shutting the door on an era of sin and opening one of ministry.

"I grew up in a religious family, but did not go to church with my family.

"I really had plenty of opportunities ahead of me as I had passed my O-Level Cambridge examinations.

"Even though I regret having been a criminal, I believe everything happens for a purpose," said Mawire.

But for him the blame is his and the type of lifestyle which he tried to gatecrash into.

"Soon after finishing school I befriended other youths from my area that came from well-to-do families, had personal thriving businesses and fat pockets.

"Retracing my rather humble background, I could not believe that I was now brushing shoulders with the creamy part of the society. I concluded that I had struck a fortune.

"We boozed, wined and dined; the guys had much to spend and had no hesitation in spending it.

"I became an alcoholic, a drug addict, a violent figure quick to exchange blows. But for me life was going on. I had found good company," said Mawire.

But life changed quickly for the worse.

"As nothing lives forever, my association with the rich guys came to a sudden end and I regretted it that time.

"But I had now tasted a lifestyle which I could not easily let go. I was now an alcoholic, a drug addict and so passionate about reveling! Where was I going to get the cash now?

"Fuelled by the desire to satisfy my burning desire for fast life I found myself at the mercy of more evil influence. Robbery became the way forward for me.

"I teamed up with a robbery gang and made big business in car breaking and theft and for a while, our newly established industry was lucrative," he said

Mawire recalls how they spent proceedings from their loot on beer and carefree spending.

However, true to the scriptures, the once wayward brother who had defied the ways of his pious parents who were members of the Johane Masowe Apostolic Faith Sect was soon to reap what he had sown.

In 2001, the deviant teenager got in trouble with the law over car theft charges and spent two weeks at Harare Remand Prison.

He was only to escape the wrath of the law following the death of his friend who was the chief suspect.

But this did not send any warning signals to Mawire.

The year 2002 saw Mawire and his accomplices appearing before a Harare magistrate facing car robbery charges and this time the law descended harshly on him.

He was initially sentenced to 20 years in jail although he only served six.

While in prison, Mawire forged an intimate relationship with God at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.

Unlike, the robber who faced imminent death on the cross and repented at the 11th hour, Mawire heeded the call in prison and accepted Jesus as his personal saviour.

He said he was inspired by his vision of a reformed life after imprisonment.

Following release from jail, the born again Mawire vowed to be the "light of change" by embarking on a campaign against crime, and becoming an ambassador for peace and "justice".

"I became conscious of the need to retrace my life during my time in prison. I realised that I was doing harm not only to myself, but also to my family. The message from Pastor Kanoyangwa of Celebration Ministries International, who visited me in prison was so powerful that I took no time to heed the call.

"I had started composing gospel songs which had a message of reformation and encouragement long before meeting the pastor. I have composed eight songs which I intend to record God willing," said Mawire.

To walk the talk of reformation, at the end of his jail term on December 27, 2007, Mawire spent the next day at Celebration Centre in Borrowdale.

He says he has found a new family, with a vision not of this world. And he has got a transformed vision too.

"My vision is to bring to Christ as many people as possible, especially those who are criminally-inclined and had the same experiences as mine.

"I am going to cycle to South Africa in an anti-crime campaign considering that crime might be rife in South Africa during the World Cup.

"I am communicating with my pastors who are based at our church in South Africa. I believe this will help me achieve my goal."

The group of cyclists was seen off by their spiritual father, Pastor Stash Chanetsa, at Arcadia Shopping Centre.