My family writes letters. When significant events happen, we write. It’s weird, I know, but true. Before my Grandmother (on my mother’s side) got sick a few years ago, she wrote long letters to me on significant occasions recalling beautiful memories or the simple joys of mundane activities. And even now I frequently get a well-written letter from my Grandfather (on my father’s side) to commemorate a big event or remind me of my heritage. It’s what we do.
This one was particularly fitting given my Grandparents’ life-long work as Methodist missionaries in Africa, and I think it eloquently articulates the significance of Mandela’s life in a very personal way.
I […] thought I would share these thoughts of mine on Nelson Mandela since I heard of his passing Thursday night.
As people reflect on the life of Nelson Mandela of South Africa it is important to identify how he could become an agent of reconciliation and a statesman who not only respected the legal limits of his presidential power but stepped down from power when he could have remained there for life. The answer is found in the early influence of missionaries and Methodist pastors in his life. He went to church and was baptized when young, and although he strayed from it as an adult, when in prison it was renewed. Pastors I know in South Africa tell me that President DeKlerk became aware of it and, being a believer himself, felt he could take the risk to let Mandela go free, end Apartheid and give blacks the right to vote. But Mandela states it himself in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, on page 620. In explaining some of his reasons for his actions he said it was because "I was a Christian." Little more was told of it in his book, but this is part of the untold story that explains how God could turn this flawed man into a mighty force for good.
I personally went to South Africa in the late 1980s to see the conditions under Apartheid. I went alone to the black townships of Soweto and Sharpsville (where a massacre there turned Mandela to believe peaceful protest was no longer enough) and met with various pastors and preached in some churches. When it was announced that elections would take place in the early 1990s that included blacks for the first time, I was contacted by those leaders in South Africa to come and help train them for leadership. I organized a team of speakers, although I personally could not go to South Africa when they wanted to have us come because I was speaking to leaders at Russia's parliament at that same time (The Soviet Union had just been dissolved). But Stephen McDowell went and a few others […] and they addressed thousands of leaders in a couple of national symposiums on how to have reconciliation and how to govern with a Biblical worldview. My book Liberating the Nations was distributed to thousands for their study. At that crucial transition point in the early 1990s, some of these leaders were elected into parliament and took other important positions of influence. I have had the privilege of returning and working with leaders since then, some of whom still serve in parliament. Though my role was but one part of the miraculous avoidance of civil war in that land (difficult for some people today to comprehend how much a miracle that was), I received an award a few years later from the South Africa parliament, which I treasure highly.
The passing of Mandela will remind people of that crucial time in history and he will receive credit he deserves, but let us remind people of God’s greatness even more, that the King of the Earth chooses to use such men as Mandela and thousands of others who most people will never hear about, And let us pray that God would move on hearts of leaders among the nations today and raise up more statesmen who may overcome evil with good and bring healing to their lands. And finally let us be training the next generation of leaders and getting them ready to step forward both in America and the world.
I am proud of all of you. Each one of you are a force for God and good in your own way where you are. I am so thankful for that.