Sunday, December 8, 2013

Nelson Mandela: His Words Live on Forever

On Thursday, December 5 we lost a legendary man that will never be forgotten. Nelson Mandela, a courageous, unwavering political and social leader of South Africa and the world, has left us with a beautiful legacy.

In the Mandela family's first public statement since his death, his family members shared these words about their patriarch:

"The pillar of the royal Mandela family is no more with us physically, but his spirit is still with us."

Mandela's spirit of love and forgiveness and compassion for others does live on. And so do his words of love and forgiveness and compassion. When I thought of what I wanted to share about Nelson Mandela, I decided to focus on the eloquent words of our friend and leader. 

1. "I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances."

As I've heard many people speak of Mandela since his death, this quote resonates with me. I've heard extreme responses to Mandela -- some speak of him as if he were a messiah. As if he never knew failure or the disappointment of others. Others speak critically of him, citing his previous criticism of the US government and his sometimes questionable political alliances.

I agree with his own humble self-assessment. He was an ordinary man called to lead an extraordinary movement during an extraordinary time in his country's history. And yet, he courageously rose to the occasion. He humbly accepted the call on his life. 

And yet, through his obedience, he became a world-changer.

II. "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

Arrested in 1962 for leading a campaign against South Africa's racist apartheid government, Mandela spent 27 years in prison. I can only imagine the fear and despair he felt over not seeing his wife everyday. Over missing his children grow up. Over wondering if he'd ever live another day outside those prison gates.

But he chose to triumph over his fears. He managed to conquer his fears. And today his triumph lives as a testimony for us when we face our share of fear and despair. We too can triumph. We too can overcome. God will fight our battles for us. He will overcome our Goliaths, as well.

III. "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." 

It breaks my heart to witness hatred being born in the heart of a child.

Last year, as my family traveled to Maryland, we stopped for a meal at Chick-fil-a in a small southern town. Our children were playing in the play area, which had gradually become filled with more and more racially-diverse children. My 12-year-old son Christian said he heard a little boy, who couldn't have been more than eight-years-old, say "I'll be glad when all the black people leave."

Now I'm convinced that little boy wasn't born disliking African American people. I'm sure he'd learned from the adults around him to hate, to discriminate, to desire "separate, but equal" play areas in Chick-fil-a. My heart broke for not only my children who heard those racist words, but also for the young boy who spoke them. He has learned to hate at such a young age. 

Maybe one day he'll be taught to love.

This quote from Mandela is the reason my husband Anthony and I remain committed to multi-ethnic ministry. It's so much harder to grow a racially-diverse church. Church growth researchers have proven it's actually a recipe for disaster -- if you're thinking about numbers. ...At least numbers of people sitting in your sanctuary.

But we're focusing on a different set of numbers. The number of people whose hearts have been changed. Who are not only growing in their love for Christ, but their love for one another. Who have begun their first deep friendships with someone of a different ethnic group. Who have realized that when Christ prayed, "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one"*-- He meant it. 

He wants us to be ONE. Black and White and Red and Brown and Yellow. Yankees and Southerners. Baptists and Methodists and AME's.

Democrats and Republicans. Imagine that...

Thank you, Nelson Mandela, for your legacy and your words that live on for us. May we learn to live more courageously and compassionately because of them.

* John 17:22