Yesterday a great leader passed. South Africa, and the world will mourn the death of President Nelson Mandela, a figure of great political change and peace.
This summer I had the great pleasure of visiting South Africa and teaching engineering in a school outside of Cape Town. Although I had briefly studied Mandela in history books, it was not until my trip that I really had the chance to realize the impact this man had on an entire country, and ultimately a whole planet. For the class we were assigned to read the book “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation”. To be completely honest, the book was not written in a style that made is an easy read. However the story was incredible. If I could give one piece of advice to the world today it would be to watch the movie that tells the same story.
Here is the trailer to the film.( Invictus trailer) Even if you are uninterested in sports or politics, I still highly recommend it.
During my visit to South Africa, President Mandela was in very poor health. They were not predicting he would make it through the week. However his health did improve slightly towards the end of our trip, and were able to join in the celebration of his 95th birthday at his former home in Soweto (an urban area outside of Johannesburg). This celebration gave me goosebumps (you can read more about it, and the rest of my trip here). It was so incredible to be a witness a part of history We signed a poster wishing him a happy birthday. The poster read, “How privileged we are to live in your time” .
When I heard the unfortunate news, I reached out to my friends in South Africa, the students from the school. I wrote on our facebook page that their friends at Mizzou send our love and prayers. My beautiful friend Paulcia said “His death will surely be the cause of a nation dividing”. Gosh it just broke my heart to hear her say this. The worst part, is that is could quite possibly be true. I was there. I saw the museum of district 6. I bonded with so many students who’s lives were directly impacted by the changes this man influenced. There is still a lot of work to be done there regarding equality for all races. There are still many people who harbor hatred for the blacks and coloreds of the country. They are stricken with poverty and prejudice. With the death of Mandela, a symbol of hope and peace has perished. It leaves me scared and sad of what this might mean for the country, and what it might mean for my friends at Bellville South. This could be a great opportunity for the nation to rise and unite, but it could also mean uproars of violence and political unrest.
No he was not a prophet or god, but he instilled principles of peace and acceptance. He came out of 27 years in prison ready to forgive and fight for the people who imprisoned him. I just can’t imagine how much strength it took for him to do the right thing when our human tendencies usually lean towards revenge, anger, self pity, and hatred. Not only did he avoid these, but encouraged so many others to do the same.
I know I will probably not ever be a political figure and change the habits of a city, let alone a country. Still his actions inspire me to do what is right and loving even when it feels hard. Even when I am hurt and want so badly to seek revenge, ignore, or hurt the person who betrays me, I can follow the example of acting with peace and most importantly love.
This is the Gospel. Even though we sin and turn our backs on the Lord, he sent us his son to love us and teach us how to love one another. It is so easy for us to forget this when we have been hurt. I do not think that Mandela is a god or prophet, but I do think he is a great example. I have been inspired by him and his actions, and so have many others. In 1989, he was quoted saying “I stand here before you not at a prophet, but as a humble servant of you the people”. To me that is truly inspiring and humbling. I want to be a servant of love and peace in this world. To me, that may just mean I have the ability to impact my family, friends, and co workers, but if more people act in this way what a difference it could make.
I pray that South Africa may mourn in peace and continue in the search of peace and love for one another.
God bless and sien jou later!