Nelson Mandela has died.
His life was a remarkable journey.
Who is Mandela?
Part Abraham Lincoln, part Rosa Parks, part Frederick Douglas, and part Martin Luther King, Jr., Mandela was the face of the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa and deeply connected to the African National Congress, the political party that (still today) holds the power in the country.
In his youth, he was involved in numerous protests and even some more subversive conspiracies against the Afrikaner establishment. After serving 27 years of a life imprisonment sentence following a conviction for sabotage and attempting to overthrow the government in 1962, Mandela worked with then-President F. W. de Klerk in the early 90s to abolish apartheid and bring forth the first multi-racial elections ever in South Africa. That 1994 election saw Mandela become the first black president of South Africa, a position he held until 1999.
Even though Mandela led his revolution through political maneuvers, in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he reflected on the work of the church in South Africa regarding the overthrow of apartheid: "The Church was as concerned with this world as the next: I saw that virtually all of the achievements of Africans seemed to have come about through the missionary work of the Church."
But, more than that, Mandela held back what many saw as an inevitable retribution after a half-century of racial tension, segregation, and institutionalized racism. As one friend in South Africa told me, "There is much respect for Nelson regarding the fact that he literally stopped a civil war. I have seen racist men honor him at rugby games." It's impossible to underestimate Mandela's influence and reputation, among people of all races in South Africa.
Will the Past Hold for the Future?
Yet the fear remains that his death may release some of that rage he helped to address.
As The Guardian explains, there are many wild rumors, and most such rumors prove to be false. However, my Christian friends in South Africa agree with the Guardian that "[s]ome believe the anti-apartheid hero and paragon of racial reconciliation is the glue that holds this diverse, sometimes discordant nation together."
It does not take much to remember the bad days of South African apartheid. Many wondered if the nation would spin out of control after the fall of apartheid.
But it did not.
Because Nelson Mandela showed forgiveness and was the leading force to unify his country.
Many non-South Africans learned about this era—and Mandela's role—through the movie Invictus. The book would be more profitable as its title tells the story: Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation. Also, you might consider this ESPN video to get a picture of the era. No, it's not all about sports, but it helps give the picture.
How Can We Pray?
There are many believers in South Africa praying for their country—some are especially concerned now—and I join them in prayer. I hope you will as well.
I recently returned from a great trip to Johannesburg and Cape Town. While there, I recorded several episodes of The Exchange, and spoke at several venues. Most importantly, I was able to encourage believers to live on mission in tumultuous times.
One place I visited was Godfirst, a multi-ethnic local church in Tembisa. In July, Godfirst held a special service in which pastors PJ Smyth and NK shared a message related to the passing of Madiba—the local, affectionate name for Mandela—and the future God has for South Africa. Here is that sermon:
As Mandela stated in a 1994 Easter speech just three weeks before his election as president: "We raise our voices in holy gladness to celebrate the victory of the risen Christ over the terrible forces of death."
It is my prayer that Mandela knows that victory now, and that many South Africans know that victory in the future.