J John on three encouragements from Nelson Mandela
Author and speaker J John reflects the South African leader's telling legacy ...
With the passing away of Nelson Mandela, one of the giants of our age has left the world stage. Nelson Mandela's path from prisoner to president is inspiring. I do not need to list his remarkable achievements - those are readily available elsewhere – but I do want to reflect on three great encouragements I draw from his life.
The first encouragement I see is that Nelson Mandela’s life demonstrates the principle that an individual can make a difference.
Political pressures, technological innovation and popular movements are upheld today as the agents that shape our world, but the reality is that it's individual men and women who make a transforming difference.
I'm happy about this: I've invested my life in people. The cynicism of our age says that you and I can do very little to make the world a better place. I believe otherwise and the life of Nelson Mandela bears this truth.
The second encouragement I draw from the life of Nelson Mandela is that it demonstrates the overlooked principle that what we prevent may be as important as what we achieve.
As the cruel and unjust regime of apartheid began to simmer in the mid 1980s, a bloody civil war in South Africa seemed a certainty. Nelson Mandela's greatest achievement was that it never happened. On a small scale that principle is applicable to us. Indeed, in asking his followers to be salt, Jesus was expecting that we be sterilising agents; those who prevent evil.
Now the prevention of evil is often undramatic stuff; it is easy for it to be taken for granted and overlooked. This is a vital truth for us. We may feel that we have achieved little in our work, but who knows how much worse it might have been if we hadn't played our part? Sometimes our biggest achievements are invisible.
A third encouragement I find in the life of Nelson Mandela is the value of Christian truth and principles. In our secular age, many obituaries are conveniently overlooking the role of the Christian faith and ethics in the shaping of Nelson Mandela, but he was educated in Christian missionary schools and grew up with the values and principles of the Bible.
The very virtues for which he is now praised: his humility, his tolerance, his belief in forgiveness, his rejection of hate, his desire for justice for all, and his commitment to reconciliation were all Christian ones. He may be honoured as a secular saint, but the truth is the sacredness of God and the Bible shaped him.
Indeed, when we look at so many of the trouble-spots of the world, we find ourselves desperately hoping for a Nelson Mandela. It's easy to think that the gospel of Christ is mere words. But it's words that change lives and it's lives that change the world.
Rev Canon J John, Director