Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nelson Mandela: Lessons Learned

Nelson Mandela (Graphic from ABC News)
How much of a difference can one person make?  The impact of the life of Nelson Mandela proves one person can indeed make a big difference.  We see a second example in the impact of Pope Francis already. 

The lesson I want to reflect on is that of suffering. As in the story of the nativity of Christ it is easy to gloss over the hardships and suffering and focus on the joyful aspects--which clearly exist in both the nativity story and the life of Nelson Mandela.  
So what were Nelson Mandela's hardships? Growing during the reign of apartheid would probably be considered enough suffering by most. Here is a good link regarding his education, which was rare to receive by a black person during apartheid. At that site, there is reference to a situation in college related to the Student Representative Council of which he disputed the election process to the point where he was given the ultimatum to accept his seat as things were set or be expelled. He chose not to continue his education there based on his uncompromising principles and great tenacity (aka stubbornness). 

I have heard of his involvement in the resistance movement and a sabotage group fighting apartheid, and his having to live "underground" because of his fight against the racism of apartheid and all it involved.  He ultimately was imprisoned for 27 years.  Though his sentence was for life in prison, he had faced the death penalty. 

At the trial he spoke eloquently of his willing to die for his ideals:
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Twenty-seven years in prison because you are fighting for equality for one's race could make a person very bitter. Sitting on the ground breaking rocks for hours, even in the colder weather wearing short pants, could make a person extremely bitter. 

Yet that is not what happened. The last two lines from the poem Invictus give me some insight: 
"I am the master of my fate:I am the captain of my soul."
This man, who had a list of good excuses to be angry and bitter, CHOSE not to be. I don't know the process, the prayers, the source of perseverance. What I do know is that Nelson Mandela would not compromise his principles to be released early from prison.  He treated each person with great respect and dignity.  The testimonies speak of how Mandela treated people: as each person mattered and was important to him. This was cultivated while in prison and during a time of much suffering. Was it like what we read in Scripture about the refiner's purifying fire?  His suffering could have made him a seeker of revenge. 

Instead, he is released from prison as the great reconciler, the person who would do the seemingly impossible in South Africa.  He would push forward the end of apartheid and the unification of a nation.
Nelson Mandela (Graphic from Las Vegas Guardian Express)
Have you faced your suffering or do you keep it under lock and key?  Do you dread the thought of it getting out?  Have you faced your suffering and allowed it to sit beside you? Have you decided how to use your suffering in a meaningful way or are you in a partnership with bitterness?

One person can make a difference in the world.  What kind of difference will you make?

Post contributed by Sister Denise LaRock

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