Last night, Mark and I read the news for the first time — that South Africa lost her greatest son, as Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95. In South Africa, he was affectionately referred to by two special names from the Xhosa language: his tribal name, Madiba, and Tata, meaning father. Perhaps no country has ever felt so close to a democratic president as to refer to him with such genuine and lasting affection.

The world has not forgotten that the greatness Mandela consistently exhibited was forged in a crucible few others will experience. His twenty-seven year imprisonment provided a case study in human relationships, and I imagine Madiba, in his heart, was taking very good notes. He learned to see his oppressors as fragile humans, he learned their language and culture, but he stood for a vision that meant he held fast to see it accomplished — he even turned down one opportunity to get out of prison.


Like Joseph, imprisoned for all those years before he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, I wonder if he clung to the belief that his imprisonment had a great purpose.

Indeed, it did.

Finally, he walked to freedom in a way that “set in motion a chain of events that would lead to free and fair elections and majority rule [in South Africa] four years later.” {Source}

At the end of his memoir, he wrote about his release from prison:

The truth is that we are not yet free. . . . We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

Mandela saw forgiveness as a path to healing for a torn-apart nation. Under his leadership, the country avoided erupting into absolute state failure during the days of government transition, while the world watched and wondered — it looked like a simmering pot about to boil over.

What a challenge the words he wrote and the life he lived are to all of us. Can those of us who’ve found freedom in Christ strive to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others?  Do we too often confuse political freedom with the true freedom a man can experience in his soul — I imagine it’s a freedom Madiba found, while still imprisoned.

It is a sad time to say good-bye to a man who was a warm light and a shining example to us all. I pray for the beautiful country he left behind. {The image above is a view from Gordon’s Bay, looking toward Cape Town — it hangs above the fireplace in our home and serves as a reminder.}

Dear friends in South Africa, know that so many around the world are truly holding you in our hearts.

The journey is indeed not over for us collectively — but with the time we have left, we can endeavor to honor and prefer one another.

I believe in the power of the church in South Africa — to continue to tear down the color lines and to continue to endeavor together to live humbly, love the poor, hold on to hope and believe the truth. I’ve seen the beauty of the Rainbow Nation worshipping and I believe her best days are still to come.

The world lost a great light yesterday — let us remember his example, treasure the memory of the way he walked, his grace. And let us remember the season we lost him — the season we celebrate the Light of the World’s first appearing, the season that brings us hope that even if this world sometimes feels broken, broken, broke, yet still there is hope, always hope.

We thank you for your example, Madiba. You truly made the world a better place.