Nelson Mandela died today. He was 95. He is rightly remembered as one of the great leaders of the 20th Century, and into the 21st. Many others will give more eloquent eulogies of this great man. My profound respect is centered in how he responded to what he was put through. He was imprisoned for 27 years in harsh conditions for standing against Apartheid, the enforced segregation laws of 20th Century South Africa.
Mr Mandela could have come back into society when he was released and exacted violent retribution against the minority White people who had suppressed the Native population in South Africa, but he knew that not all White people supported Apartheid, and he knew that the violence of the opposition to Apartheid was not the way to make things right. He simply set the standard of forgive and move forward. South Africa and the world are better because of his taking the higher road.
Some people will say that Nelson Mandela is a hero of Black people. Yes he was that. But he is also one of my greatest heroes. He belongs to all of us, and now he is closer to receiving what I believe will be a great reward from the One who sees all things.
As a young missionary in South Africa from 1966 through 1968, I never heard of Nelson Mandela. I never heard of Steve Biko, or of Robert Mugabe either. I honored Ian Smith as a good man who was trying to preserve civility when all around there was chaos. I was there when Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd was assassinated by a mad man in Cape Town during a session of Parliament. I was there when Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. I was there when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated during the presidential campaign of 1968. None of those events seemed enormously important to me then, because I was there to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to anybody who would lend an ear. However, I have learned much, and much has changed, since those days. But through it all, Nelson Mandela is a lasting example of a forgiving soul. My life is better for his example.