It is with a heavy heart that I write this introduction to the First Friday Letter this month. I write it with the knowledge that Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa and a symbol of the struggle against injustice throughout the world, is gravely ill.
For the past few weeks I have answered the questions of people from all over the globe about Mr. Mandela, and each time people are curious to find out about the “real” Mandela – the one that we aren’t privy to in photo ops and carefully crafted public statements. Each person in their own way is looking for an aside to attempt to sum up what Mandela meant to South Africa. Each time I consider the question and yet still I arrive at the same conclusion: Nelson Mandela is a man inspired and a man who inspires.
Mandela is a man who rejected violence and sought peace, who was imprisoned by the state and yet still maintained the moral high ground. He was the father of post-Apartheid South Africa and led helped usher in a new government and with little violence. He’s a man who served his country and became the face of our nation.
In the coming weeks, there will be plenty of biographies of the man and his work. There will be stories of his triumph over an unjust system, but also remember his commitment to peace, his being awarded the 2000 World Methodist Peace Award and his call for each and every person to be afforded the most basic of human rights. As you read the stories of Mandiba, think of other people who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of justice. Think about the kaleidoscopic details of these people and contrast them with the sad banality of those who sought to deny the rights of others.
At its best South Africa can be described by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a Rainbow Nation – a place for all to come together in search of the common good. This idea also describes the aspirations of the World Methodist Council and our work uniting the Methodists, Weslyan, United and Uniting Churches from around the world.
This month to celebrated both the birthday and the life of Nelson Mandela, I ask that we dedicate ourselves to the service of human rights. Let us gather together and work to feed the hungry, clothe the poor and to stand up for those who cannot. These deeds cut to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian, and are the tent posts upon which the UN celebrates Nelson Mandela International Day.
This month, let us honor and extraordinary life by each of us leading extraordinary lives.