Category Archives: Africa

Kizito — June 3

Image result for st. kizito

Bible connection

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” — Acts 4:17-32

All about Kizito (1872-1886)

Kizito* was the youngest of the Ugandan martyrs who suffered death rather than renounce his faith on June 3rd, 1886. The Ugandan Martyrs refer to a group of forty-five Christians – twenty-two Catholics and twenty-three Anglicans – who were tortured and killed over a period stretching from 1885 to 1887 for their faith.  Christians were persecuted by Mwanda,  the Kabaka (ruler) during this period.  Bugandan territory is now incorporated into the Republic of Uganda.

Priests belonging to the Missionaries in Africa, commonly referred to as the White Fathers (due to their white habits), arrived in Uganda in 1879.  Their mission was met with little resistance at first as they shared their faith among the people of Buganda.  That changed when the Kabaka, Mutesa, died and was succeeded by his son, Mwanga.  Mwanga viewed Christianity as a threat to his power.

The Christian views on morality – especially the teaching that pedophilia was a sin – did not endear them to Mwanda, who was a pedophile and routinely solicited sexual favors from his young pages.  His chief page, Joseph Mukasa was a Catholic who did his best to protect his young charges.  He even had the courage and conviction to confront Mwanga and insist he give up his sinful ways.  Mwanga’s response was to have him beheaded.

Joseph Mukasa was succeeded as chief page by Charles Lwanga who also was a Catholic and who also was vigorous in his protection of the young pages.  Mwanga became increasingly enraged as the pages, Kizito among them, continually refused and rebuffed his sexual advances. Mwanga eventually had the pages brought before him and gave them a choice to renounce their Christian faith and live or choose to keep their faith and die.

Many of the pages including Charles Lwanga and Kizito chose their faith.  There were fifteen in the group who were bound and made to walk two days to Namugongo where they would be killed.  One of the Christians, Matthias Kalemba, was martyred enroute.

Upon reaching Namugongo, Charles Lwanga was the first to be burned at the stake.  The following is a moving excerpt taken from the Catholic News agency:

The executioners slowly burnt his feet until only the charred remained.  Still alive, they promised him that they would let him go if he renounced his faith.  He refused saying, “You are burning me, but it is as if you are pouring water over my body.”  He then continued to pray silently as they set him on fire.

The other pages were burned alive together.  As they were being executed, their faith remained strong until the end, as they prayed and sang hymns.

The death of these martyrs had quite the opposite effect the Kabaka intended. Many witnessing the horrific deaths of these amazing young men who gave their young lives so willingly for their faith asked to be baptized.

* This description of  Bugandan kinship structure may be unfamiliar to you if you grew up in the United States. Kizito’s birth father was Lukomera of the Lungfish (Mamba) Clan, and his mother, who bore Lukomera nine children before she deserted him and died, was Wanga¬bira of the Civet-cat (Ffumbe) Clan. Nyika, or Nyikomuyonga, Guardian of Mwanga’s umbilical cord, often said to be the father of Kizito, was his father by adoption only. The relationship arose from a blood-pact between Nyika’s father Kiggwe and a member of the Lungfish Clan named Mitalekoya. Kiggwe, a descendent of Kabaka (King) Kateregga and a member of the Leopard (Ngo) Clan, was county chief of Ggomba when he made this alliance. Later he incurred the royal displeasure, was deprived of his office and possessions and became virtually an outlaw, because he was out of favor with the Kabaka. In this time of adversity, the blood-pact stood him in good stead. Because of it, the Lungfish Clan gave him and his family asylum and aid, and Mitalekoya became a second father to his son Nyika.

More

Uganda martyrs: Tracing the roots of St. Kizito

Mwanga – the king who killed the Uganda martyrs

What do we do with this?

The church in Uganda remains attentive to sexuality. That seems predictable, since some of its foundation is resistance to sexual predators. Most contexts prove dangerous for Christians, if not everyone. What is prowling around like a lion, as Peter sees it, trying to devour your heart and soul?

The main pressure the King of Buganda felt in the time of Kizito was from colonizers. The French Catholics and English Anglicans were in league with their respective country’s rush to “protect” areas of Africa. Muslim traders were eager to have fortified trading posts and a beachhead for Islam. Evangelism coupled with colonization is one of the stains on Christian history. Like Joseph told his brothers, “You meant it for evil but God used it for good.” Africa is now the continent with the most Christians. Have you experienced or done anything evil that God used for good? Praise God for the goodness, and consider what justice and forgiveness mean to you.

Athanasius — May 2

Athanasius of Alexandria icon

Bible connection

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. — Colossians 2:8-15

All about Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296 – c. 373)

“Those who maintain ‘There was a time when the Son was not’
rob God of his Word, like plunderers.”

Athanasius of Alexandria became the 20th bishop of Alexandria. His on-again-off-again service in that role spanned 45 years. Seventeen of those years were served in exile, when four different Roman emperors ordered his replacement. Athanasius was a Christian theologian, a Church Father, the chief defender of Trinitarianism against Arianism, and a noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century.

Conflict with Arius and Arianism, as well as successive Roman emperors, shaped Athanasius’ career. At the age of 27, he took a leading role against the Arians as a deacon and assistant to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria during the First Council of Nicaea. Roman emperor Constantine the Great convened the council to address the Arian position that the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, is of a distinct substance from the Father.

Three years after that council, Athanasius succeeded his mentor as archbishop of Alexandria. In addition to the conflict with the Arians, he struggled against the Emperors Constantine, Constantius II, Julian the Apostate and Valens. He was known as Athanasius Contra Mundum (Latin for Athanasius Against the World). “Black Dwarf” was the tag his enemies gave him — the short, dark-skinned, Egyptian bishop had plenty of enemies. In the end, his theological enemies were “exiled” from orthodoxy, and it is Athanasius’ writings that shaped the future of the church. Within a few years after his death, Gregory of Nazianzus called him the “Pillar of the Church.”

Most his enemies were earned by his stubborn insistence that Arianism, the reigning “orthodoxy” of the day, was in fact a heresy. The dispute began when Athanasius was the chief deacon in Alexandria. While his mentor, Alexander preached with philosophical exactitude on the Trinity, Arius, a presbyter from Libya announced, “If the Father begat the Son, then he who was begotten had a beginning in existence, and from this it follows there was a time when the Son was not.” The argument caught on, but Alexander and Athanasius fought against Arius, arguing that it denied the Trinity. Christ is not of a like substance to God, they argued, but the same substance.

To Athanasius this was not splitting theological hairs. Salvation was at issue. Only one who was fully human could atone for human sin; only one who was fully divine could have the power to save us. To Athanasius, the logic of New Testament doctrine of salvation assumed the dual nature of Christ.  Alexander’s encyclical letter, signed by Athanasius (and possibly written by him), attacked the consequences of the Arian heresy. If it were true:

“The Son [then,] is a creature and a work; neither is he like in essence to the Father; neither is he the true and natural Word of the Father; neither is he his true wisdom; but he is one of the things made and created and is called the Word and Wisdom by an abuse of terms… Wherefore he is by nature subject to change and variation, as are all rational creatures.”

The controversy spread, and all over the empire, Christians could be heard singing a catchy tune that championed the Arian view: “There was a time when the Son was not.” In every city, wrote a historian, “bishop was contending against bishop, and the people were contending against one another, like swarms of gnats fighting in the air.”

Word of the dispute made it to the newly converted Emperor Constantine the Great, who was more concerned with seeing church unity than theological truth. “Division in the church,” he told the bishops, “is worse than war.” To settle the matter, he called a council of bishops.

Of the 1,800 bishops invited to Nicea, about 300 came—and argued, fought, and eventually fleshed out an early version of the Nicene Creed. The council, led by Alexander, condemned Arius as a heretic, exiled him, and made it a capital offense to possess his writings. Constantine was pleased that peace had been restored to the church. Athanasius, whose treatise On the Incarnation laid the foundation for the orthodox party at Nicea, was hailed as “the noble champion of Christ.”

But the Arian heresy did not die out. Within a few months, supporters of Arius talked Constantine into ending Arius’ exile. With a few private additions, Arius even signed the Nicene Creed, and the emperor ordered Athanasius, who had recently succeeded Alexander as bishop, to restore the heretic to fellowship. When Athanasius refused, his enemies spread false charges against him. He was accused of murder, illegal taxation, sorcery, and treason—the last of which led Constantine to exile him to Trier, now a German city near Luxembourg.

Constantine died two years later, and Athanasius returned to Alexandria. But in his absence, Arianism had gained the upper hand. Now church leaders were against him, and they banished him again. Athanasius fled to Pope Julius I in Rome. He returned in 346, but in the mercurial politics of the day, was banished three more times before he came home to stay in 366. By then he was about 70 years old.

While in exile, Athanasius spent most of his time writing, mostly to defend orthodoxy, but he took on pagan and Jewish opposition as well. One of his most lasting contributions is his Life of St. Ant[h]ony, which helped to shape the Christian ideal of monasticism. The book is filled with tales of Antony’s encounters with the devil, yet Athanasius wrote, “Do not be incredulous about what you hear of him… Consider, rather that from them only a few of his feats have been learned.” In fact, the bishop knew the monk personally, and this saint’s biography is one of the most historically reliable. It became an early “bestseller” and made a deep impression on many people, even helping lead pagans to conversion — Augustine of Hippo is the most famous example.

During Athanasius’s first year permanently back in Alexandria, he sent his annual letter to the churches in his diocese, called a festal letter. Such letters were used to fix the dates of festivals such as Lent and Easter, and to discuss matters of general interest. In this letter, Athanasius listed what he believed were the books that should constitute the New Testament: “In these [27 writings] alone the teaching of godliness is proclaimed,” he wrote. “No one may add to them, and nothing may be taken away from them.” Though other such lists had been and would still be proposed, it is Athanasius’ list that the church eventually adopted, and the writings he listed make up the New Testament.

Quotes:

  • “Christians, instead of arming themselves with swords, extend their hands in prayer.”
  • “The holy and inspired Scriptures are sufficient of themselves for the preaching of the truth.”
  • “Jesus became what we are that he might make us what he is.”
  • “You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself.”
  • “Similarly, anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the saints by copying their deeds.”
  • “For, indeed, everything about is marvelous, and wherever a man turns his gaze he sees the Godhead of the Word and is smitten with awe.”
  • “The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good.”
  • “For of what use is existence to the creature if it cannot know its Maker?”
  • “The Greek philosophers have compiled many works with persuasiveness and much skill in words; but what fruit have they to show for this such as has the cross of Christ? Their wise thoughts were persuasive enough until they died.”
  • “Even on the cross he did not hide himself from sight; rather, he made all creation witness to the presence of its Maker.”

More

Development of New Testament canon

The Incarnation from the Coptics.

Roman Catholic biography 

Controversy about “deification

What do we do with this?

Athanasius is also known as the “father of orthodoxy.” He helped refine doctrines that set the baseline for true faith and set the final parameters on the New Testament. He was fighting for the church’s life in a time when the government wanted to exploit it and society was absorbing it according to its own image. Nothing is new under the sun.

What do you think the Lord would like you to fight for in this era? What truth is threatened? What necessity is being watered down or lost? If we want to leave a coherent faith for the next generation, what  should we do?

Constantine thought Arius should be reinstated after he “signed” the Nicene Creed. But Athanasius was not ready to love his enemy if the enemy was trying to wiggle his way back into orthodoxy with a few caveats. Even though Athanasius holds the line, Arianism does not die out. It becomes the main designation for the Christianity of the “East.” Some form of it is what Persians, Mongols and Chinese adopt. From the 4th century on, protecting the metaphysics of God is an occupation that divides the church and changes the character of Christian faith, now organized under political goals and power struggles. You probably have an idea of what is “true” in general and what is true about Jesus. Can you summarize it? Dare you investigate it?

Perpetua and Felicitas — March 7

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Bible connection

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given;  they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?”  They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed. — Revelation 6:9-11

All about Perpetua (c. 182-c.203) and Felicitas 

We have little idea what brought Perpetua to faith in Christ, or how long she had been a Christian, or how she lived her Christian life. Thanks to her diary, and that of another prisoner, we have some idea of her last days—an ordeal that so impressed the famous Augustine that he preached four sermons about her death.

Perpetua was a Christian noblewoman who, at the turn of the third century, lived with her husband, her son, and her slave, Felicitas, in Carthage (the ruins are a suburb of Tunis, today). At this time, North Africa was the center of a vibrant Christian community. Emperor Septimius Severus may have  believed Christianity and there is doubt about the tradition that he fomented persecution in North Africa. The hostility to Jesus followers that broke out was probably a local issue. Among the first to be arrested were five new Christians taking classes to prepare for baptism, one of whom was Perpetua.

Her father immediately came to her in prison. He was a pagan, and he saw an easy way for Perpetua to save herself. He begged her to simply deny she was a Christian:

“Father do you see this vase here?” she replied. “Could it be called by any other name than what it is?”

“No,” he replied.

“Well, neither can I be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.”

All this was recorded in her own hand and later formed into a book you can still read, that includes an account of another victim. The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity (Latin: Passio sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis) describes her imprisonment as a Christian in 203, completed after her death by a redactor. It is one of the oldest and most illustrative early Christian texts.

In the next days, Perpetua was moved to a better part of the prison and allowed to breast-feed her child. With her appearance before the authorities approaching, her father visited again, this time, pleading more passionately: “Have pity on my gray head. Have pity on me, your father, if I deserve to be called your father, if I have favored you above all your brothers, if I have raised you to reach this prime of your life.”

He threw himself down before her and kissed her hands. “Do not abandon me to be the reproach of men. Think of your brothers; think of your mother and your aunt; think of your child, who will not be able to live once you are gone. Give up your pride!”

Perpetua was touched but remained unshaken. She tried to comfort her father—”It will all happen in the prisoner’s dock as God wills, for you may be sure that we are not left to ourselves but are all in his power”—but he walked out of the prison dejected.

The day of the hearing arrived, Perpetua and her friends were marched before the governor, Hilarianus. Perpetua’s friends were questioned first, and each in turn admitted to being a Christian, and each in turn refused to make a sacrifice (an act of emperor worship). Then the governor turned to question Perpetua.

At that moment, her father, carrying Perpetua’s son in his arms, burst into the room. He grabbed Perpetua and pleaded, “Perform the sacrifice. Have pity on your baby!” Hilarianus, probably wishing to avoid the unpleasantness of executing a mother who still suckled a child, added, “Have pity on your father’s gray head; have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperor.”

Perpetua replied simply: “I will not.”

“Are you a Christian then?” asked the governor.

“Yes I am,” Perpetua replied.

Her father interrupted again, begging her to sacrifice, but Hilarianus had heard enough: he ordered soldiers to beat him into silence. He then condemned Perpetua and her friends to die in the arena.

Perpetua, her friends, and her slave, Felicitas (who had subsequently been arrested), were dressed in belted tunics. When they entered the stadium, wild beasts and gladiators roamed the arena floor, and in the stands, crowds roared to see blood. They didn’t have to wait long.

Immediately a wild cow charged the group. Perpetua was tossed into the air and onto her back. She sat up, adjusted her ripped tunic, and walked over to help Felicitas. Then a leopard was let loose, and it wasn’t long before the tunics of the Christians were stained with blood.

The process was too slow for the impatient crowd, which began calling for death for the Christians. So Perpetua, Felicitas, and friends were lined up, and one by one, were slain by the sword.

In his book The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Alan Kreider tries to understand how Perpetua (and othes with her) made such a big impression on many who saw her — their guard became a Jesus follower!

Perpetua’s authoritative influence lay not only in their visions; it lay in the lives that embodied the visions. … [The formation of their way of life and demeanor came] through the recitation of certain phrases that people can repeat day by day, and especially when they are in toruble. …The phrase “I am a Christian” has tremendous importance…[It connotes] an entire way of life, an entire value system, that was fundamentally contrary to the way of life embodied in the amphitheater (p. 50).

The state murders did not offend the crowd, but the way the Christians showed their alternativity impressive hundreds.

More

Docudrama: Lost Legacy Reclaimed: Perpetua  

The story told as a seven-minute episode on Dateline:

What do we do with this?

John the Revealer sees the blood of the martyrs as the seeds of the church. The willingness of Perpetua and her newly-converted friends to die rather than worship the Emperor (and the Empire complex), is the signature act that validates the possibility of faith and transformation for those dominated by Rome. Notably, their community in death transcends class. For race-dominated, Eurocentric Christians, it is noteworthy to consider that they were Africans.

Is martyrdom dead? Is your Christianity all locked within your personal identity? Does it intersect with the Empire in which you live? Have you already recanted when asked to worship the “emperor?” These young women ask us important questions with their courage, faith and deaths.

Anthony of Egypt — January 17

Hieronymous Bosch, Triptych of Temptation of St Anthony (right wing), 1505-06, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

Bible connection

Read James 4:1-12

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

All about Anthony the Great (251-356)

Today is St. Anthony of Egypt’s feast day.

The Roman Catholic Church developed an elaborate system of celebrating the lives of “saints.” Early on, these great people were often the martyrs who gave all believers courage to keep their faith in difficult times. Later, these people were thought to play an intermediary role between Jesus and humanity. Their shrines were thought to be healing, powerful places, and they were thought to be praying for us and taking advantage of their special relationship with God on our behalf. Even though these practices have been  excessive and even heretical, we still recognize how notable Jesus followers got to be “saints.” The Bible calls everyone who has been set apart for God in Jesus a saint, so you probably deserve an entry in our list. But some people are so inspiring we don’t want to forget them. The Body of Christ has  great history.

The word “saint” means “holy one.” When Paul writes to the church in Rome, he starts his letter: “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” If you follow Jesus, you are a saint, right along with Anthony.

Anthony was one of the first Christian monks.  A “monk” (from Greek: μοναχόςmonachos, “single, solitary” and Latin monachus) is a person who practices strict spiritual discipline to be close to God and serve the Lord’s purpose, living either alone or with any number of other monks. They voluntarily choose to leave mainstream society and live an alternative life, usually according to a rule.

Anthony lived for 105 years! At the age of 20, he was inspired by a passage in Mark: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor” (10:21). So he made sure his sister was well provided for and gave away a large inheritance and all his possessions. He then pursued a life of solitude in the desert, away from a Church which was quickly becoming dominated by the world. In many ways, he was the “anti-Constantine.”

Anthony was illiterate but he became very wise.  He went further into the desert than his ascetic contemporaries in search of an undistracted life with God.  He spent time in an old tomb and eventually he shut himself up in an old Roman fort for twenty years.  In his solitude, he had frequent run-ins with the devil, but triumphed.  His life was written down by the famous bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, so we know a lot about his struggle and his influential successes. [Link to Athanasius’ Life of Anthony…]

The Emperor Constantine and his two sons, Constantius and Constans, once sent Anthony a joint letter, recommending themselves to his prayers. Noting the astonishment of some of the monks present, Anthony said,

“Do not wonder that the Emperor writes to us, even to a man such as I am; rather be astounded that God has communicated with us, and has spoken to us by His Son.”

Replying to the letter, he exhorted the Emperor and his sons to show contempt for the world and to constantly remember the final judgment.

The holiness Anthony achieved in his solitude ended up being very influential. People came to see him and formed a community around his example. Plus, the leaders of the church called him out of his separation to add his wisdom to the development of the church.

Perhaps the best movements are those begun by people not trying to start them. The monastic movement that Anthony inspired is still inspiring further descendants in the faith today. Many believers in these troubled times honor the spirit of separation from the world and practice that separation invasively.

More

You might appreciate a bio of Anthony from the Coptic Church [link].

Expoza Travel tells you why you should go to the desert with Anthony. [link]

Interesting documentary about monks inthe desert: Desert Foreigners [link]

What do we do with this?

Here are some ways you could experiment with Anthony’s discipline. You might hear from God yourself!

  • Spend half a day (or more if you can) in the “wildereness,” in silence, some time in the near future
  • Have a silent day at home. Make a deal with your spouse or roommates that you are going to be silent (maybe get them to do it with you).
  • Unplug completely for at least two days.
  • See if a five-minute alone time of listening during your workday allows you to connect with God in any way.

Nelson Mandela — December 5

Mandela in Soweto two days after his release from prison in 1990. He addressed over 100,000 people in a soccer stadium.

Bible connection

Therefore My people shall know My Name and what it means. Therefore in that day I am the One who is speaking, ‘Here I am.’”

How beautiful and delightful on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace,
Who brings good news of good [things],
Who announces salvation,
Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices,
Together they shout for joy;
For they will see face to face
The return of the Lord to Zion. Isaiah 52:6-8

Then-President Nelson Mandela revisits his South African prison cell on Robben Island, where he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison, in 1994.
Then-President Nelson Mandela revisits his South African prison cell on Robben Island, where he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison, in 1994.

All about Nelson Mandela  (1918-2013)

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country’s first black chief executive, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalized racism and fostering racial reconciliation. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as President of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997. Internationally, Mandela was Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999.

Mandela was not outspoken about his Christian faith. However, in his autobiography, he noted that he has always been and will be a Christian and that his actions and conviction stem from his Christian faith. He kept his Christian beliefs discreet in favor of his great life work of reconciliation. “He was a deeply religious man; he believed sincerely in the existence of the Almighty,” said Bishop Don Dabula, who first met Mandela in 1962 and met to pray with him whenever he was at his home in Qunu

The former president had the last rites administered by a Methodist minister in his Houghton home as he was nearing death. Nearby, in a private room, long-time friend Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said Mandela’s favorite blessing as he died. “I asked not to be in the room when he died,” said Mpumlwana, who had prayed at the family home regularly towards the end of Mandela’s life. He looked at the time midway during what he knew was Mandela’s favorite blessing and saw it was 8:49 p.m. He chanted the words that always made the elderly statesman’s face light up when he heard them: May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. “May the Lord look upon you with kindness, and give you peace. “I later realized that was when he died,” Mpumlwana said.

It is testament to Mandela’s universal appeal that he has been claimed to be everything from a communist to a true liberal by his many admirers. And the image of the father of South Africa’s secular democracy as being deeply religious may well sit uncomfortably with some. But Mandela’s relationship with religion was always significant, if muted.

He was raised and schooled as a Methodist, an experience he recalled fondly in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Mandela was married to his third wife, Graça Machel, by the then head of the South African Methodist church, Bishop Mvume Dandala. At a religious conference in 1999, he said: “Without the church, without religious institutions, I would never have been here today…Religion was one of the motivating factors in everything we did.”

But Mandela held an aversion to speaking publicly about his own faith for fear of dividing or—even worse—using religion as a political tool, as the apartheid regime did. In his autobiography he wrote:

“The [apartheid] policy was supported by the Dutch Reformed Church, which furnished apartheid with its religious underpinnings by suggesting that Afrikaners were God’s chosen people and that blacks were a subservient species. In the Afrikaner’s world view, apartheid and the church went hand in hand.”

The head of the Methodist Church in South Africa, Bishop Zipho Siwa, agreed: “He is a leader whose role was to unite everybody.” Ultimately, his faith, like everything else about Mandela, played to the great theme of his life: reconciliation. This was illustrated in a 1994 speech to the Zion Christian Church Easter conference, in which he said: “The good news was borne by our risen Messiah, who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language,  who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind.”

More

More biography.

Mandela and the church

Long Walk to Freedom trailer

What do we do with this?

Mandela spent years in prison waiting his opportunity to serve. He had no choice, and maybe you do not either. Will you be bitter when you receive your chance, or ready?

Who can you help reconcile today? Be sincere as you provide a way for people to love. They need your help.