His Long Walk to Freedom

Nelson Mandela is greeted at the 8th assembly of the World Council of Churches in Harare, Zimbabwe, in December 1998. “Journey to Jubilee”: South African Choir Photo by Chris Black/WCC.

Nelson Mandela is greeted at the 8th assembly of the World Council of Churches in Harare, Zimbabwe, in December 1998. “Journey to Jubilee”: South African Choir Photo by Chris Black/WCC.

Former South African President and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela died Thursday, December 5, from complications related to a recurring lung infection. He was 95.

United Methodists and the international Wesleyan family of the World Methodist Council remember Mandela as a person who fought for dignity and equality for all, not through violent means, but instead through the moral authority that comes when the cause of justice is on one’s side. The lives that were touched by Mandiba’s words and deeds are impossible to count, but his story will live on for generations to come as an example of how to lead in the face of oppression.

“Mandela brought hope for those strangulated by poverty and hunger; transformed the nightmares of those trapped in a hopelessness and despair into dreams of a better future and sunshine, dignity and assurance to many a young person caught up in waves of angst about the future of South Africa,” World Methodist Council General Secretary Ivan Abrahams stated. “He stood as the collective conscience of a people and achieved what many, in their entire lifetime thought impossible. He will stand out in history as a beacon of light, a lodestar inspiring many generations to come.”

A life-long Methodist, Mandela was a man of faith, principle, hope and inspiration. The leader of a movement and the father of a nation, Mandela’s shadow stretches forward as a reminder to each of us of a better way.

“As a Church, we have been privileged to be associated with Madiba since the early days of his life when he was educated, first at Clarkebury and then at Healdtown, Methodist educational institutions in the Eastern Cape, both of which were important influences on his life,” Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa, Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, said in a statement.

“Madiba remained a committed Methodist throughout his life. The thousands of accolades from every walk of life that he received included the World Methodist Peace Award, the highest honor that can be bestowed by the worldwide Methodist family.”

Mandela was elected South Africa’s first black president by a near two-thirds margin in 1994, after spending 27 years in prison for his role as a leader in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement. He served as president for five years, until retiring in 1999.

In 2000, the World Methodist Council awarded Mandela the World Methodist Peace Award for his single-minded commitment to peace and reconciliation, and for staying true to his vision of a free and democratic South Africa. He received many other accolades throughout his career, including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

“We were privileged to be present with Nelson Mandela as he received the World Methodist Council Peace Award in a special ceremony in Cape Town. Gracious and strong as always we celebrated his victory and his faithfulness for peace,” the Rev. H. Eddie Fox, Director of World Methodist Evangelism, recalled.

“That evening when we walked outside to his car people gathered to see their President. Some children stood on the side of the street. He lowered his glass and motioned for the children to come to him. He embraced them and expressed his love for them. He is ‘Mabida’ to all his people and indeed the Father of his country.”

During his time in office Mandela pushed for free and democratic elections, and after three years of talks a new interim constitution was agreed upon and free democratic elections were held. He created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to push for national reconciliation and bringing parity to black and white communities. After his retirement in 1999, he focused on charity and aid work, particularly HIV/AIDS activism.

“Nelson Mandela is regarded as one of the fathers of Africa. His persistent way of standing up for justice has inspired Africans and the world at large,” the Revd Ruth Gee, President of the Methodist Conference in Great Britain, said. “As a leader, one of his most impressive attributes was his emphasis on peace and reconciliation in the post-apartheid regime.”

Mandela’s legacy is one of struggle and triumph, of steadfast dedication and a rejection of violence. In the coming days Madiba’s life will be celebrated, but the reach and scope of his influence is still unfolding.

“As we reflect on his passing and try to make sense of his death, we are reminded that people like Madiba do not die rather they continue to live in the hearts and minds of people ever inspiring them to espouse the noble virtues and rare devotion that he embodied and continue that for which he dedicated his life,” added General Secretary Abrahams.

United Methodism and the World Methodist Council joins with the rest of the world in remembering the life and celebrating the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

– The World Methodist Council

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