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Mandela Day: the John Wesley connection

Mandela DayIn January and February 1990, I spent a period of time in South Africa and was there when the then President, F W de Klerk, made his ‘crossing the Rubicon’ speech which, amongst many things, declared the unconditional release of Nelson Mandela. Within minutes of the speech being broadcast to the nation, I witnessed the joy demonstrated in dance and song of thousands of people on the streets of Johannesburg. That was on the Friday and on the Sunday I preached at Orlando West Methodist Church with many of the extended Mandela family in the congregation.

On July 18, the world celebrates ‘Mandela Day’, honouring the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, a powerful leader and Christian.

With that in mind, I invite you to consider the link between Mandela’s achievements and what we seek to do at Wesley Mission. John Wesley’s influence extended as far as South Africa, providing the foundations for Mandela’s leadership and legacy of reconciliation.

Have a look at this video link to better understand the historical background of Mandela’s Wesleyan education and the significance of that period in shaping his life.

I hope you are struck – as I am – by the two key themes that emerge out of John Wesley’s vision; they are common both to Nelson Mandela’s legacy and to our Word and deed ministry in Australia.

Firstly, the desire for reconciliation. This is a strong Biblical theme, a narrative of reconciliation between God and His people, brought together by the self-giving love of Jesus Christ. Perhaps the most poignant fact about Mandela’s political life is that, once released from prison, he never sought violence as a means of justice, but instead non-violence as a way of reconciling white and black in South Africa.

At Wesley Mission, we too are dedicated to seeking true reconciliation between the many who count themselves privileged and the increasing number who are marginalised, not simply by providing material needs and support, but by unifying our society and restoring broken relationships. This requires action on behalf of those who have.

Secondly, the desire to put others first. Following Jesus’ lead, Mandela never stole the limelight when times were good, but sought to infuse all his actions and words with humility and grace.

Servant-like leadership stands as one of three guiding principles for Wesley Mission, as it did for Mandela himself:

Free yourself
Free others
Serve every day.

Servanthood and humility are not culturally attractive, and yet they are the bedrock of all positive world-changing leadership. We must never lose sight of this.

The challenge for us today is how we can join with others in making every day a ‘Mandela Day’. Being involved in Wesley Mission is a great start, through volunteering, donating, and walking alongside and serving the marginalised and poor in our society. However we choose to express it, we can take the lead from the example of John Wesley and Nelson Mandela as we seek reconciliation and put others ahead of ourselves by serving them in the name of Jesus Christ.

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