PSR Remembers Nelson Mandela

December 6, 2013
President Stephen Sterner

Nelson Mandela with Bill Clinton in 1993.

Throughout history, there have been extraordinary individuals who emerge from humble origins to lead people and nations to new experiences of freedom, new commitments to justice. Nelson Mandela was one of those extraordinary people. In our current days, the passing of a charismatic and forceful prophet of justice and freedom like Mandela is keenly felt because of the continuing struggle toward the vision of truth and reconciliation he so boldly and wonderfully embodied. He was both an epic and a personal figure. Many of us recall the battles of divestment and calls for sanctions that would pressure the South African government to set him free. Others will remember more clearly the remarkable peace and reconciliation his leadership brought to his country. In celebration of his life and witness, we offer a few thoughts from faculty and students about the life of Nelson Mandela.


"I just learned of Madiba Nelson Mandela's passing - Rest in peace, you Great Warrior of God and Justice! You more than earned your rest with the Ancestors and with your Creator - I can hear the singing and drumming of the Angels as you entered the Celestial Realm. May we find ourselves walking in ever greater courage in this world yet so divided by race, class, and hatred. May the peace of the Holy Spirit surround your family and nation at this time! Ngiyabonga and Lala Kahle! (Thank you and Good Night!)"

~ Rev. Ann Jefferson, Director of Community Life & Spiritual Care, Campus Pastor

"As girl in Ireland, I was once asked to write a school paper on the political and religious conflict in Northern Ireland, and propose a possible solution. I encountered the life and work of Nelson Mandela while doing research for that paper. I remember being struck by the moment sometime in 1955, when Mandela chose to switch from a non-violent leadership strategy to a violent one. I wondered how much his heart broke when he made that decision, and how broken it had become even before he made it. In learning about Nelson Mandela's work in South Africa, and comparing it to those fighting against structural oppression in Northern Ireland, I realized for the first time how much violence is born out of the hurt we do to each other - be it physical, emotional, or structural violence. I realized that violence doesn't go away simply by wishing it would, and sometimes it doesn't lessen even when practicing a deep commitment to non-violence in community with others. I learned that there is no such thing as an apolitical position and that we are all (with varying degrees of influence and power) creating the shape of our society by our actions at every moment. I learned that transforming conflict can sometimes be a messy business - so messy that few people are truly willing to take it on and bear the consequences with enough integrity to hold things together. I am deeply grateful that Nelson Mandela bore those consequences, deeply sad for the pain they caused him and his family, and deeply hopeful that his life's work will inspire new and ultimately non-violent paths toward a more just and equitable global community. I am delighted to be at a seminary that is preparing its student to play a role (large or small) in such work in both religious and non-religious settings."

~ Naomi Schulz, Student 

"Mandela is a symbol of what reconciliation truly requires: listening with compassion to voices of those who agree, disagree and are confused; creating solid ground on which to stand and remaining pragmatic in how you stay true to your self and to your commitments." 

~ Joy Barnitz, Student

"For me, Nelson Mandela reflected and reflects an embodiment of the Christ Consciousness. He was able to work through anger, frustration and loss to come to forgive those who had imprisoned him and saw him as less than human. His willingness to come to terms with the darkness and shine a light on it and at the same time remain clear about who he was is something that is courageous and rare. He serves as an example of what is possible and while he did not appear to be a religious man, his life was an embodiment of love, compassion, forgiveness and inclusion which are the tenets of many of the world's religions."

~ Sheila Thomas, Student

"I reflect on the idea of perseverance through hardships, knowing when to be still, and knowing when to act.  I consider this in my life as I am sure is the same for many others.  I would think this would be a common reflection for those who have chosen to attend seminary.

Mandela persevered.  We will never know all of the details of his struggles, but we know he was imprisoned for such a long time, even then he did not lose heart.  We cannot even begin to know his prayers, but I believe he never stopped trusting God.  I recall and reflect on Job 1:20 and the kind of love and faith in God that was the core of the character of Job.  It is written there: “20 When Job heard this, he got up and tore his robe and shaved his head to show how sad he was. Then he bowed down to the ground to worship God.” (NCV)  

Mandela knew when to be still.  Even in prison he knew there was more for him to do.  I can only imagine his conversations with God; and when he was released, he went straight to work.  Sometimes we don’t even realize our choice to act is an assignment from God, but holding onto the understanding that what we do should be to the glory of God is actually the secret key.  I reflect on the instructions written in Psalm 46:10: “God says, ‘Be still and know that I am God. I will be praised in all the nations; I will be praised throughout the earth.’”

Mandela knew when to act.  After his release from prison he continued to do good work.  In safe communities and sometimes in an environment where he knew enemies were still present, he did not tarry.  I am sure his fear was real, maybe sometimes great, but I believe he knew that God was greater.

Even though you may face one you perceive is your enemy, God may have a greater plan and this is just your assignment in the larger picture of God’s plan.  I reflect on Acts 9:10-18 where Ananias was called to such a task, even though he had great fear of Paul.  I, however, believe his relationship with the Lord was greater than his fear, as is written:

10 There was a follower of Jesus in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision, “Ananias!”

Ananias answered, “Here I am, Lord.”

11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to Straight Street. Find the house of Judas, and ask for a man named Saul from the city of Tarsus. He is there now, praying. 12 Saul has seen a vision in which a man named Ananias comes to him and lays his hands on him. Then he is able to see again.”

13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, many people have told me about this man and the terrible things he did to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 Now he has come here to Damascus, and the leading priests have given him the power to arrest everyone who worships you.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! I have chosen Saul for an important work. He must tell about me to those who are not Jews, to kings, and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 So Ananias went to the house of Judas. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus sent me. He is the one you saw on the road on your way here. He sent me so that you can see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something that looked like fish scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he was able to see again! Then Saul got up and was baptized.”

And we know Saul’s response to his assignment was a paradigm shift in history.  Mandela has now completed his assignment in God’s greater plan.  This man made a difference in the history of many justice issues.  May we all reflect on this as each of us continues on our life’s journey."

~ Lonnie Graves, Human Resources Assistant

"When I first started reading about apartheid and South Africa, it was the early 80s and I was in elementary school. Something about South Africa and Nelson Mandela really grabbed hold of my heart and wouldn’t let go. Over the years I had studied about South Africa and it’s history, and read everything I could find about Nelson Mandela. He has always been a far away mentor through his books and actions and has influenced me in very profound ways. It is sad that he is no longer on this Earth with us, but he will live on in our work and our lives because what is remembered lives."

~ Gina Pond, Student 

"When I think about people like Nelson Mandela, who have endured great, great hardship and come through valiantly and seem to filled with a kind of love and power that is not of this world, I think of this passage of scripture in 

2 Corinthians 2:14
Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.

Whenever I encountered a picture and quote from Mandiba on Facebook, when I saw movies and documentaries about him, etc., I experienced God. He surely increased my faith in a loving God that sustains us through even the most inhumane of circumstances. What a precious gift to the human race. His presence was as sweet as the most fragrant flower."

~ Marie Bat'el, Student

"It is with celebration and sadness I remember Nelson Mandela. This man and his sacred calling brought understanding, forgiveness and freedom into the lives and hearts of humankind. He shall live forever in his place in history, our hearts and our consciousness. His life has inspired mine."

~ J.Greyson Vega, Student

"RIP (Rest in Peace and Power), beloved bodhisattva of our world. Prostrations of gratitude for all you have done for and inspired within us."

~ Grace Gilliam, Associate Director of Field Education and Contextual Learning

"When I was around 6, my parents got a VHS player and a color TV. They brought home a video of Paul Simon's Graceland concert in Zimbabwe. I loved this video and watched it as often as my parents would let me. When Hugh Masaleka came out onto the stage and sang “Free Nelson Mandela!”, I felt chills run up and down my little body as the emotion of this song moved me. I remember going to my parents and asking, “Who is Nelson Mandela? Why does he need to be freed?”. I don't remember what my parents told me, I only remember the feeling of outrage that boiled up inside me as I learned that if I lived in South Africa, I would not be able to play with my friends because of something called “apartheid”. And that this apartheid was imprisoning a man who committed no crime and injuring people like my friends. I often reflect that it was that day, that a fire inside me was lit, and it is that fire that has fueled much of the work that I have done in my life.  

Wise teacher Madiba,

you who fought for liberation for your people, you who fought for liberation for all people, you who shared a vision of justice and transformation with this world, I pray for your journey and I pray that we as a people may follow in your footsteps and one day bring justice and transformation into this broken world...."

~ Claire Bohman, Student  

"Nelson Mandela, a gentle giant, a lion hungry for equality, From hell to hope, from prison to the presidency,a man of purpose and power,  a servant whose work was well done."

~ Carolyn Dyson, Student 

What are some thoughts & reflections you have on Mandela's passing?