It has only been several months since the passing of Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. He was the man who unified South Africa. Ravaged by many years of apartheid and racial tension, many lives were lost in the march for freedom. After being imprisoned for 27 years, Mandela was given the task of uniting countries as well reconciling his country people. He had to defuse tension and face vengence sought for past crimes and atrocities from the centuries of apartheid.
Taking a step that was uncommon and different from the Nuremberg trials at the end of WWII, Mandela and his administration decided to take one of the riskiest moves in history – They created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the help of Archbishop Desmond Tutu to help lead a government panel. For the next two-and-a half years, South Africans listened to reports of atrocities coming out of the TRC hearings.
The rules were simple: if a white police or army officer voluntarily faced his accuser, confessed his crime, and fully acknowledged his guilt, he could not be tried and punished for that crime. Critics saw this as injustice letting the criminals go free, however, Mandela recognized that the country needed healing even more than it-needed justice.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”
One hearing in particular captured my attention while reading into the work of the commission. A police officer named Van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an eighteen-year old boy and burned the body, in order to destroy the evidence of the crime. Eight years later, Van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as officers bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body and ignited it.
The courtroom stood on pins and needles and grew silent as the elderly woman who had lost first her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond. “What you want from Mr. Van de Broek?’ the judge asked. She said she wanted Van de Broek to go to the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. With his head down, the officer nodded in agreement.
Then she added a further request, “Mr Van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.” Spontaneously, some in the courtroom began singing “Amazing Grace” as the elderly woman made her way to the witness stand but Van de Broek did not hear the hymn. He had fainted.
Becoming an extension of Love
As I read this story over again and meditated on the action of this elderly woman and her heart of love towards Officer Van de Broek, I reflected on the calling of our lives in the great work God has called us on our campus. For many of us, we have experienced this Grace as God’s free gift, repentance being the way to access it. The woman’s actions seemed irrational, unfair, and unjust; however, she believed in another world and of a merciful God who always offers another chance.
One of the greatest gifts given those who are in communion with the Lord, is the gift of grace. Grace means that no mistake we make in life disqualifies us from God’s love. It means that no person is beyond redemption, no human stain is beyond cleansing. However, we live in a world that judges the murderers, debtors, criminals, and those who had made decisions to live with those consequences; for churches, campus ministries, and myself, we often find it hard to forgive.
The action of this woman touched on something profound: despite the tribulation and suffering we face, we can share the grace of God and His love on our campus. In trying to reconcile a fallen world with the Creator, we must remember God has never abandoned us in our dire circumstance.
In the words of Martin Luther King:
“To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you.
Let us keep dreaming and plowing on our campuses, sharing the love and grace of Jesus.
Anthony Deng is the New York City Metro Campus Coordinator for Campus Renewal. He leads and coordinates volunteers for events such as One Cry and helps facilitate the New York City Metro Area student core team. Anthony was born and raised in New York City, graduated from CUNY the City College of New York, and has a B.A in History and Asian Studies. Anthony gives New York City tours to freshmen of various campuses. On his tour, he teaches and shows students various hidden gems of New York City. On the side, he loves to collect college sweatshirts and t-shirts. In addition, he loves to play and watch basketball and football. He an avid fan of the Pacers & Colts.