A Lesson from Nelson Mandela


It always seems impossible until it’s done. (Nelson Mandela, 1994)

Nelson Mandela spoke these words after his country, South Africa, held their first free election during which he was elected president.  There are two things that are remarkable about his election: 1) He was the first black, South African president in his country’s history; and 2) He was elected to be the president of the country in which he suffered 27 years of imprisonment due to his fight against racial injustice.

Nelson Mandela lived an exemplary life of service and leadership.  Though he suffered mightily, he held onto his convictions and beliefs.  He was inspired at a young age by the gospel in a Methodist school and lived a life that unassumingly proclaimed the evidence of the good news as loudly as anyone else in the 20th century.

Today, December 5th 2013, is a sad day because Nelson Mandela has died.  But it’s also an exciting day to celebrate this man and his life.  His autobiography, called Long Walk to Freedom, should be required reading for leaders everywhere!

But as I think about the quote from Nelson Mandela that I started this blog post with, I can’t help but think of the missional call that God has implanted within the gospel.  God truly doesn’t want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3.9) and he calls and enables us to help him on this mission.

But the mission is long and slow and hard.  It’s fraught with difficulties and easily-committed offenses.  It takes risk, investment, and patience.

Having a missional posture and living incarnationally is no easy task.  It truly does mean putting the interests of others before our own, just like Jesus did (Philippians 2.3-8).

Being missional means getting messy.  It means “obedience in the same direction for a long time,” to paraphrase the title of a wonderful book by Eugene Peterson.  Being missional means putting our selfishness to the side for the sake of the good news of the kingdom of God.

This task seems impossible, and it is in our own power.  But Jesus whom we follow will bring his work to a close; he is the author and finisher of our faith after all (Hebrews 12.2).

So what’s the takeaway?  We must persist in our obedience to God’s missional call on our lives!  We must persevere and we must trust in Jesus who will sail this ship into harbor someday!

What lessons have you learned from the life of Nelson Mandela?