Traveling to Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service

Photo by Ted Eytan

Photo by Ted EytanMonday 9 December 2013 – 6:36 p.m. 

On a plane from Nagoya to Taiwan, then Hong Kong, then Johannesburg. It was a frantic morning after getting an email from South Africa about the possibility of an invitation to attend Nelson Mandela’s memorial and funeral services. Was a jolting shock to even hear of the possibility. An unbelievable honor. Never for a moment did I imagine that something like this would be possible; hence no prior preparation had been made on my part!

There was a flurry of activity and prayer to discern whether the invitation would be possible, whether the Lord would have me pursue this, and what the days ahead might look like. But now, finally on the plane.

As I wrote to my wife Pearl before take-off, I feel sad but excited, tired but trusting in the Lord. Sad to be away from the family so suddenly and especially for not being able to say goodbye to the kids in person, as they were off at school. But even as I sit here feeling tired and missing them, I feel strongly that I want to make them proud in this trip. My gift to them this week is the opportunity for them to share bedtime stories with their children and their grandchildren one day about an amazing man named Nelson Mandela who helped end apartheid in South Africa and changed the course of history. And how Papa had the amazing privilege of being at his memorial not just with hundreds of heads of state from around the world but also with hundreds of thousands of South Africans who mourned his death and celebrated his 95 years of life.

Mandela’s words at the infamous Rivonia Trial in 1964, which he thought were very likely his last words before being condemned to death, stir my heart as I sit here on the plane to Africa.

During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Mandela fought even to the brink of death against the sinful realities of racial division and oppression. He fought against both white domination and against black domination. Our world is a better place for his life lived for an ideal that he was prepared to die for.

That victory brings to mind the even greater victory from Ephesians 2 that went beyond the brink all the way to death itself, even death on a cross. A victory that established the possibility, reality, and inevitability of reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles with the breaking down of the dividing wall of hostility that was killed at the cross. The reconciliation not only of human to human but of humans to God. The unity that we seek and one day will know in full splendor.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. Eph 2:13-16, ESV

I also go for my African brothers and sisters. I’m not sure how much it really means to them to have an Asian leader like me take part in this celebration. But Mandela’s life is not only a celebration of Africans for Africa but of Asians, Europeans, Americans, and the whole world for Africa. And I hope that in some small way the hope and reality of Ephesians 2 might be more clearly seen for our being there together – African Christians joined by Christians from around the world.

We speak in The Lausanne Movement about the whole church. Christ made that possible at the cross. Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, Europeans, Australians, and people of all colors from all places on earth standing together for Christ and for each other. May the Lord use this week as a witness to the beauty of the church and to the beauty of his people who stand for him together.

Update: Tuesday 10 December 2013 – 6:45 a.m.

On the final plane to Johannesburg, and I’ve caught sight of Africa! Beautiful, majestic Africa! It’s been more than three years since I was here for the Cape Town Congress, nothing short of a life-changing event. I trust world-changing as well. I smile as I remember the throngs of people coming in from literally everywhere. Precious leaders and servants. Warm greetings. Old friends. New ones. Many nations. One purpose. To bring a fresh challenge to the global church to bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching – in every nation, in every sphere of society, and in the realm of ideas.

Hours before this historic service, I am awakened to Mandela’s lifelong example. It is a fresh reminder and challenge to the global church to strive for the transformation of spheres of society wide and deep, through the power of the gospel. Along with other Christian leaders serving in Asia and around the world, I have been drawn into this time of remembrance and challenge, one that touches those who are part of emerging generations as much as those who are part of Mandela’s generation.

I remember fondly the gathering of younger leaders at Cape Town 2010 late one night after the evening program was complete. We had planned for 350, I believe. 1000 showed up! After having multiple conversations with younger leaders at Cape Town the question that so many had was, “What’s the future of Lausanne?” That night I stood up on a chair to give greetings to all of the younger leaders from around the world, asked everyone to look around at each other, and I said, “Welcome to the future!”

That future is our present for The Lausanne Movement. I think of the amazing partnerships that typify the movement today with younger leaders working side by side with and being mentored by seasoned leaders. I think of training sessions occurring around the world to raise up younger leaders. I think of our emerging Younger Theologians Initiative led by our Theology Working Group that is gathering 100 promising theologians under 40 years of age from around the world to work alongside older, established scholars, identifying and addressing some of the most pressing questions regarding world evangelization which confront the global church. This “exercise” of doing theology across generations and continents is absolutely vital for the advance of the gospel in our broken world. Within 12 years, Lausanne envisions an active, global network of 1,200 theologians who represent the best minds, bringing fresh insight to critical issues and strategies pertaining to world evangelization.

Landing in less than an hour. I am trusting the Lord that someone will be waiting at the airport and that I’ll make it to the memorial service in time. Thankful for some good rest. Don’t know what awaits on the other side. But God does.

Africa! I’ve missed your fertile spiritual soil!

Read Michael’s reflections from the memorial service: Why Christians Should Care: Reflections from Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service

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Michael Oh serves as the Global Executive Director / CEO of the Lausanne Movement.




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