Rising Above the Challenge

  “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”    Philippians 4:13 

You know the story of the late Nelson Mandela:  opponent of apartheid — member of the African National Congress — jailed for his politics in a South African prison from 1964 to 1990 — elected president in 1994 in South Africa's first democratic election — winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Following that historic election there was a great deal of anxiety within the white community.  Many anticipated fierce retribution by those newly elected to power. 

A year after being installed as president, South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup Tournament. Rugby was a white man's game. While the population of South Africa was 80 percent black, its rugby team was 100 percent white.   As the games approached, a controversy arose concerning the South African team — known as the Springboks — using a Springbok, a leaping gazelle, as its symbol. Black South Africans thought the image had racist overtones and demanded that the team remove it. Team members answered, "The Springbok has always been our symbol."  Things spiraled downward and the situation became dangerously tense.

 Then President Mandela made a gesture of reconciliation. A few days before the first game, he visited the South African team — wearing a rugby jacket and cap emblazoned with the Springbok image. In an interview, he acknowledged the loathing that most black South Africans felt for the rugby team. Then he said, "But regardless of the past, these are our boys now.  They may be white, but they're our boys and we must get behind them and support them in this tournament."

 The following day, the coach took the team to Robben Island, where Mandela had been imprisoned for 27 years. They stood in his cell and tried to imagine what life had been like for Mandela for those 27 years. They wondered how he could have come through that experience without poison in his heart.

 When the tournament started, President Mandela was in the stands — wearing a Springbok jersey. The Springboks — not known as a great team — played their hearts out, surprising rugby fans by winning game after game. In the final game, they found themselves playing against New Zealand, a perennial powerhouse. At the end of regulation play, they were tied, throwing the game into overtime.

 During the break, President Mandela introduced a South African children's choir. They sang an old African miner's song — a song familiar to blacks and whites alike. People joined in, and soon 65,000 people were singing together — many with tears in their eyes. 

When play resumed, the Springboks were unstoppable. In a rugby miracle, they won the World Rugby Championship.  South Africans took to the streets — not to protest but to celebrate. Whites and blacks danced together in the streets. A rugby game — something that many people would think to be not very important — brought healing to that divided nation. That happened because a great leader, Nelson Mandela, challenged his people to put aside their differences —calling them to be better than they were. 

Christ challenges us in the same way. He unites us as one under His lordship.  He calls us to be better than we are because He loves us too much to leave us the way we are. At times, it may seem He asks the impossible. If we will but remember who and whose we are, we can find the strength and courage to rise above whatever challenges face us.  It will not be easy, but it will be possible.