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Mandela: Seeing Hope From a Limestone Quarry

September 20, 2009

Robben_Island_11As “reconciliation” becomes increasingly popular it is important to highlight the scandalous reality of giving grace to the undeserving when there is no guarantee the other will change.   I emphasized this point last Thursday through a story I told at the beginning of the “Journeys of Reconciliation” class my colleague Emmanuel Katongole and I teach.  In 2005 our family visited Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 26 years.  The guide took us to a limestone quarry.   Here, he said, Mandela labored for 13 years.  Here, everyday, Mandela was forced to break up rock at one end of the quarry, walk it to the other end, break up more rock, and walk back.  On and on.  Thirteen years. And here in the limestone quarry, said the guide, at the very time that apartheid reigned and there was no guarantee of a different future, within Mandela “the vision for reconciliation in South Africa was born.”  To imagine and pursue a future of friendship with the enemy, the one who is difficult to love, from inside of the “limestone quarrys” of our lives is foolishness, a scandal, a kind of madness really.  To become gripped by such a madness, it seems to me, requires a story from “beyond,” a story that is bigger than yourself.

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