Nelson Mandela

NelsonThe world is celebrating the life and mourning the death of one of the greatest people of the 20th century.  Lawyer, politician and freedom fighter, he became an unwitting poster boy for the anti-apartheid struggle during his 27 years in prison, but only became a truly global icon when the world discovered the extent of his magnanimity once he was released.

Eschewing violence and embracing forgiveness, possibly only his graciousness and leadership prevented South Africa descending into chaos as the apartheid regime was dismantled.  It is impossible to overstate his critical significance at this turning point in his country’s history, and in the many tributes people have been referring to him in the same way as they also talk about Gandhi.

Born during the First World War and given the name ‘Nelson’ by a teacher in a time when it was thought normal for government employees to give Africans  new names that meant nothing to them, he embraced black South Africa’s struggle for freedom from white rule, and his activities resulted in his imprisonment.  Much has been made of his subsequent refusal to seek revenge or preach violence, and his determine to forge a new South Africa in which all races could find a place.

Some weeks ago as Syzygy was preparing a lecture which involved some reflections on healthy male sexuality, we conducted some internet research on who young men might choose as role models.  Some of the more disappointing results included wealthy industrialists, actors (more for their characterisations, one suspects, than for their personal qualities) archetypes such as cowboys, bodybuilders or famous lovers, and fictional characters like Indiana Jones and Dr Who.  Few politicians were even mentioned, and yet one name stood out from the crowd of mediocrities – Nelson Mandela.

Many single Christian men, including mission workers, struggle to know how to embrace their masculinity, since stereotypes like father or husband are not available to them, and many of the other examples cited above might not appeal to them.  Strong male characters are notably absent from many of our churches, and even the popular perception of Jesus as ‘meek and mild’ undermines the masculine strength he exuded which drew men to seek his company.  Perhaps it is the appeal of Mandela that he offers us a rare balance: strong but gentle.

Nobody would doubt his masculinity – he fathered six children – yet he reportedly even as President made his own bed and was courteous to his servants.  Those who met him frequently report that he seemed genuinely interested in him and he remembered details of their family lives at subsequent meetings.  He fought his battles courageously, respected his enemies, held high office with humility, was resilient in adversity and magnanimous in victory.

He was, of course, not a saint, nor a saviour, and certainly not a messiah.  Yet Christian men could do a lot worse than emulating Nelson Mandela.

Featured Ministry – Project Gateway

The old prison in the South African town of Pietermaritzburg was a notorious place.  Its sturdy 1860’s construction spoke of a grim determination to detain the body and break the will.  During the apartheid years, not just criminals but many activists were imprisoned there, in overcrowded conditions, and many of them were executed.  When it was finally closed in 1991, few would have shed a tear.  It was a symbol of brutality and oppression.

But a group of local Christians had a bold vision – they wanted to turn a place of darkness into a place of hope.  Operating under the name Project Gateway, they took over the abandoned premises and began to restore them.  Using this place of darkness as a base, they began ministering to the needy.  In the two decades they’ve been working, things have gone from strength to strength.  They have set up feeding programmes, an orphanage, a women’s refuge, homeless shelters, sewing clubs, HIV and TB support programmes and many other initiatives which support and empower needy people throughout the region.

Keen not merely to help people in a crisis, but help them out of it, they have set up business empowerment initiatives, skills training workshops, and a primary school.  They also have a school of fashion supported by UK designer Karen Millen!

In an effort to make the project self-funding they are using the central cell block – which is a National Monument because of its architectural significance and its notable former residents – as a tourist attraction, and they even provide accommodation in the cells!  While the rooms are now comfortably decorated, the original doors and high, barred windows remain, and the resident often wonders who else slept in that room in the past, and why.

One former inmate of the solitary confinement block is one of the few men who escaped from the prison and lived to tell the tale.  Curiously, he came back – voluntarily – having become a Christian, and is now employed as the premises manager.  He takes great delight in showing people his former cell, which along with that entire block has been left unrenovated so visitors can see exactly what it would have been like when the cells were in use in earnest.

The dynamism behind this project is truly inspiring.  And, amazingly, the project is not sponsored by a narrow community, but by a very broadly-based coalition of over 20 different churches, from different backgrounds, and representing many different races.  The reconciliation and hope that has taken birth in this previously horribly location is a powerful witness to the transforming power of Jesus at work in South Africa.

You can find out more about Project Gateway by visiting

FYI – Cape Town 2010

Last month the world went back to Cape Town for the second time this year, but this time not for football.  The third Lausanne Conference on World Evangelisation was being held there.  In a truly worldwide consultation, 4000 church leaders and representatives, from nearly 200 countries, were joined virtually by remote participants at 650 different venues across the globe where live streaming of the events was shown, and by over 100,000 individuals observing online.

John Oh embraces an Asian believer after she shared the story of her family’s struggles as Christians.

This was a marked contrast to the historic Edinburgh Convention which took place 100 years earlier, and which is being commemorated in this and several other missions conferences taking place in 2010.  On that occasion the delegates were overwhelmingly from northern Europe and North America, and no Roman Catholic or Orthodox delegates were invited.  The Cape Town conference, however, brought together people from diverse cultures and denominations, who brought colour and spectacle to the proceedings by dressing proudly in a variety of ethnic and ecclesiastical clothing.  This time round, over 50% of the delegates represented countries which would been considered largely unevangelised by the delegates in 1910.

One contingent sadly lacking was the Chinese church.  A constitutional commitment to global evangelisation was required from churches wishing to send delegates, and since the official Three Self Patriotic Movement does not have this, it was anticipated that China would be represented by leaders of various unregistered churches.  Sadly they were all prevented from leaving the country at the last minute.  The absence of this dynamic delegation representing one of the world’s largest Christian communities was deeply significant.

Another notable absence was former Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu, who has recently retired from public life.  A tireless and prominent campaigner against apartheid, and subsequently a vocal advocate of forgiveness and reconciliation, he would have been a highly visible testament to the conference’s twin motifs of faithfulness to historic Christian truth and a call to radical action encapsulated in the conference’s theme: ‘God in Christ, reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Nevertheless, many global leaders made significant contributions to the proceedings.  Billy Graham and John Stott, founders of the Lausanne Movement who are both now too old to travel, sent recorded greetings.  Other headline names led expositions of Ephesians but significantly many of the speakers were from Africa, South America and various parts of Asia, often representing areas not traditionally considered Christian.  It was encouraging to see the western world relinquishing its traditional dominance over such events, since it now represents so few Christians in comparison to the rest of the world.

Perhaps the most significant outcome from the conference is The Cape Town Commitment, a statement of faith and a call to action.  A draft of the first part, a declaration of belief crafted by evangelical theologians representing all the continents, is available at

The second part is due for publication later this year.  The aim of this document is to provide a firm evangelical commitment to truth and action to inspire the church globally in its mission.

Lloyd Estrada (Philippines) tells a Bible story.

After the second Lausanne conference in Manila in 1989, over 350 missional partnerships between different churches and agencies were started.  Syzygy hopes that Cape Town 2010 will give the global church the impetus and sense of urgency needed to finish the task of global evangelisation in this generation, which ironically was one of the objectives of the conference in Edinburgh one hundred years ago.  Let us pray that this generation achieves even more than that one did.