In his book, The Life God Blesses, Gordon MacDonald describes his encounter with a black South African, a high-ranking member of the African National Congress.
He was profoundly impressed by the man's understanding of African history and politics and his insight into the challenges facing his nation, and so he asked, "Where did you get your training?"
He expected to hear the name of some famous university, and was amazed at the reply: "I trained on Robben Island."
This was the notorious offshore prison where the apartheid regime sent its most troublesome opponents.
"Every few years the government would search out and jail all the young black leaders. They would sweep them out of sight and eventually dump them on Robben Island. But for us it was a profitable strategy, because that was where we got our education. From Mandela and the others... You see, all of us who came to Robben Island came straight from school.
We were angry; we were ready to kill the white man, any white man.
"In prison we lost our names; we were only numbers to the guards. And they kept their guns pointed at us all the time.
Each morning we marched to the rock quarry, and in the evening we marched back. The days always belonged to the guards.
But the nights were different. The nights belonged to us.
During the evening, we who were young sat with the old men.
And we listened while they told us their histories, their tribal languages, their dreams for the black person in South Africa.
"But most important, Mandela taught us that you can never accomplish anything as long as you hate your enemy. Hate his politics; hate the evil behind those politics; hate the policies that put you in prison. But never hate the person.
It takes your strength away."
"You stopped hating?" MacDonald asked.
"Not right away. It took me almost five years to forgive... five years of learning with the old men. But when I did forgive, I was a different person. I knew I had forgiven when I could go to Holy Communion on Friday and invite the guard to lay down his gun, come and receive the sacrament with me. So that's the answer to your question. That's where I got my training."
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