Summary: Funeral service for Anne Tlholakae, diplomat of the Embassy of South Africa. All of us desire a better country; that journey begins with faith. As Biblical wanderers sought that better country but died in a foreign land, so Anne sought and found Christ
The desire for a better country goes deep in the human heart. The desire for something more, something finer, than what our ancestors left us is an aspiration that transcends all boundaries. Just as here in the United States we celebrate those markers in our history that made us a greater nation, so also do you. South Africa’s rich history is filled with the desire of all of God’s children to find hope and freedom and to create a better country.
No nation’s history is without turmoil and struggle. No nation can claim never to have been in pain. Blood has been spilled, hearts broken, so that this desire for a better country could be fulfilled. Armies are raised, navies sail, the flashpoint of battle is reached – and when the smoke of battle clears, someone will ask, “Was there no other way? Could not we have made this a greater and better land without all this?”
Enter, then, the diplomat. The foreign service officer, the servant of her nation, in a strange land, far from home, but determined that her country’s future would be advanced in a peaceful way. The desire for a better country goes deep in the human heart, and Anne Tlholakae, a servant of South Africa in a foreign land, pointed toward hope, focused on the future, and saw her dream move forward. She set her heart and her hope on a better country.
I must tell you this morning, however, that its address is neither Washington nor Johannesburg, neither New York nor Pretoria. Where did Anne find that better country?
The author of Hebrews helps us see the power of the wellspring from which all visionary people draw. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” In a moment like this, when we consider a life ended far too soon, I must begin with the message of faith. I must begin by pointing us to that gritty, determined, uncommon expectation that out of the sufferings of the past God will do a new thing. How clear that is in South Africa’s history; and how clear that is in Anne Tlholakae’s life in these last few months!
For Anne became a seeker. Anne and Dan began to participate in Bible study at First Baptist Church of Gaithersburg. Tentatively at first, perhaps, but with increasing interest, she began to experience in a fresh way the hope that comes to those who believe. Embraced by Clint and Cecile Heppes and then by others in the Bible class, she gave birth anew to faith. This is not in any way to put down her heritage or to suggest that she was outside the scope of God’s mercy; I simply rejoice that in these last few months faith was nourished, love was felt, hope was reborn. These were the mile-markers on the road to a better country.
The Scripture is pointed in its description of those who died in foreign lands. There is first of all Abraham, called out from home to the land of promise. The author of Hebrews points out that Abraham lived in tents, temporary dwellings, because he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
There is Jacob, who followed his sons to Egypt, there to be reconciled with the child he thought he had lost. When Jacob died, his body was returned to his native soil; but in reconciliation with his son, he had already found a better country than either Canaan or Egypt.
There is Jacob’s son Joseph, the viceroy, whose successes outstripped anything anyone might have imagined. After Joseph died, a new king arose over Egypt, who knew not Joseph, and God’s people went into servitude. But when at last the Lord redeemed them and brought them out through the Reed Sea and into the desert, seeking a better country, they brought with them the bones of Joseph, to be laid to rest in that better country. For his life was committed not only to Egypt, but also to the vision of a homeland.
And then there is Moses, the liberator, the leader par excellence. Moses took the people of God to the edge of greatness, to the very border of the land of promise, but was not permitted to live long enough to enter. From the heights of Mount Nebo, father Moses strained his sight to see what lay ahead. But not yet; not yet, for, you see, there was a yet better country than this side of Jordan.
Friends, what Abraham sought, the city of God; what Jacob experienced – reconciliation; what Joseph was given – a place of rest after the struggle; what Moses longed for – a victory after the wanderings – what all these hoped and lived for, now has our sister Anne also seen, for she longed for a better country. She sought a vision of the Father. She waited, prayed for, and received what God has prepared for those who seek Him.