Nelson Mandela Tells Bishops Achievement No Guarantee of Heaven
South African Leader’s Surprise Appearance Electrifies UM Leaders
A life of achievement is no guarantee of a place in heaven, Nelson Mandela told United Methodist bishops as they neared the end of their historic meeting in Maputo , Mozambique .
Mandela and his wife, Gracia Machel, surprised the bishops with their appearance at dinner on Sunday, Nov. 5. Machel is the former education minister of Mozambique and the widow of Mozambique president Samora Machel, who died in an air crash.
Both Mandela and Machel have deep Methodist roots. Mandela was educated in a Methodist school in South Africa . Machel is United Methodist and attended a Methodist school in Mozambique .
The 87-year-old Mandela spoke with a feistiness in his voice as he recounted his Methodist education and the role of the church in his upbringing.
Mandela told the bishops that when he arrived “I had no idea whatsoever that I would be brought so such a sacred gathering.” He said that to arrive in this setting and praise “what we believe is a superior gift.
The former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize winner invoked the African-American spiritual “May the Work I’ve Done,” as he told bishops of a story he often tells about leaving this earth, going to heaven’s door and knocking. An angel comes forth and asks his identity. He identifies himself as “Madiba.” The angel responds by saying there is no space for him.
His message was that one should be recognized for the work they have done and not for who they are or where they come from.
As Mrs. Machel addressed the bishops, Mandela sat next to Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer of the Iowa Area. He leaned over to talk with and shake the hands of two young boys who had nervously come forward to meet the world leader.
“I am standing here mainly as a Methodist child,” Machel, one of six daughters raised by her widowed mother, told the bishops. Her mother “did the impossible to educate all of us.”
Machel became the minister of education for the country of Mozambique in 1975, the first woman of education in the country.
“From the Methodist church I had an obligation to give back to those who had supported me. I had to give back to the community. My experience as the minister of education was based in linking national policies with communities. In helping communities to fight very actively in building schools, selecting teachers, and supporting the teachers in school,” Machel said.
She cited disturbing statistics on the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and children in Mozambique .
It has been estimated 1-in-5 persons in Mozambique is infected with the AIDS virus. She said that women are the caregivers and sometimes the providers and if they are sick they cannot provide.
“Empowering women . . . through education is a must for us,” Machel said. Her country faces serious challenges. Providing statistics, she said Mozambique is in the top 10 countries affected by HIV/AIDS with 1.8 million infected and of those aged 25-49, the percentage of women infected is 58 percent, “far more than men,” she said. Of those aged 15-34 years who are infected, girls comprise 76 percent of the infected.
“No matter what we can try to do” to tackle the HIV/AIDS problem with women, Machel said, “we will not be able to turn around this problem, in terms of reduction of infection” without educating women regardless of where they live, regardless of the African country about “gender relations.”
“It is a matter of survival for our women,” she said.
Mandela and Machel married on Mandela’s 80th birthday. They have a home in Maputo where the bishops met. It is the first meeting of the bishops outside of United States territory.
After Mandela spoke, Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of Houston, president of the Council, told her colleagues, “We have been in the company of saints.”
Turning to look at Mandela and Mrs. Machel, she told them “you are hope in action. We stand with you. You have shown us how to make the world a better place.
“Mrs. Machel, you are an inspiration to young girls born poor, particularly United Methodists. We will pray for you. We trust you will pray for us.”
As Mandela and Mrs. Machel moved from their table to leave the dining room, bishops lined up to speak with them, shake their hands or to touch Mandela’s arm.
Their appearance was hastily arranged. Mrs. Machel had originally been scheduled to speak at a cultural event for the bishops on Saturday night. Her appearance was canceled after a last-minute downpour forced the moving of the event into a local church.
Machel was appreciative that the Council of Bishops chose Mozambique to conduct its Nov. 1-6 meeting and despite the issues the country has faced poverty, it “has shown such a resilience . . . to reinvent itself.
“Our people reinvent themselves even before huge challenges,” such as they did when everything was disrupted by the war, she noted. Now, she said “poverty” is the only signal that there were problems. “In about 10-12 [years], this country has changed its face.
“Having you here is an additional recharging of our energies; to know that we are not alone, you are there as leaders. Thank you for clearly sending that message that we are not alone,” Machel said./ UMCom