It was reported to be the largest gathering of world leaders in history. The funeral services for Nelson Mandela were held in a cold rain in a soccer stadium, but a hundred thousand or so people still came out to celebrate his life and mourn his loss.
His contributions went beyond partisan politics and redefined a nation. His legacy is that South Africa is a far different country now than it was generation ago. Surely, a man this great had a tremendous influence in his life at an early age. Unfortunately, it wasn’t his father, who died when he was quite young.
That influence was the Methodist church. Mandela grew up in Clarkebury in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Methodism was a key part of the culture of Clarkebury and sponsored the school where he learned to read and write. He later went to Healdtown, a Wesleyan secondary school of some repute.
The next time you see Bishop Hopkins, ask him to tell the story of Mandela’s education. It’s truly amazing.
While United Methodist schools in the U.S. are rare, they are prevalent in many areas of Africa. On a recent visit to East Ohio, Shafa Seward, Volunteers in Mission Coordinator for the Liberia Annual Conference, reported that more Liberian children are educated by the United Methodist Church than by the Liberian government.
I can’t tell you for sure that somewhere in our United Methodist schools in Africa is the next Nelson Mandela, but I do know that the key to changing the world is to educate young people, give them a worldwide perspective and an understanding of their culture, good and bad, in a broader context.
I am both proud and grateful to be part of a missionary movement making this kind of impact around the world.