Reverend worked with Mandela during effort to end apartheid

“Dare We Speak of Hope?”

The Rev. Allan Boesak answers that question in his most recent book and shared his thoughts during a public forum July 19 at Keawala’i Congregational Church in Makena.

Boesak has witnessed his share of seemingly hopeless situations. He is best known for his work with Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela during the 1980s and early ’90s to lead efforts against apartheid in South Africa. These days, he is the Desmond Tutu chairman of peace, global justice and reconciliation at Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. The forum was in addition to his appearances at the 7:30 and 10 a.m. worship services at Keawala’i Congregational Church where he is serving as guest preacher this month.

“Desmond (Tutu) took me to places where I saw children die in their mother’s arms,” said Boesak while describing his experiences in the racially segregated South Africa of the 1980s. He asked what they eat and was told porridge. When there was too little food, they would shred newspapers and mix it with the porridge to make more.

“How do you speak about hope to these people?” he asked. He said that’s the reason he made the affirmation a question in his most recent book, “Dare We Speak of Hope? Searching for a Language of Life in Faith and Politics.”

“If we are to speak of hope (the church) we must speak of it as a question. There must be something more to it.

“You can only find hope when you search for it . . . You discover hope in the struggle for life.”

Boesak said black South Africans did not have hope in politics until the 1990s when Mandela came along.

“Hope in politics became important,” he said. “You put hope in a person; maybe too much. Some people called him (Mandela) Jesus. My Lord the King is like an angel of God – that’s how we thought of him (Mandela).”

As word spread of this hope, it became an embarrassment to the powers that be in South Africa, said Boesak. “But we had hope because we were anchored in Jesus, not politics.

“Our struggle was not won by military means. It was born by ordinary people of faith who believed the promises of God are always true and will come to pass.

“The way to freedom is always by the cross. You have to make sacrifices . . . We saw it happen. Hope is never in vain.”

In the struggle to end apartheid, Boesak said there wasn’t a single analyst who thought it wouldn’t end in bloodshed.

“Nonviolence was just nonsense,” said Boesak of the prevailing thinking of what was required to bring an end to apartheid. However, violence could have been bad for blacks and whites; making reconciliation difficult.

“Violence takes you places where you have no control of what will happen,” said Boesak. “Violence awakens things in us we did not know existed. It alienates us from the best God has put in us. If I damage your humanity, I damage my humanity.”

Mandela came out of prison after 27 years with no anger, only forgiveness, said Boesak. He set an example for South Africans and the world, emphasizing forgiveness and reconciliation in his effort to bring democracy to South Africa. Apartheid finally came to an end in 1994 when the Government of National Unity was formed with Mandela as president.

“We did not see a civil war. Rivers of blood never appeared. It was God’s greatest gift to our country. Three hundred years of struggle became tangible.

“Every time forgiveness happens, hope comes alive,” said Boesak.

* Rich Van Scoy can be reached