Great leaders like Nelson Mandela do not die but “live on in the hearts and minds of people,” a South African Methodist pastor reminded the world during the Dec. 10 memorial service at the same Soweto stadium where Mandela spoke to 80,000 after his release from prison in 1990.
“(God) gave us one who boldly proclaimed that a different world is possible,” said the Rev. Ivan Abrahams, now the top executive of the World Methodist Council, based in Lake Junaluska, N.C.
“He will stand out in history as a beacon of light, a lodestar inspiring many generations yet to come.”
His sermon came after remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Others in attendance included former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter; Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton and heads of state from African nations as well as Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Abrahams grew up under South Africa’s apartheid system, where his classification by the government as a “colored” person both stereotyped him and limited his choices
The former presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa offered his “heartfelt condolences” to the Mandela family. “We owe you all a sincere debt of gratitude for sharing your husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather with us and with the world.
“What brings us here today is not so much grief as love,” Abrahams noted. “Madiba’s sunset days were as extraordinary as his life itself. He lived life to the fullest.”
From 2005-2011, Abrahams was co-chair of the National Religious Leaders Forum, created as a partnership to work with Mandela on transforming South African Society. He considered that forum part of Mandela’s legacy.
There are very few countries, he pointed out in a UMNS story on Mandela’s 95thbirthday last July, “where at least twice a year the religious leaders from all faiths and traditions meet with the president and the cabinet and raise issues on policy.”
As rain continued to fall on FNB Stadium, also known as Soccer City, Abrahams reflected briefly in his sermon on “one of the most remarkable stories” recorded in the sacred texts of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, the story of the Prophet Elijah.
Just as Elijah made a conscious decision to pick up the mantle of prophetic authority, so must those who follow after Mandela, he declared.
“While others will only read about him in years to come, we are his heirs,” Abrahams said. “We are the harbingers of hope for the future. We have been endowed with the rare privilege to take his legacy further. His mantle has fallen and it is in our hands.”
Such a legacy, he added, involves selfless sacrifice and service and the ability to “move forward in faith.”