This week I've been at a conference called Amahoro Africa, a 5-day gathering being held this year in South Africa. "Amahoro" is a word used across Africa. It means "peace," but much like the Hebrew "shalom," it also carries with it a depth of meaning beyond that word--conveying a desire and hope for wholeness.
It's been awesome to be here among leaders from across Africa (as well as around the world). One of the most amazing experiences I will carry with me from this conference happened at a workshop yesterday afternoon. Following a brief history of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there was a panel discussion which included a man named Adriaan Vlok. Mr. Vlok spent 10 years as minister of police for the apartheid government. Yesterday afternoon, he shared how God had moved his heart toward reconciliation. He told some amazing stories about the ways God has led him to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with people who suffered deeply as a result of his actions as minister of police. On several occasions, Mr. Vlok has washed the feet of those who've been wronged by apartheid, as a symbol of humility and service.
One of the other men on the panel began spontaneously to share his story as the discussion drew to a close. As a young man, Sean had served on the apartheid "death squads," hunting down those the government named as terrorists. He talked openly about how this had affected him and how for many years he had blamed Mr. Vlok specifically for the pain he'd gone through. Sean even mentioned that he'd used Mr. Vlok's name to curse, in the same way that many use the name of God. In front of the group gathered there to listen to the panel, Sean asked forgiveness from Mr. Vlok, and asked if he could wash his feet. Mr. Vlok asked if he could, in turn, wash Sean's feet. The two men, there on the stage, took the glasses of drinking water provided for the panel, and used the water to wash each other's feet.
This spontaneous act of reconciliation affirmed a quote mentioned on the first night of the conference: "Pain, if not transformed, will be transmitted." Suffering can either embitter, or ennoble, and if it is not redeemed in some way, those who have been wronged will in turn pass on their suffering to others. Claude Nikondeha, the director of Amahoro, made the point that most Westerners go to great lengths to avoid suffering--and that facing suffering together is the wiser course. Sean and Mr. Vlok courageously did just that yesterday. It's an image I won't forget.