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A Powerful Story of Forgiveness from South Africa

Desmond Tutu is a bishop in South Africa who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work against apartheid. In his book No Future Without Forgiveness, he shares stories and insights from his leadership role in South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. South Africa had been plagued for generations by terrible violence between the white ruling minority and the black majority. Once the whites relinquished power and Nelson Mandela become president, the question in need of an answer was clear: How does a country with so much pain and violence and division in its past move forward? Tutu and others established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a way forward. The goal was for those who had committed atrocities in the past to come forward and tell the truth—both blacks and whites. But it didn't end there. After confessing the truth, the goal was to bring reconciliation and forgiveness—to break the cycle of hate so the entire country could move forward.

In one chapter of the book, Tutu recounts testimony after testimony of people, both black and white, who came before the commission to confess to torturing and murdering others. It was horrific—terrible stories in graphic detail. It's almost impossible to believe that human beings are capable of such evil. The horrors of the crimes makes one particular story especially moving.

Two people who came before the commission were Mrs. Calata and her daughter. Mrs. Calata's husband had been an advocate for black South Africans in rural communities. Because of his work, he'd been arrested, detained, and tortured by the police numerous times. But one day he disappeared. On the front page of the newspaper, Mrs. Calata saw a photograph of her husband's car on fire. She cried so loudly during the hearing, describing the autopsy's report about his torture, that the commission had to be adjourned.

When they reconvened, Mrs. Calata's daughter testified. Years had gone by, and she was now a young lady. She pleaded with the commission to discover who had killed her father. But she was not crying out because she wanted vengeance or justice. Instead she said to the commission, "We want to forgive, but we don't know whom to forgive."

Eventually members of the police confessed to the crime. Rather than continue the endless cycle of hatred, Mrs. Calata and her daughter forgave the men who tortured and killed their husband and father—because that's what Christ's people do.

Does forgiveness mean we don't care about justice? Does forgiveness mean there is no consequence for evil? No! What it means is that we leave justice and vengeance in God's hands. He alone can judge rightly. Our job, as agents of his kingdom on earth, is to break the cycles of hate—to move from a people of exclusion to a people of embrace, forgiving others just as God, in Christ, has forgiven us.

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