mandela2In a world of billions of people, where many wonder if they really matter—or whether they can make a significant difference in the lives of others, we now have yet another story that confirms, yes, one person can make a difference.

The world just said goodbye to Nelson Mandela, a man born into poverty and powerlessness like nothing most of us in the West have ever known. Imprisoned for 27 years because of his fight against the apartheid structure of South Africa— the officially condoned discrimination against blacks in their own country— he had every reason to give up any hope for a life of impact and significance. When he was finally released, he easily could have chosen a path of angry retribution against those in power who had stolen so many years of his life, and who still held onto a system built on injustice and inequality.

If Mandela had chosen a path of retribution, anger and violence no one would have been surprised. That’s the path so many men do take, in response to far less mistreatment. But he didn’t.

Shockingly, Mandela chose the path of reconciliation and forgiveness. When elected to the highest office of his country, Mandela urged his countrymen, both blacks and whites, to follow him on a path that led to unimaginable acts of reconciliation. Today South Africa, formerly viewed as a pariah-state by most of the world, is a country that demonstrates that acts of peace can overcome acts of power.

Tens of thousands attended Mandela’s memorial service in pouring rain at the World Cup soccer stadium in Johannesburg. Nearly 100 heads of state came from all corners of the earth to honor him in person and praise his example. Very rarely in our lifetimes have we seen a person honored so deeply and broadly. And almost invariably, the one character trait that nearly every person referred to as the source of his power— forgiveness.

How surprising! It wasn’t political strength, nor impressive intellect, nor was it enormous wealth that caused others to follow Mandela in his life, and to honor him in his death. It was deep, powerful character; defined especially by forgiveness. His is an example we all can learn from. Though the world idolizes celebrity, it still trusts and reveres character.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8