Long Walk to Freedom

Author: Paul Byssainthe, Jr.
July 26, 2018

I recently returned home from my first ever trip to South Africa. I was there with the Takoma Academy Chorale to participate in the World Choir Games, a biennial international choir festival held in various locations around the globe. It was a beautiful event, as over 300 choirs representing nearly 60 different countries from around the World came together to make music and to interact with the vibrant South African culture. The World Choir Games are based on the Olympic ideals, which aim to peacefully unify people and nations, connected by song in a fair competition. This idea is supposed to inspire people to experience the power of interaction by singing together. While at the festival, we had the opportunity to connect with singers from all over the continent of Africa, as well as from Belgium and China and everywhere in between.

I found it fitting that this year’s festival was held in South Africa, as this year, 2018, marks the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, one of the great moral and political leaders of our time: an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. He would have turned 100 years old on July 18th. As president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa's antiapartheid movement, he was instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule.

During our time in South Africa, we were able to learn a little about the complex history of South Africa, and of the tremendous impact that Nelson Mandela had on the country and its people. He is still held in deep respect within South Africa, where he was often referred to by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba. At breakfast one morning in our Hotel, one of the female workers shared with us the significance of the shaved line in her hair. We had noticed that several people wore their hair in this manner. She informed us that Madiba popularized it by wearing a shaved line in his hair during his imprisonment. It signified his “long walk to freedom.”

In his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” published in 1994, Mandela writes, “I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.” 

In many ways, we are all on a “long walk to freedom.” Not just freedom from oppression and injustice, or from hatred or inequality, but freedom from sin in all its forms. There is much work to be done in this world in combating the forces of oppression and in standing for truth and justice, but true freedom is found only in the cross of Jesus. Jesus proclaims in Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…”

Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice in purchasing our freedom. In doing so He assured us of the ultimate victory. The only thing required of us is to endure the “long walk.” The enemy has set up many roadblocks and deterrents in an attempt to discourage us to the point of giving up or to try and force us off the path. I would encourage you today to press on, to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1,2) Keep moving forward, no matter how difficult the road!


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