Mandela’s Garden

Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years of his life in prison for the crime of promoting a color-blind nation. It was a sentence that ripped him from his family, career, and community, and confined him behind concrete walls on a guarded island.

He passed his last eighteen years imprisoned on Robben Island, just off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. While others might have been broken by such a sentence, Mandela was no ordinary man. Hope sustained him as he transformed his prison cell into a school room and a corner of the prison yard into a garden. It was his way of taking the little desert he’d been given and turning it into a bit of Eden. Day after day he tended his garden, faithfully watering, pruning, weeding, and cultivating until he possessed a little chunk of paradise right there in the midst of a penal wasteland. And God Himself surely watched him and decided He could use a man like that.

This is our call. We’ve each been entrusted with a personal little fiefdom that consists of our relationships, gifts, talents, possessions, vocation and time. For some it is a humble place, rocky and poor while others have been entrusted with riches and influence. Regardless, we each have the opportunity to work our little plot and develop it into a garden of beauty, order and abundance. This is what disciples of Jesus do.

And this is how great kingdoms are born: when the “underlords” of smaller lands and fiefdoms band together and pledge their allegiance to a sovereign, then all those little territories are knitted together into a great kingdom. God’s kingdom is no different. Even if our little world feels limited and poor, we can each work the ground we’ve been given, and bring our works to the Lord. And as we do, bit by bit the earth begins to shine with God’s glory. Are you faithfully tending your garden today?

4 thoughts on “Mandela’s Garden”

  1. Don, this spoke to me so deeply! I have seen Robben Island from the shore of Cape Town! And because I love South Africa, I have watched about every movie I could get my hands on about apartheid, Mandela, etc. But beyond all those lesser details and getting back to your message, I love what you said about making our own little corner of the world glorious for Christ. The issue of being content with what we have been given to do (“I know how to abound and how to be abased”) in my mind is the prerequisite for God to show forth his glory in our corner. I struggled with this when I came home from Sudan. Contentment (and even gratitude) for less exciting and dramatic service has to be in place, I believe, to really bear fruit. After returning home from Sudan, I remember standing by the elevators at Memorial Hospital and saying to God, ” you have plenty of anaesthetists here, if I can’t do my work in Sudan anymore, I wish you would just take me to be with you.” And before I could take my next breath I felt like the Holy Spirit spoke right back to my heart and said, “I’d be glorified a lot more if you’d show up here everyday and serve me.” Instant sobriety!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for that encouragement, Beth. If it was only meant to encourage you, then that blesses me because your life brings so much beauty and glory to those around you. I do understand how it can feel like the matters at hand are so mundane once we’ve been in the thick of the action in a faraway place, but clearly Jesus has purposes for us in every imaginable circumstance. Western Maryland reflects more of the Kingdom because YOU are there.

      By they, I think I’ve told you before… I wish you would write a blog of your own. Not only is it a great way to share the wealth of experience and insight God has given you, but it’s great therapy as well. (AND…. you really know how to turn a word! “Instant sobriety!”)


  2. A good reminder of bringing glory to God where we are Don. Like Brother Lawrence practising his presence where we are. No dramatic events- no preaching to thousands – no names on billboards but the simple life lived out for Jesus.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for that thought, Pam! That’s a whole blog in itself! And it takes on special meaning coming from you. You’ve been in the drama as well the simple quietness of serving in obscurity. Jesus values all of it.


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