It was one of those sentences that you know as it finishes you will never forget. It was a sentence that prophetically cut through the way things were with the key to unlocking how things could instead be. As it ended I felt that I was standing on sacred ground. We were in JL Zwane Church in Guguletu, Cape Town, and Rev. Dr. Spiwo Xapile the minister was talking to my students about the anti-apartheid movement and the process of reconciliation. Spiwo gave one of his gazes, where there is a piercing intentionality in his eyes, and then in perfect preacher’s timing uttered, “Every day I wake up and I thank God that I am a Christian, South African and black... because that means that every day I get a chance to forgive my enemies.” Wow! To a group of Northern Ireland students this was almost mind blowing. It smashed a gaping hole in our Northern Ireland default position. Where we are from we wake up every morning and thank God that we are British, white, middle class and Protestant... so that every day we can ask our Catholic neighbour to repent!
Spiwo’s morning prayer is one that gives hope of peace and reconciliation. Ours is one that perpetuates sectarian and hatred. There is humility about Spiwo’s Christlike alternative thinking and a self-righteous arrogance that bears no resemblance to Christ about ours. There is a powerful verse of Scripture in the Old Testament book of Second Chronicles. The people of God are told that if they “humble themselves and pray, seek my face and turn from their wicked ways I will hear from heaven and will heal their land.” This verse was used many, many times during the Northern Ireland Troubles as a call to prayer. Indeed there might have been no other place at no other time in history when more prayer was prayed. Yet, where was the healing? There were a couple of other things in that verse ignored. It is relatively easy to pray especially if your prayer is concentrated on changes outside of yourself.
The humility and turning from our wicked ways are a different call. They are more costly. They were conveniently lost in the equation as we blamed the Catholics for all the problems and demanded that they repented. Humility and our own turning from wickedness are a better formula for shalom or God’s Kingdom to reign in Northern Ireland as it is in heaven. We need to humbly confess our part. We need to be robust in our repentance and then as Dr. Xapile, and so many black South Africans like him, have modelled for us to be quick in the tender forgiving of those that society has deemed our enemies.