From childhood Piet was taught to hate. Every dinner conversation was venomous speech about the Black man, that warped his little mind with a dark anger.
He joined the South African Army at the height of apartheid and his irrational loathing of the Blacks smouldered on.
It was apartheid government strategy to create separate puppet states within the country. Here the indigenous communities lived under the control of Black ministers loyal to the South African government. Piet had responsibilities to interact with Black members of the defence force of these puppet states, but he deeply resented each meeting. So violent was his loathing that after shaking their hand he would excuse himself and scrub his hands vigorously.
He rose through the ranks and a day came when he was ordered into the General’s office and he sensed a big promotion in the air.
“Your service has not gone unnoticed.” His heart pounded.
“Therefore we are rewarding you. You are to be Commander-in-Chief of the army of the Transkei. You understand ........... other intelligence duties ..... disloyalty to ..........” The general’s words became blurred and jumbled in his mind as Piet reeled from the shock of what he heard. The Transkei was a puppet state. He was assigned to take charge of a Black army!!
At home he poured out his frustration and anger to his gentle wife, the one person he trusted and adored.
“Never! I will never do it.”
As she had done so many times in the past, like David playing his harp to black-hearted Saul, she touched his lips with hers, breathed her peace into his soul and assured him that he was honoured, the post would not last forever and he was the right man.
How could he anticipate the devastation that tore through his life with that phone call? Three weeks into the posting he lifted the handset to hear an anxious voice on the other end. “Come quickly sir, Commander. Quickly to the hospital. Your wife, she very bad. She hit by car.”
He rushed in a frantic blur of anxiety, terror and deep prayers to an unknown god “Please, God, not her. Let her live. She is all I really have. Don’t take her” To no avail. He was met at the door by a sad-faced, sympathetic doctor and his life fell apart.
Piet was inconsolable. Nothing could fill the emptiness of his nights and the deep ache of the days. His fellow White officers tried to comfort with parties, drink and the offer of other women for the night. The Black soldiers, however, loved him. With genuine compassion from a race acquainted with mourning, they sat with him, told him of God’s love and prayed with him. “Jesus is with you, sir. He will comfort you.” They brought him meals, listened to his weeping in the night and had him round to their humble homes.
To say he was surprised is to understate it. He was astonished. And totally disarmed. “These are the people that I have hated. How can they love me like this?” The questions swirled in his head, till he realised this was no ordinary love. They loved him because they loved Jesus first. He, too, surrendered to that love, and peace, for the first time, mingled with the pain. As hatred dissolved love came flooding in.
I heard Piet testify at a multiracial meeting held in apartheid South Africa. Ending his story he took a young Black man in the audience by the hand and led him up to the podium. The burly Afrikaner, now a gentle giant, put his arm around him and said, “You are my brother, and I love you.”
Locking burning blue eyes with the audience he drew a line down the young man’s arm with his finger. “His skin is black, but if I cut him, he bleeds the same blood that I bleed. If I look into his heart I see the same dreams, the same desire for love, the same pain at harsh words and careless actions.” Turning to the man, “And the same need for a loving, forgiving God.”
He looked back to his audience. “If you have hatred or bitterness in your heart, let God astonish you with His love. And if you know that love and know someone who is bitter and angry, astonish them with the love of Christ in you. We serve an astonishing God. Let us reflect His character. Amen”
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