Restoration: Playing the Enemy

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Playing the Enemy

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At the end of December my wife and I took an afternoon off to see the movie Invictus. It is based on the true story of how South African President Nelson Mandela used the sport of rugby to “play his enemy”—the white Afrikaner—and achieve a relatively bloodless revolution in South African politics during the mid 1990s.

The term “play his enemy” is taken from John Carlin’s book Playing the Enemy, on which the movie is based. After seeing the movie, I read the book.

Every one of us has a measure of conflict with other people in our lives. Getting along with people is a constant challenge today. We encounter conflict on the job, at school, in our families, at church and with the next-door neighbor. People’s interests naturally conflict. Someone offends. Wrongs are committed. Conflict is a fact of life. It is such an embedded part of the business world that companies spend millions each year putting employees through conflict-resolution seminars. Yet conflict persists.

I’d recommend viewing this movie and reading the book. It’s a remarkable example of reconciliation in one of the world’s most conflicted nations. Nelson Mandela, a black South African, was jailed for more than 27 years for political actions against the white apartheid government. During the long years of imprisonment Mandela studied the history and culture of his adversary. He learned to speak Afrikaans. He came to realize the future lay in cooperation rather than confrontation, and he used the years to prepare himself for what became a singular mission in life.

Upon his release he set out to bring together the opposing parties and create a new South Africa. Mandela faced formidable challenges. His black constituency wanted revenge for years of white rule. White South Africans feared the loss of a way of life and a complete social upheaval in a violent revolution.

After becoming president in 1994, he hit upon the idea of using the 1995 World Rugby Cup Tournament, to be held in South Africa, as a major step toward reconciliation. This was especially challenging since rugby was the national pastime of the white Afrikaner. To wear the green and gold colors of the Springbok rugby team (the South African national team) was anathema to a black. Mandela persuaded the Springbok team members to work with him toward his goal. When he wore the green and gold colors onto the playing field on the day of the 1995 finals, the crowd was stunned.

It is a remarkable story. We all face the challenges of resolving conflicts. This movie and book took me to Paul’s words in Romans 12:17-19 Romans 12:17-19 17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. 18 If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place to wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, said the Lord.
American King James Version×
: “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

The title of this column is “Restoration.” It speaks of a time when the Kingdom of God is on the earth. You and I have the opportunity to learn the ways of that Kingdom today. Resolving conflict with others and avoiding new conflict in the future is within our power. Nelson Mandela and South Africa offer us a practical lesson in how it can be done.

Stories entertain and inform us. In the end, it is the stories that change us that matter the most. WNP