Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The flame of a human soul

Written by: on August 30, 2022

Nelson Mandela, the recipient of the Nobel peace prize in 1993, grew up battling the evil against human rights and racial equality in South Africa. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela recreates his lifelong destiny and struggle in overcoming apartheid in South Africa. And Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the author of No Future without Forgiveness, offered his reflection on his journey as the Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission appointed by Nelson Mandela to restore the broken relationships within a long history of a divided and traumatized country.  It was truly inspiring to read about their lifelong struggle to fight against such horrible political and inhumane violence and overcome it with victorious resilient leadership. The first time I visited South Africa was back in July of 2011. I was there for a couple of weeks, serving with a humanitarian agency called GAIN and I had no knowledge of prior history in South Africa. My team and I served a refugee site made next to a garbage dumpster in a town called Mooiplas and I was struck with great grief because the conditions were horrible and inhumane. After 11 years, I have an opportunity to return this time with a better perspective on understanding the past struggles that many sacrificed in order to be where they are now.

Mandela titled part four The Struggle is My Life. This lifelong struggle that Mandela faced was both internal and external. The minority whites oppressed with violence, power, and imprisonments from the outside, but the majority of Afrikaners were divided on the inside with broken dreams, inherited ignorance, and shattered hopes.  Tutu was devastated to see the reality of evil that resides in a human heart for his own country. He questioned the spirituality of humanity as he fought to restore forgiveness and restoration for a better government: “How was it possible for normal, decent, and God-fearing people, as white South Africans considered themselves to be, to have turned a blind eye to a system which impoverished, oppressed, and violated so many of those others with whom they shared the beautiful land that was their common motherland?”[1]

Mandela and Tutu led the way by sacrificing their life and family to bring hope and light to the world of dark evil. Mandela described his fire of destiny came from holy and righteous anger accumulated over the years – “I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments, produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.”[2] While the ignorant and powerless majority crumbled against the power of unjust government and violent force, Nelson Mandela seemed to find a small and undying strength to get up again and take another step forward. I was fascinated by how Mandela struggled against a broken and evil system to grow a garden in prison. He grew “onions, eggplant, cabbage…and much more…at its height, I had a small farm with nearly nine hundred plants; a garden far grander than the one I had on Robben Island.”[3] And because of his labor that went another extra step, the prison kitchen was supplied with better ingredients and the harvest to be offered to the warders. It is clear to me that Mandela never lost hope in the worst possible circumstances. Tutu wrote that “it is and has always been God’s intention that we should live in friendship and harmony. That was the point of the story of the Garden of Eden, where there was no bloodshed, not even for religious sacrifice.”[4] Again and again, they both demonstrated the courage of a resilient leader: courage which is not absence of fear, but the courage to triumph over it. The hope Mandela held onto throughout his life to bring the great transformation of people’s hearts and government systems speaks relevantly to all of us today as well – “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, his background, or his religion. People 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…Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”[5]

[1] Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness. New Ed edition (New York: Image, 2000), 217.

[2] Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Reprinted edition (Back Bay Books, 1995), 95.

[3] Ibid, 516.

[4] Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, 263.

[5] Ibid, 622.

About the Author


Jonathan Lee

President of Streamside Ministry Lead Pastor of EM @ San Jose Korean Presbyterian Church in Sunnyvale, CA

5 responses to “The flame of a human soul”

  1. mm Henry Gwani says:

    Jonathan, I like how you highlight the amazing sacrifice Mandela and Tutu made to bring about change in South Africa. It is my hope that, in the spirit of Mandela and Tutu, a new generation of South African leaders will arise to continue this legacy and effect change in the contemporary problems plaguing the country and the world

  2. Kayli Hillebrand says:


    Being able to return to South Africa 11 years later, what do you hope to be more aware of in terms of the societal context, history, etc. that you wish you had been looking back on your first visit?

  3. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Jonathan: I’m so glad we got to read both these books before we take our trip to SA. Having these books fresh in our minds will make the trip that much more meaningful. Your analysis of both books is spot on; we can use so many superlatives to describe what these two men spearheaded. What are you looking forward to the most in SA?

  4. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Jonathan, thank you for highlighting Mandela and Tutu’s resiliency as leaders where ever they found themselves.

    How could you apply that focus of resiliency in your project with Korean-American Youth?

  5. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Jonathan, such a great job summarizing and relating the books for this week. As you reflect on both men, is there one leadership trait that you believe enabled them to endure and succeed? Heroic leaders can appear to be on a different plane than the rest of us, but often there is an overriding trait on which we can focus for growth. I am curious what one trait you would identify. Also, how is your son doing?

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