Author Mark (Johannes) Mathabane wrote his autobiography in 1986 in order to give people a window into the atrocities of Apartheid. The book Kaffir Boy describes life in the segregated township of Alexandra through the eyes of a child who eventually escapes the suffocating claws of poverty and segregation through the pursuit of education. Through his love for tennis, Johannes eventually gets a college scholarship in America and manages to escape Apartheid.
The book is fascinating and heartbreaking. It speaks to the heart. It brings so many emotions and thoughts as it puts a face to segregation, poverty, and hunger. It also captures the theological deficiencies common to a Christianity shaped by African traditions that Matthew Michael identified in Christian Theology and African Traditions.
Reading Mathabane’s life made me reflect on three areas related to ministry.
1. The holistic nature of the Gospel.
Many black South Africans perceived Christianity to be a white-man religion created by white people to keep blacks under white supremacy. In the midst of so much suffering, Mathabane reacts to the message of eternal life as presented by two evangelists:
“I know people of your kind. You’re dirty stinking liars! You make people forget reality and dream about some stupid heaven no one really knows exists! If people like Limela don’t confront reality in the face, who’ll do it for them, heh, tell me, who? Who’ll fight for their rights, their honour, their dignity?
That question resonates loud in my mind. Who will fight for their rights, honor, and dignity? Ironically, God had entrusted His people with this task. He wants us to be the ones who practice justice and love mercy (Micah 6:8) and to look after orphans and widows in their distress (James 2:10). This quote makes me realize that what Johannes needed was a gospel that did not only address the afterlife, but the current life. He needed a loving hand, not just a loving message.
2. The embracing nature of Gospel.
Appalling. That is the only word that comes to mind when I see how Christians used the Bible to define black Africans as an inferior race with smaller brains who were under Ham’s curse and therefore were destined to serve the white race. I found Mrs. Smith honesty refreshing when she said,
“Yes, I do believe in the Bible. That’s why I cannot accept the laws of this country. We white people are hypocrites. We call ourselves Christians, yet our deeds make the Devil look like a saint. I sometimes wish I hadn’t left England.”
Sometimes, the ills of a nation can be better perceived by outsiders who end up residing in the nation. That same conflicting feeling experienced by Mrs. Smith is what I have been feeling ever since I started my research on the history of race in America. I can’t believe that Christians who proclaim to love Christ can at the same time embrace segregation. The response from Johannes’ grandmother made me shed some tears: “You’re not like most white people I’ve worked for, madam,” Granny said. “Master and you are kind toward our people. You treat us like human beings.”
Is it really that simple? Yes, it is. The more I minister in a multiethnic ministry the more I realize that a key ingredient is to treat everybody as an equal human being. To treat others like human beings means acknowledging that we are all created in God’s image, descendants of Adam and Eve, and therefore we are related to each other—we may not look alike but we are family. It means recognizing that we are all fallen creatures—our faults are not due to our skin color but to our sinful nature, therefore we all need to be treated with grace. It means embracing the fact that we are all created with potential to become more than what we currently are, and therefore we all need opportunities to pursue our God-given potential.
3. The intentionality of the Gospel.
Mathabane’s story helped me see the impact that education and acts of generosity can have in the life of a person in extreme poverty. Despite his father’s lack of support, his mother convinces Johannes to pursue education with this premise, “I want you to go to school, because I believe that an education is the key you need to open up a new world and a new life for yourself, a world and life different from that of either your father’s or mine.” She was right.
I’ve been in Africa. I have seen in Liberia the schools that churches established to help orphans. I have seen the children in need of books, uniforms, and scholarships. I have seen the teachers with little income. Now that I have read this book, I think of these needs differently. Many churches want to help the poor, but I want for Ethnos to be impactful. Mathabane tells me that one way to be impactful is to intentionally invest in opportunities that seek to give people in extreme poverty not only a better present, but also a better future.
As I write my last blog of my DMin, I see this book as a good culmination to our reflective reading. As a leader equipped with global perspectives, God calls me to live an impactful life for His glory. I become a better leader when I invest my life in God’s interests, when I see humanity in every person, when I see beauty in diversity, and when I care for both the temporal and eternal needs of people. I look forward to visiting South Africa as we meet once again to refine our leadership skills with global perspectives.
 Mathabane, Mark, Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa (New Millennium Books. Kindle Edition), p. 220.
 Ibid., 190.
 Ibid., 191.
 Ibid., 133.