rev._joaquin_willis_3.jpgLast Thursday, Nelson Mandela, the great freedom fighter of South Africa, went on to rest in peace. This column’s title is taken from a freedom song written 1980 during the apartheid struggle against white minority rule in his country and to free Mandela from prison.

In John 8:1, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Christ was sent by God, as was Mandela, to be a light for the world.

Mandela was a transformative leader who was a unique light, a composite spectrum of God’s fullness. When you march in Jesus’ light, there is greater knowledge, greater peace and even greater brilliance.

A trained attorney, Mandela was a man of great knowledge, peace and light. The church was chartered to be transformative and to prepare us for a rendezvous with all the spiritual seeds of Abraham, regardless of color.

Matthew 5:14 tells us, “You are the light of the world; a city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Here Christ’s disciples are compared to a city whose brilliance cannot be hidden.

Christ also taught in John 18:20, “I have spoken openly to the world …I always taught in the synagogues or at the temple, I said nothing in secret.” Godly leaders are open, transparent and transformative lighting rods, like Mandela, who boldly taught, willing to go to jail and prepared to die for his people’s freedom.

God’s wisdom is a mystery. The prophet Isaiah (2:3) says, “He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His path.”  God’s wisdom not only overcomes opposition, it tops competition and outshines the wisdom, philosophy, and politics of this world. 

When you march in the light of God, there is greater peace. Isaiah 2:4 states, “They will turn swords into plowshares.” Isaiah reminds us that walking in the light while in communion with God naturally brings others onto the path of light with you.

In one of his writings for the Jesuit University, titled, “Reflects on Working Toward Peace,” Mandela states, “I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred; he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow- mindedness.”

The gospel calls us to be peaceable. It softens our spirits, sweetens our hearts and spreads Jesus’ love, causing us to better love one another. When we walk in this light, we look up and see the face of Jesus coming towards us.

Every good leader cries out, like Isaiah and Mandela, whose words remind us our situation is not hopeless. The solution to our problem is not complex. All we have to do is return to the Lord and walk in the light of His word.

If we let Christ teach us His path, we will walk in the Lord’s path, we will know our duty and, by grace, conscientiously do it.   

The Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts got it right when he said, “Nelson Mandela forgave and the world is better for it.”

On the post-Mandela government strategy for transformation, Pitts states, “Mandela provided a visionary blueprint for the handling of human rights abuses and reflected a sophisticated understanding of a fundamental principle that escapes many of us: The victims can never be whole and never be healed until they are heard.”

Pitts goes on to say how America “might be different had it understood, as Mandela’s country did, that there can be no reconciliation where there is not first truth.”

We have reason to hope in the  coming days that people will follow Mandela’s lead and become people “marching in the Light of God.” This will ultimately bring peace upon the earth. Paul in Ephesians 5:8, tells us, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, live as children of the light.”

As we humbly march in the Light of God, we gain knowledge, wisdom and greater brilliance. Jesus’ light sent by God to be “the Light” is a prism of perfected light, a composite spectrum of God’s colorful fullness. Through Christ we learn to love the rainbow of God’s people.

Nelson Mandela knew how to love and lead within the spectrum of God’s colorful rainbow.

*The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door UCC in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or