The Apostle Paul wrote most of the material we find in our New Testament. But not while sitting at a desk drinking coffee. He wrote letters to his friends while he was imprisoned for treason, inciting riots, and leading an insurrection. Paul knew eventually he would be executed by his jailors (and he was). But he did not pray for freedom or ask God to rescue. His only plea was to have ‘sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.’ Paul was not desperately begging for God to restore him to his old life–‘for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain…I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is better for you that I remain in the body.’ Paul was ready to die and be with Christ (which he considered ‘better by far) but he was also eager to ‘go on living in the body, which will mean more fruitful labor for me.’ Wherever he was, he was going to serve Jesus.
Sitting in his prison cell, Paul had a foot in both worlds–the life on earth and his life with Christ in the Kingdom of God.
This week, along with Paul’s prison letters, I’ve been reading the letters Nelson Mandela wrote while in prison. Like Paul, Mandela was convicted of treason and inciting riots. He was sentenced to life in a hard labor prison camp. Though he had grounds for appeal and powerful friends, he refused to appeal his sentence. He wanted his imprisonment to bear witness to the evil brutal injustice of the apartheid regime. He fully expected to die on Robbins Island. And yet—he completed multiple degrees while he was imprisoned. His letters are full of requests for textbooks and examination registration forms. He also mentored other activists in non-violent philosophy, wrote tender letters of encouragement to his wife and children and continually badgered prison officials and politicians.
Sitting in his prison cell, Mandela also had a foot in both worlds.
How were these brothers able to live with such courage and hope while enduring the dehumanizing trauma or prison? Where did they find so much wisdom and love to pour into others? How were they able to live so passionately and yet hold their lives so lightly? I hope you’ll join us as we learn from these two great saints how to live with hope and power in the midst of great suffering.
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