The scene is a courtroom trial in South Africa. A frail black woman stands slowly to her feet. She is more than 70 years old. Facing her from across the room are several white security police officers. One of them, Mr. Van der Broek, has just been tried and found guilty in the murders of first the woman’s son and then her husband. He had come to the woman’s home, taken her son, shot him at point-blank and then burned the young man’s body while he and his officers partied nearby.
Several years later Mr. Van der Broek and his cohorts returned to take away her husband, as well. For months, she heard nothing of his whereabouts. Then, almost two years after her husband’s disappearance, Mr. Van der Broek came back to fetch her. How vividly she remembered that night. She was taken to a river bank where she was shown her husband, bound and beaten but still strong in spirit, lying on a pile of wood. The last words she heard from his lips as Mr. Van der Broek and his fellow officers poured gasoline over his body and set him aflame were, “Father, forgive them…”
Now the woman stands in the courtroom and listens to the confessions of Mr. Van der Broek. A member of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission turns to her and asks, “So what do you want? How should justice be done to this man who has so brutally destroyed your family?”
“I want three things,” begins the old woman calmly, but confidently. “I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.”
She pauses, then continues. “My husband and son were my only family. I want, secondly, therefore, for Mr. Van der Broek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can pour out on him whatever love I still have remaining in me.” “Finally,” she says, “I would like Mr. Van der Broek to know I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. So, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so I can take Mr. Van der Broek in my arms, embrace him and let him know he is truly forgiven.”
As the court assistants come to lead the elderly woman across the room, Mr. Van der Broek faints, overwhelmed by what he has just heard. As he struggles for consciousness, those in the courtroom, family, friends, neighbors—all victims of decades of oppression and injustice—begin to sing, softly but assuredly, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”
(Craig A. Smith, Sermon Illustrations for an Asian Audience, Manila: OMF Publishing, 2004)
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