The Day that Changed Everything

Emily served in YAGM-Southern Africa during the 2013-2014 program year. Here is her reflection about the day that changed everything.

Leading up to December 5, 2013, I had spent the previous 3 months living in Soweto as a YAGM.

During those three months, I got acquainted with my new home. I figured out the taxi and bus system. I learned a little bit of Sesotho and isiZulu. I met amazing neighbors, coworkers, kids, and random people around the community.

However, I must be honest – the first few months as a YAGM can be really hard. Despite all of the great things that happened, those few months were also very difficult for me. At times, I felt like I may have been placed in the wrong community. I kept seeing Facebook and blog posts from other YAGMs about how great they were doing and I felt like I wasn’t doing enough to become a true member of my community. I doubted myself and God for putting me there.

It seems strange to say, but December 5th, the day that Nelson Mandela passed away, stands out in my mind as the turning point in my YAGM year.

Despite the agonizing circumstances, the events surrounding Madiba’s death gave me a new outlook on Soweto, YAGM, and God’s plan for me.

By learning more about Mandela and Soweto, I was able to recognize and appreciate the culture and history that is ever-present in that area. I felt proud to be living in a community that fought so hard for freedom during Mandela’s life, and continues to strive for a better future to this day.

While traveling to Mandela’s memorial service, I met people who found time to offer help and guidance to a lost, foreign, stranger. While at the service, I was welcomed into a period of mourning, despite the fact that I had no level of understanding of what Madiba meant to my South African neighbors and friends.

I finally began to trust in the fact that God sent me to Soweto, South Africa, a place just far enough outside of my comfort zone, in order to learn and be shaped in astounding ways. God knew that I would be challenged, but made sure to surround me with history, culture, and, most importantly, people who would be there to show me the way and continually provide encouragement.

And finally, I witnessed Nelson Mandela’s values of love and respect being lived out by the most ordinary, yet absolutely outstanding, people.

Thank you, Nelson Mandela, for your life, your passion, and your lasting legacy.

Hamba kahle, Madiba.

video board display at Mandela's memorial

video board display at Mandela’s memorial

a building in Johannesburg, lit with a message for Madiba

a building in Johannesburg, lit with a message for Madiba


The Mandela Legacy, part ii


Katie Justice served in YAGM in Southern Africa in 2012-2013. Below, she shares the impact of Nelson Mandela on her life:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”  –Nelson Mandela

Hearing the news that Tata Mandela passed away on December 5th, I can honestly say it took me by suprise. I sort of thought it wouldnt because of the fact that he became really ill during my year in South Africa and was close to dying. Hearing that he had passed made me realize what a great human being he truly was and how there will never be another Nelson Mandela in our lifetime.

Madiba (as he was affectionately called by the people of South Africa) has always been an inspiration for me. His struggle to bring human and equal rights to all is one of the many qualities that I have admired about him. The quote above to me defines what God’s love in the world should look like when practiced. He also realized that for South Africa to move forward from the dark memories of Aparthied, forgiveness and reconciliation is the gateway for working together as a family.

The quote above always reminds me of the purpose that God has laid on my heart. Forgiveness, reconciliation and the struggle for equal rights for all is something I will continue to strive for and I hope to see achieved in my lifetime and, as Madiba said himself, if need be Im prepared to die for.

Tata Mandela, Thank you for continuing to inspire me and many others around the world. You have served your country well my friend. May you rest in peace and celebrate with Our Father Almighty in heaven.

The Mandela Legacy, part i

The YAGM program in Southern Africa is in its sixth year. All of the participants have been influenced by the work and witness of Nelson Mandela. Now with his death, a few alums share their reflections:

from Elise Anderson (YAGM in Southern Africa / MUD 2011-2012):

Nelson Mandela was a person I have had a great amount of respect for all of my life, my parents protested apartheid and they kept up with the events in South Africa. Hearing my parents talk about those things I never thought that I would spend a year of my life in that beautiful country. When I found out that South Africa is where I would spend my YAGM year I became more interested in the history and politics and the legacy of Nelson Mandela. It wasn’t until I was there and had lived among the people of South Africa that I truly started to understand what the books and documentaries were saying. The history was no longer just words on a page, it was emotional. I could relate stories I had heard and things I myself experienced to the history. Every conversation led to the past and to either how far South Africa had or hadn’t come since the end of apartheid. The country was covered with the scars of apartheid and many of the wounds left were still open, it truly felt hopeless at times. But, along with the scars there was also a feeling of love and healing and the hands that were responsible for that healing were Mandela’s. His face was everywhere, his name in every conversation, his spirit felt by all.

Mandela taught everyone in South Africa what it was to love, to forgive, but more importantly what it was to walk along side not just your friends, but your enemies. What he taught us all was the ultimate lesson in accompaniment. As YAGMs we focus on the idea of walking along those who we are hosted by. Not to lead, not to follow, but to work in a partnership of love and understanding. Is there a better example to follow than Nelson Mandela? His lessons in forgiveness and cooperation are what have always stuck with me and after living among the people of South Africa it is what I feel has stayed with them as well and continues to work in and through them. Nelson Mandela’s death is terribly sad but with death does not come darkness. The light that shined in Mandela will only burn brighter now. And we will continue to walk along with each other, until the great peace and understanding, for which Mandela was prepared to die for, is realized.


from Nicole Holtz (YAGM in Southern Africa / MUD 2011-2012):

I remember learning about Nelson Mandela in school. He would be compared to Gandhi and Martin Luther King. I saw him as a world leader, someone able to influence men and women of any color. He was a symbol of resilience, freedom, and forgiveness.

During my year living in Kimberley, South Africa I learned about the personal influence that Mandela had on my South African friends and family. Descriptions about Mandela didn’t just include, “he is the universal symbol for social justice” but also, “he helped free my grandparents and my parents. He freed me and all my people.”

Upon hearing of Mandela’s passing, my South African brother wrote, “Rest in peace Madiba, thank you for your immense contribution to my future.” While I was learning about Mandela in school, my South African brother thanks him for his very presence in higher education and the successful future he will most certainly have.

My prayer is that Mandela’s life continues to influence my own, freeing me from selfish and angry ways into a life of forgiveness, compassion, and understanding.