Philip Yancey shares the following account:
On a 2004 visit to South Africa I met a remarkable woman named Joanna. She is of mixed race, part black and part white, a category known there as “coloured.” As a student she agitated for change in apartheid and then saw the miracle that no one had predicted, the peaceful dismantling of that evil system. Afterward, for many hours she sat with her husband and watched live broadcasts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings.
Instead of simply exulting in her newfound freedoms, Joanna next decided to tackle the most violent prison in South Africa, a prison where Nelson Mandela had spent several years. Tattoo-covered gang members controlled the prison, strictly enforcing a rule that required new members to earn their admittance to the gang by assaulting undesirable prisoners. Prison authorities looked the other way, letting these “animals” beat and even kill each other.
Alone, this attractive young woman started going each day into the bowels of that prison. She brought a simple message of forgiveness and reconciliation, trying to put into practice on smaller scale what Mandela and Bishop Tutu were trying to effect in the nation as a whole. She organized small groups, taught trust games, got the prisoners to open up about the details of their horrific childhoods. The year before she began her visits, the prison had recorded 279 acts of violence; the next year there were two. Joanna’s results were so impressive that the BBC sent a camera crew from London to produce two one-hour documentaries on her.
I met Joanna and her husband, who has since joined her in her work, at a restaurant on the waterfront of Cape Town. Ever the journalist, I pressed her for specifics on what had happened to transform that prison. Her fork stopped on the way to her mouth, she looked up and said, almost without thinking,
Well, of course, Philip, God was already present in the prison. I just had to make him visible.
I have often thought of that line from Joanna, which would make a fine mission statement for all of us seeking to know and follow God. God is already present, in the most unexpected places. We just need to make God visible.
~ From Finding God in Unexpected Places (xiii-xiv)
May we all make God visible today!