Apel: Desmond Tutu - The rainbow man

Professor Emeritus, Linfield University

Nowhere are rainbows more beautiful than in sub-Saharan Africa. At Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, I have stood in silence and amazement before the roaring mist and multiple rainbows produced by the cascading Zambezi River.

But not even this grandeur matches the grace and dignity of the rainbow man of Africa, Desmond Tutu.

I met the then Archbishop of Cape Town in January 1996, and for me it was a thrill of a lifetime. What Tutu had accomplished in the name of Christ and nonviolence in South Africa has resulted in millions of admirers from around the world.

We stood face to face in an academic courtyard on the beautiful hillside campus of the University of Cape Town. “Thank you,” I said, “for all you have done (to end apartheid).”

As we shook hands and introduced ourselves, I was struck by the way in which this physically small individual managed to fill the entire courtyard with his presence. I wondered how this could be.

Then I realized that this is the rainbow man of God. His very presence radiates peace.

Nelson Mandela has praised Desmond Tutu as the embodiment of hope for all oppressed peoples of South Africa. He has stood as a beacon of light for those who have lived through the evils of apartheid, the government-mandated separation of races. In fact, Tutu’s courageous leadership against apartheid in the name of Christ became legendary throughout the world, and in 1991 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Beginning late in 1995, he chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of post-apartheid South Africa, bringing healing to a deeply wounded nation. However, this diminutive witness for peace and justice has known as many storms as he has rainbows. His journey to peace had been a tumultuous struggle for freedom.

Desmond Tutu knew in his heart that evil never has the last word. Even in the darkest of times, he knew of the rainbow promise of God.

He knew we can live as people of hope because God has pledged not to abandon us. Thanks be to God for rainbows , resurrections, and the life of Desmond Tutu.

William Apel serves as a professor emeritus in religion at Linfield University. This essay honors the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a major figure in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, who died Dec. 26. It is taken from Apel’s book, “Silent Conversations,” published by the Judson Press.


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