Following Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday this week, the United Methodist News Service ran a piece yesterday about the influence that Methodism had on Nelson Mandela and his influence on various United Methodist leaders. Mandela benefitted from a good education provided by the autonomous Methodist Church in South Africa. Mandela is not alone in the regard. Many African (and Asian) leaders have been reared in the schools that Methodist missionaries started. The Methodist school system has been one of the great gifts from Western Methodists to Methodists elsewhere around the globe.
Yet Mandela shows that that gift is by no means a one-way gift. The inspiration and testimony to truth and justice that Mandela proved to the rest of the world, Western Methodists included, shows that those in the West have received back from the gift of schools that they gave because of Christian faithfulness to others around the world. I think that's what is most important to take from the UMNS piece - the reciprocal influences between Africa and the West.
That idea of reciprocity should be an important part of how we think about the global UMC. Granted, the Methodist Church in South Africa is autonomous and not affiliated with the UMC. Indeed, there is a UMC in South Africa with a complicated relationship to the Methodist Church in South Africa. Yet the point remains - those United Methodists in the West must think not only about what they give in missions elsewhere around the globe, but what they receive. Sometimes, as in the example of Nelson Mandela, it's quite a lot.