“Reconciliation does not mean forgetting or trying to bury the pain of conflict, but it does mean a release from the power of the past” – Nelson Mandela

Growing up at the tail end of apartheid, the oppressively evil system of institutionalised racial segregation in South Africa, I recall the cries for freedom. From freedom fighters and peaceful protestors, from mums with babies swaddled on their backs to academics in the halls of universities, the cry for freedom was heard loudly and clearly.

This desire for freedom is a fundamental aspect of human nature and is essential for personal fulfilment and well-being. While the specific expressions of this desire may vary across different cultures and individuals, the underlying aspiration for freedom is a common human experience.

In South Africa, eventually, this cry for freedom was deafening enough, heavy enough to break the back of the apartheid beast. Freedom was not instant. Peace was not instant. The road to freedom involved the picking up of ruined relationships, broken spirits and hurting households. This picking up could only be achieved through forgiveness and reconciliation.

For South Africa that meant taking a hard and truthful look back at the pain of yesterday, and then intentionally finding a way forward into tomorrow, free from the chains of those past hurts. That journey towards national healing was visibly marked by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an initiative that sought to mend the fractures caused by decades of apartheid. This process, spearheaded by leaders like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was rooted in the Christian ideals of confession, forgiveness, and communal healing.

I remember, as a teen, observing grown men cry during those televised hearings. An outward demonstration of what was happening inside. Brokenness outside reflecting a broken and contrite spirit (Psalm 51:17). Tears powerful enough to cause chinks in the chains of slavery (figurative and literal); tears watering the seeds of reconciliation and ultimately freedom.

Reconciliation, of course, is a theme deeply embedded in Christian doctrine, with Bible passages like 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, Colossians 1:19-20 reminding us that our God himself, is the Great Reconciler and desires reconciliation and peace; peace with Him; peace with each other; peace with oneself.

The Biblical Greek word for peace is εἰρήνη eirḗnē, (i-ray’-nay). It actually means “to tie together as a whole”, or “when all essential parts are joined together.”

Here’s where all the concepts of reconciliation, freedom and peace culminate. In our world there are so many of us who are not whole; not at peace – all the essential parts are not fitting together. Something is missing, rendering the puzzle picture of one’s life less than perfect. Be it challenge on the outside or trouble on the inside, something is disturbing one’s peace and wholeness.

One way to address this (and there are many other ways depending on the complexity of the case) is through the process of reconciliation.

The way I see it, at its heart, personal reconciliation requires a multi-directional look.

1. Look back: confront our past traumas

2. Look inward: resolve internal conflicts

3. Look outward: mend broken relationships through forgiveness

4. Look forward: hope filled future.

5. Look upward: for grace and strength to accomplish all the above.

Looking at South Africa today, while the cry for freedom from apartheid was answered through reconciliation efforts, there are many other cries that remain unmet (as there are here in Australia). Nevertheless, that does not detract from the powerful testimony of hope and healing that can be achieved as individuals together choose to take that first step, extending that right hand of reconciliation.

Is this journey an easy one? By no means. Is it a necessary one? Absolutely. if we are to live as mentally, spiritually and emotionally healthy individuals. Possible? Absolutely, by God’s grace and with His help.

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb” (Nelson Mandela).


Wayne George

Wayne is Empatia’s Senior Consultant (Queensland). He has served in full time ordained ministry, and in the VET and Higher Education Sector for a number of years. He currently runs his private counselling practice where he supports individuals, particularly men and Christian Pastors / leaders.