Dreams are future-oriented. The reason I like dreams is that embracing dreams helps us to leave behind our past. In order to move toward the future, we must leave our past behind. The way to leave behind our past is to embrace the future. Dreaming is an act of looking toward a future hope. Dreaming is an act of looking at the brighter, better, and more blessed future. Dreaming is hoping. The reason God gives us dreams is that only the ones who embraces a dream can endure.
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years in South Africa. While he was in prison, he suffered much abuse and needed to endure through intolerable humiliation. Warders said to him, “You’re gonna die here,” as they urinated on him. However, he did not embrace bitterness in his heart against the white community. Even as he was experiencing humiliating prison life, he still dreamt of a world where the white and black communities will live together harmoniously. In his autobiography, he recorded that he always embraced hope even in desperate situations.
“I never seriously considered the possibility that I would not emerge from prison one day… But I always knew that someday I would once again feel the grass under my feet and walk in the sunshine as a free man.” (Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 391)
There is a custom in South Africa for the grandfather to select a name for his grandchildren. When his daughter, whom Mandela couldn’t see for almost 20 years, gave a birth to a daughter, he gave his granddaughter a name, Zaziwe. The meaning of the name Zaziwe is ‘hope.’ He said, “For during all my years in prison, hope never left me.”
In his 27 years of prison life, he never embraced vengeance in his heart. Instead, he lived a forgiving life. He served the fellow prisoners and prepared for the future with them as they studied together. Robben Island, the place they were imprisoned, was known as the University to them. They had turned the prison into a university.
“We became our own faculty, with our own professors, our own curriculum, our own courses. We made a distinction between academic studies, which were official, and political studies, which were not. Our university grew up partly out of necessity.” (Nelson Mandela, 467)
Nelson Mandela and his fellow inmates did not waste their lives in prison. Through the prison life, Mandela had become a wiser and gentler person. After being released from the prison and becoming elected as a president, he invited the warders who tormented him to the inauguration. He chose forgiveness instead of retaliation. He chose blessing instead of resentment. The reason he was able to cultivate such wonderful character even through 27 years of prison life is because he had a dream. It’s because he had a meaningful dream that will make the world more beautiful.
Nelson Mandela was a person who embraced a great dream but also a wise person who knew how to be content in the little things in the process of waiting. During the prison life, he cultivated small joys by gardening in the courtyard.
“Almost from the beginning of my sentence on Robben Island, I asked the authorities for permission to start a garden in the courtyard. For years, they refused without offering a reason. But eventually they relented, and we were able to cut out a small garden on a narrow patch of earth against the far wall… The early harvests were poor, but they soon improved. The authorities did not regret giving permission, for once the garden began to flourish, I often provided the warders with some of my best tomatoes and onions.” (Nelson Mandela, 489)
A dream cannot be fulfilled overnight. However, the one with a dream endures and perseveres through all kinds of hardships. Let us press on together in perseverance as we embrace hope in the Lord.
Reverend Joshua Choon-Min Kang is the senior pastor of New Life Vision Church, located in Los Angeles. This is one of the weekly letters he writes to his congregation. For the original, visit www.nlvc.org.