Two men, enemies under Apartheid, find a better way
Gideon was raised in South Afiica under the “Apartheid” system, a political power which promoted white supremacy and treated native black people as inferiors. As a white South African, he came to believe strongly in his country's ideology and became a leader in a far right organisation that actively supported the racist government system. As his involvement grew, so did his hatred for black South Africans. He recalls a discussion he had with a fellow activist while visiting the seaside. Noticing that on that particular beach there were only black life-guards, he said “I would rather drown than allow a black man to rescue me.” Little did Gideon know how those words would come back to haunt him. A few days later, he was swimming in the sea when he got caught by the strong tide. As the current pulled him out to sea he struggled desperately to swim to shore but the harder he tried, the more futile it seemed. As he got into deeper and deeper water, frantically struggling to fight his way back, he became exhausted and lost all his energy. Gideon knew then that he was actually drowning and at that moment, panic set in and he knew he was going to die. Just as he had lost the ability to move any more, Gideon saw a face drawing near to him, it was a black man. When the man reached him, Gideon desperately grabbed the man around the neck. “I almost wanted to kiss him, that was how glad I was to see him, because I could not go on” says Gideon, thinking back. Incredibly, even though a black man saved Gideon's life that day, Gideon says “It did not change my attitude towards them.”
Johnny was a black South African, raised at about the same time as Gideon. He grew up with naive hopes for his nation, believing that politics could overcome anything. He recalls “I wanted to see South African Society, community, as a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic society." When he was quite young he was educated in politics and became the Chairman of a mass democratic movement. Part of his job was to educate South Africans about their rights to vote. One day he contacted a congregation in one of the towns under his juridstiction, offering to teach them about political activism. However, this particular congregation, along with it's worldwide membership, declined involvement in politics, referring to Jesus' command to remain neutral to the worlds politics and philosophies. Johnny was confused, and irritated. In fact, some of those in his movement were furious with the congregations that took such a neutral stand and they wanted to burn their building of worship to the ground.
One day, Johnny was driving in a vehicle with a delegation. As they looked out on the street they saw some white people approaching both black and white people in the streets and speaking to them. Johnny recognised one of the people as those from the congregation that had declined to become involved in politics and instead, were sharing the Bible's message of unity. The white driver said to Johnny “I hate those people.” Now, Johnny knew that the driver was a racist, and he responded jokingly, “If you hate those white people, they must be good people!”
Meanwhile, Gideon was bracing himself for big changes coming to South Africa. Under international pressure, the Apartheid system was breaking down and was about to collapse. Gideon and his movement were determined to resist these changes and aggressively fought against any changes. “We even drove an armoured vehicle smashing through parliament's doors into the building”, he says. But finally, in the late 1980s, the Apartheid regime was at last dismantled.
Gideon had always belonged to a church and had never seen any conflict between his Apartheid loyalties and being a worshipper of God. Yet neither the Apartheid system, nor the moral standards he lived by made him a better or happier person. He was often drunk and he cheated on his wife several times. Eventually, his life turned sour and his wife divorced him. Gideon reflects back on those days and admits that “It was an empty life, and I was never really happy.”
Meanwhile Johnny became ever more frustrated with the political and racial struggles in his country and became committed to a revolutionary, left wing cause. He felt that revolution, politics could bring about a change in the system and in people. In the political meetings he frequently attended there were often heated arguments, even between members of his own party. He was away from his family most of the time and neglected their needs.When he finally went home for short periods of time, he remembers “I often ended up in arguments with my wife over nothing.” Johnny became frustrated and downhearted with life. Even after Apartheid was gone, he observed widespread corruption, prejudice and hatred in his country.
One day, Johnny came across a book on the desk of one of his work colleagues. The book intrigued him because it was about knowledge, from a source he had never really considered before - the Bible. Johnny learned from the Bible that Jesus had come to earth for a very specific reason – to tell people about God's Kingdom. He was surprised to learn how that Kingdom is described in the Bible. The Hebrew word used in the Bible is sometimes translated as “Government.” In fact, the Bible says that Jesus Christ would “Bring to nothing all government and all authority and power.”
Johnny had strived for a new government all his life, in vain, but he had never heard of this Government that the Bible speaks of. Johnny was equally surprised to learn that the Bible reveals that this Kingdom, this Government from God, would be established here - on the earth. Johnny had heard this scripture before but had never made the connection. He remembered hearing in church, the “Lord's prayer” saying “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” That revelation hit Johnny like a thunderbolt. Johnny inquired more about the Bible and he found out that the people who were sharing this truth about God's Kingdom being the real hope for mankind on earth, were none other than the organisation that included the congregation that refused political involvement. He decided to contact them and, was amazed by what he found. In their congregations, which numbered tens of thousands all over the world, the members were united in worship as a brotherhood, black and white, young an old, all races and backgrounds. He was so moved by what he saw in the congregations that he felt the need to join these people. Johnny recalls “I felt home among these people. I could feel genuine love, not just love like that we have in the world.”
Unknown to Johnny, one of his “enemies” - Gideon, had met some of the same people from this worldwide brotherhood that were united by the teachings of the Bible. Gideon resisted what these people were trying share with him from the Bible because he believed that there was nothing that they could teach him. However, impressed by their respectful attitude and sincerity, Gideon challenged these people to show him something in the Bible which proved that what he had always believed was wrong. Gideon was not ready for the overwhelming response to his challenge. Those people showed him not one or two, but many things in the Bible that contradicted almost everything that Gideon had been taught by his church and by the politicians. He says “This changed my whole life.” Gideon began to attend meetings at their congregation. He immediately noticed that there were white and black people worshipping together in complete harmony. Gideon recalls “This was strange for me” but the more he attended the meetings the more he began to learn that, with God, there is no partiality They showed Gideon what the Bible says about the different races of mankind that “God made, out of one man, all the nations of the earth” and that, in God's eyes, “All people are equal.” They followed this Biblical statement up with scientific evidence confiming this truth as a biological fact. Gideon realised that he would now have to learn to love and respect all races, just as Jesus had commanded - "Love your enemy." Gideon decided that he would join this brotherhood and would resign from all his political alliances. It was in this congregation that Gideon met Johnny who had been on his own journey of discovery and who was of a different colour and had come from the opposite end of the political spectrum, in fact, they were once enemies in ideology. Gideon confesses that “Before, we would have wanted to kill each other, but now” he says “We have love for one another, we have forgiven one another.” Gideon reflects on his past life and says “I never want to be that person again.”
Today, Johnny, who himself abandoned the futile political struggles of man to embrace the superior way of the Bible, marvels at what has happened to himself and Gideon. “I never thought that somebody like Gideon, coming from an extreme right-wing organisation, could worship with me, from an extreme left one.” Johnny attributes this modern miracle to the wisdom of the Bible and remembers the Biblical prophecy which says that In the final part of the days, “The wolf will lie down with the lamb.” Johnny reflects on this and realises that the Bible's wisdom is responsible for “The transformation of our personality traits that has led us to become genuine brothers.”
Gideon and Johnny's life experience can be viewed at - https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/experiences/bible-changes-lives/once-en...