By John Stonestreet, June 24, 2014, at: www.breakpoint.org
Adriaan Vlok (1937- )
Between 1986 and 1991, Adriaan Vlok served as South Africa’s Apartheid-era Minister of Law & Order and also sat on South Africa’s State Security Council.
Vlok was behind many of the regime’s most repressive and drastic measures: hit squads, bombings and assassinations of anti-apartheid activists. The regime was desperate to stay in power in the wake of growing unrest at home and near-universal condemnation abroad.
All of which makes Vlok’s post-apartheid story all the more remarkable.
On August 1, 2006, he entered his old workplace in Pretoria and asked to see Frank Chikane, a minister and former anti-apartheid activist who was now serving in the government. As Eve Fairbanks tells readers in the New Republic, Vlok and Chikane had some history: Vlok tried to assassinate Chikane by lacing his underwear with “paraoxon, a potent insecticide.” As comical as that sounds, the effects were no joke: Chikane survived only after “advanced medical treatment” in the U.S.
Why did Vlok want to see Chikane that day? Well, to ask forgiveness. Quaking as he stood before the man he tried to kill, he read from something he’d written on the front of his Bible: “I have sinned against the Lord and against you. Will you forgive me?”
He then pulled a bowl out of his briefcase and asked if he could wash Chikane’s feet.
A startled Chikane said “yes” and Vlok proceeded to wash his feet. And, as Fairbanks put it, “both men dissolved into tears.”
It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Vlok has had a powerful conversion experience.
Reading Jesus’ words about leaving your gift on the altar and being reconciled to your brother prompted Vlok’s seeking forgiveness from his victims. As he told Fairbanks, “I had to start making peace with my brother whom I had hurt.”
And sadly, it also shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Vlok’s gestures have not been universally applauded. His fellow white Afrikaners have labeled him “ridiculous,” a “quivering dog,” and a “traitor.”
Still others insist he hasn’t gone far enough, even though he is rare among former government officials in suggesting that the white minority has something to apologize for.
His change of heart even extends to his living arrangements: When Fairbanks visited his home, she found two recovering alcoholics and a just-released prisoner living with him.
Reading his story, what comes to mind is that it’s the kind of turnaround that only Christianity can produce. It’s a story about repentance, forgiveness, humbling oneself, and, ultimately, restoration of what was broken. Yes, forgiveness figures in other religions too, but Christianity uniquely marries forgiveness to restoration and newness of life. As Fairbanks noted, Vlok’s conversion broke “his deep-seated sense of inner superiority.”
This brash self-confidence, Fairbanks tells us, figures prominently in Afrikaner culture. But in kneeling before Chikane, Vlok saw “the fundamental error of those beliefs.” In their place was a willingness to serve those he once thought to be inferior, those he thought should be serving him.
A black pastor whose feet Vlok washed called the experience “explosive,” one “that actually changed the whole church.”
Fairbanks writes that Vlok’s “transformation has been so complete, it seems almost too good to be true,” something I remember hearing about my mentor Chuck Colson.
But for those who know Jesus, it’s not too good to be true. It’s what His Gospel is all about. And we don’t all have to fly to South Africa to see it in action. We should see it all around us, wherever we find Christ’s church.
Frank Chikane (1951- )
Exodus 10:16 — Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you.”
Matthew 5:23-24 — (Jesus said), “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
John 13:1-5 … 12-17 — It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him…
When he had finished washing their feet, Jesus put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (NOTE: Ever since this example set by Jesus at the Last Supper, the washing of another’s feet has become symbolic of Christian humility.)
Christ Washing Peter’s Feet, Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893)
Adriaan Vlok washing the feet of a man at a South African Reconciliation event
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
–Jesus, Matthew 6:12