Thursday, 21 February 2013

My Personal Hero

Archie Jafta is my new hero.
It is interesting to reflect on those people that grab our attention. At best we admire courageous exploits, selflessness or other noble acts. At worst we make heroes out of actors, the wealthy and the rebellious, without any reason other than their worldly success and popularity. Well Archie is a man who you will not have heard of, and if you passed him on the street would pay him no mind. Or maybe you would, because there is an authority, a calm demeanor, strength and a love that emanates from him.

I met Archie at a prison just outside the beautiful town of Franschhoek; a prison famous for being the last that held Nelson Mandela. This is a maximum security prison and we were taken to its juvenile section. The inmates were all found guilty of murder, rape or other serious crimes. We experienced four different areas of this prison, seeing not just the brokenness, but the healing power of this man’s work as he brings a Christ-focused love to these young men.

His heroism struck me. It hit me hard, in the gut, for in his heroism I instantly saw my own weakness. Archie stood in front of a huge iron gate, two dozen young inmates standing behind him, tattooed with gang slogans, angry, bitter, mocking; and Archie spoke of love. He spoke of the good in these young men. He spoke of how he sees only the potential in them, potential placed in them by a loving Father, whose design has been warped by the sinful and hard world into which these men were born. I looked from Archie to the men and was amazed. All I wanted was to be as far from them as possible. Love? I looked at these young men and was deeply disturbed. They were so hard, had done such evil things. Many looked broken beyond repair. Yet despite all the outward signs it was clear that these young men respected Archie. His was not a gentle, easily manipulated love. It was strong and would not bend!

Three further prison blocks awaited us, each showing stages of change in the inmates - in appearance and attitude and in the neatness of their cell blocks. In the fourth we saw a miracle. In this final block the jail’s choir and soccer group were housed. These cells were occupied by prisoners who were committed to schooling, closely adhered to the prison and club rules, showed incredible personal growth and a positive attitude. We met many of these men. Surely, I thought, these were lesser criminals. But no; the first we met talked of how he had killed his best friend; the next, of how he raped. And yet, in these men, I saw Archie’s love fulfilled. It was almost as if he had prophesied change and healing in that first cell – which appeared impossible - and yet in front of us was the irrefutable result; men that were quite literally transformed. We talked, laughed and worshiped with these young men and I cannot think of many times of worship that have meant more to me or where I have seen such genuine love for God.

But Archie’s heroics do not end in the prison. Archie established a church; he founded an outreach center in the heart of the poorest community in Franschhoek which teaches basic skills, helps people find jobs, serves as a half-way house and even takes in poor families evicted from their homes. Archie is planning a second center 400 miles up the coast of South Africa. I have no idea how he does it all.

Archie is a hero, yet he would say that he is merely living the gospel of Jesus. His strength of love mocked my weakness. His capacity to see God in the most sinful people revealed judgment in my heart. But more than this he showed what a man or woman of God who truly lives the gospel can achieve. He doesn’t just believe in the power of God to transform. He lives it. His faith is expressed in action that knows, just knows, that God will work. Even God wants partners.

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