Last week's Magazine story of how the daughter of a Soviet dissident found hope in the 1970s through her correspondence with an elderly couple from England, chimed with Juliette Posner. Here, in our readers' column, she recalls her own letters of hope from South Africa.
Juliette - you've got South Africa. I was 12 years old and the voice was that of my sixth-grade teacher as she doled out one African country to each student, in a class project.
My heart sank. Heck, how was I, a small Jewish girl from a suburb of Washington DC supposed to understand the workings of a complicated country thousands of miles away?
As I researched the history, government and geography, there was too much information for me to get my pre-teen brain around.
It was the 1980s - the height of South Africa's apartheid regime. How could humans be allowed to treat other humans so cruelly? Why wasn't the world doing more to intervene? Constant thoughts of suffering South Africans soon filled my mind, and I became overwhelmed with wondering how I could help.
At the same time, my parents were constantly fighting and on the verge of divorce. I needed a spiritual leader whose philosophy made sense to me. Reading of Desmond Tutu's receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize and his appointment as the head of the Anglican Church in South Africa, this called out to me as an extraordinary achievement that should be appreciated.
Yet, I had nothing to give this great spiritual leader. He and the people he led needed true power, not one little girl who could not even help her father suffering through the ravages of mental illness.
Nonetheless, I could not go on with visions of the destructive forces of apartheid without extending my own prayers, charity, and wishes that such segregation could continue unchanged.
So, I took out my finest stationery and wrote that first letter. I never expected any more to come out of it.
Months passed. My parents decided to divorce. Then, a letter arrived.
It was the start of summer. I can still remember sitting on the front steps outside my home opening the air-mail envelope and staring at letterhead: The Most Reverend Desmond M Tutu, DD FKC.
He wrote me with appreciation for my concern for the people of South Africa and said that "too many people just do not care about the evil that is going on in the world".
Desmond Tutu went on to say "Apartheid is evil and unchristian. I pray that justice and righteousness will overcome evil and oppression and we shall be free, black and white together. I hope you will pray with us too." After thanking me for my offer to have him stay in our home should he need a roof over his head, he concluded the letter.
Sometimes things with the most effect are just due to timing. I needed to believe in a cause that was bigger than me. As I sat there that day with my letter, I did not understand the way it would change my life. All I knew at the time was that I felt special to have received a personal letter from such an influential person.
Following the letter's request to pray, I began to pray nightly for apartheid to end and for goodness to prevail. And, I wrote another letter.
A year and a half later, I received a hand-written card with the same letterhead. On it, Desmond thanked me for my card and said that I was a courageous young person. He went on to ask for prayers that God's justice would come for all his people.
Years later, while sitting in the parking lot of my university, I nervously awaited the election results from South Africa. Mandela had won. Tears streamed down my face as I realised that what had seemed so wrong was now on track to be forever changed. I smiled knowing that anything was possible with a little prayer and a lot of conviction.
Today, I proudly hang the two letters from South Africa in my apartment. Each day, my now 12-year-old daughter passes them as she goes about her daily business. She is the same age I was when I wrote the letters.
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