How Nelson Mandela Became My Bethlehem Star


I walked to the edge of my faith tonight, looked down and was tempted to jump.

Because sometimes there are no stars or moon, just an ink black sky and, when you step outside in your sneakers and run the country mile, you can’t even see the white of your shoes. It’s that dark.

“I’m done!” I yelled at God while I ran, because I was.

Nothing was working. No amount of being faithful to Jesus was seeming to work, and people I loved weren’t getting better and some were dying and others were starving themselves or relationships were failing. No matter how much I prayed, mountains were not moving and I was done.

I ran and thought about Mum when she had brain cancer, how we’d done everything we could to heal her, how we’d anointed her with oil and prayed against generational curses and renounced sins and sung hymns and done the medical stuff too and her tumor was still growing and the sky was just as dark then as it was now.

I was done with being a Christian.

I was done with believing in something I couldn’t see because it was lonely in the dark. I needed someone’s hand to reach out and hold me because sometimes, faith is touching Jesus’ nail-pierced hands and you can call me Thomas if you want to.

After a while I was panting, but not from the run, from all of the pain, the world’s pain and I couldn’t do it. I kept saying this and I stopped, doubled over, and God showed me, then.

He showed me a picture of the late Nelson Mandela, sitting alone in his bare-bones cell in Africa for twenty-seven years (or nine thousand, eight hundred and fifty five days) and how he emerged—his mind and soul intact, even though he’d forgotten how to tie his shoes—and continued to lead, to inspire, to shine.

To be, as Lisa-Jo Baker put it, a home for those who had none.

He showed me a picture of a woman in Haiti who was a housekeeper at a hotel where my friend had stayed, and all of this woman’s money from housekeeping went towards re-building her house, because there are no banks there—people just transfer the money directly into things like bricks for the walls of their home, or food to eat.

And this woman, she was sitting in her half-built house, the walls just piles of bricks around her, and she was sitting there reading her Bible.
God showed me my neighbor, a single lady who, every night when she gets home from work, plays hymns from her piano by the open window.

He showed me my mum, who never stopped believing God was healing her —

Even when the tumor got bigger and now, after eight years of brain cancer she is fully healed, the tumor gone and doctors scratching their heads. And he showed me this video through a friend, the video of a homeless man joining a Christian musician’s music video, the video of a person with no home giving heartfelt praise to his heavenly father.

And each of these pictures—of Mandela emerging from prison, of the woman in her unfinished house, reading her Bible, of my mum, my neighbor, my husband and the homeless man—they all were flames lighting up the sky, comprising the brightest star—a Bethlehem star.

A star which led the wise men —

which leads all men and women, sons and daughters, into the presence of a king born on a very dark night, born in a manger, in a stable smelling of horse and cow, born in a lowly and despicable way so that we would know the kind of hope that combusts across the sky like a choir of angels.

The hope which leads us home.

Photo Credit: robin_24 , Creative Commons

  • Lisa notes

    “The hope which leads us home.” Such great examples, Emily, of being led to the Wisest Man, through other wise ones who continue to seek Him against all odds. Thanks for the encouragement this morning; always appreciated.

    • Emily Wierenga

      you are such a faithful encourager, dear Lisa. May you be led this advent season too, and sense our Abba cheering you onwards, in the dark. Love, e.

  • HisFireFly

    yes, this, dear Emily. the exploding light of His love, breaking through each and every darkness. He finds a way to reach us when we can’t reach Him.

    • Emily Wierenga

      I love you and your heart, dear Karin. You explode his love and light in my life :) XO

  • Melanie Pennington

    Advent is the season of waiting. We wait and wait — with expectation — but also with longing.

    • Amy Hunt

      And we accept. What is now. Trusting that now has purpose as it is. Like Mary. “Yes.” Though tentative and with trepidation . . . still, we accept. And this is our worship.

      • Melanie Pennington

        So true!

    • Emily Wierenga

      Yes. Waiting is so very hard. Especially when a promise has been given… but would there be the joy in the end, if it weren’t so hard? Love to you dear Melanie. XO

  • Amy Hunt

    And you. He’s showing you, you. For you, too, represent hope. Not for what you want, but for who you are. Today. Now. And that, my friend, has, is and always will be: enough.

    To embrace the now as it is . . . this is our worship together today. Okay? {hugs}

    • Emily Wierenga

      Oh Amy, thank you… I long to be a star shining bright. In spite of my doubts. Yes, our worship together. Love you. (Hugs)

      • Amy Hunt

        Our doubts don’t exempt us. Or our sin. Or our temptation. We simply are purposed, as we are. That’s what grace is. To redeem, not to create but to make what is to be whole . . . this is wholly Holy.



  • Danelle

    Sometimes faith is touching Jesus nail pierced hands. I know. I am just over here nodding Emily. It is a beautiful thing to put such words to what is often felt in my heart too. Maybe we feel like we are done sometimes, but then we realize that God isn’t. Not until He delivers us. And He promises that He always will. *Love you Emily*

    • Emily Wierenga

      Oh Danelle, how I hope someday to meet you face to face. You are a soul sister. Love you too sweet friend. XO

  • Michelle DeRusha

    Beautiful, Emily. So much hope here. Thank you, lovely friend.

    • Emily Wierenga

      Thank you dear Michelle. I’m always so honored when you comment on my posts. I love you.

  • Karin Deaver

    We truly were made to live in community. We spur one another on to a greater hope, a hope outside ourselves. This was such a powerful reminder. I love how God took your crying out moment and spoke so tenderly to your heart. I love how you braved the darkness to cry out to him.

    • Emily Wierenga

      Thank you Karin. You are such a bright light in my life right now. Thank you for always encouraging me to seek the cross. XO

  • Kris Camealy

    so much hope… so much to be thankful for. I appreciate this, Emily.

    • Emily Wierenga

      I appreciate YOU dear Kris. You shine so bright sister. Keep on. e.

  • ro elliott

    Hope…yes…we want to see the end of the story right in the middle of a chapter…Gods ever unfolding story… Emanuel …writing His story in our lives…a story that is not finished until that day…your post makes me think of Hebrews chapter 11… And this…Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Yes let us let Hope lead us home…right into the very Love of God!!! Xoxo

    • Emily Wierenga

      Yes, Ro, you are right–this is Hebrews 11, and don’t we all have that chapter written in our lives, at some point? The inscription of faith upon our souls, the moment when we choose to keep running in the dark? I love how you said “we want to see the end of the story right in the middle of the chapter.” That’s exactly it. Love you friend.

  • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    Waiting has to be, by far, the hardest part of our journey as Christ-followers. The Hebrew people had to wait hundreds of years to receive their promise of The King…and then, perhaps some lost hope in the waiting. May you always cling to Hope, to Jesus, no matter how long you wait…for the darkness cannot overshadow the Light my friend and His nail-scarred hand is slipped into yours…forever.

    • Emily Wierenga

      oh Caryn, thank you… I’ll never forget the way you came alongside me at Allume, the night of worship, when I was weeping, and I felt your hand on my back, and you were praying for me. This is what it means to shine brightly for one another. To keep spurring one another on, in the darkness. Love you friend.

      • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

        Oh Em, I didn’t even realize you knew it was me praying for you. Cheering, spurring, lifting, praying you on my friend!

  • Laura Boggess

    It is true, what they say, that those stars shine brightest in the darkest, dark. And the Light always overcomes.

    • Emily Wierenga

      Always, friend. And you are such a light to me. Thank you for shining, dear Laura. Love you.

  • Alecia Simersky

    You can just feel your passion when reading this. So powerful, Em. There are so many things in this world that don’t make any sense, but God.

    • Emily Wierenga

      YES, dear Alecia. “But God.” But him. The never-ending faithfulness of our Abba father, leading us home… Love you.

  • pastordt

    Beautiful tribute, beautiful reflection. Thanks you, Em.

    • Emily Wierenga

      Thank you dear Diana. I am always so blessed when you comment. I love you friend. XO

  • E W Wright

    Thanks, Emily. Thanks.

    • Emily Wierenga

      You’re welcome, friend :)

  • Shannon Rae

    mmm…GOOD WORD darling! ((hugs))

    • Emily Wierenga

      Thank you sweet Shannon! Hugs! XO

  • soulstops

    Thanks, Em, for lighting the sky with your words of hope :)

    • Emily Wierenga

      Oh Dolly, thank YOU. You are so dear to me! XO

  • Barry MaCaukiner
  • Elizabeth Stewart

    I’ve had those I can’t do this anymore moments…and then God uses something or someone to breathe hope into me. Beautiful words here, Em.

  • Carol Vinson

    Thanks for showing hope to those of us still waiting for our Bethlehem star…those of us tired of waiting…tired of running in the dark…

    Beautiful words, Emily. Thank you.

  • Mensima

    Bless you Emily! That was an encouraging piece. Mensima.

  • Mia

    Dear Emily
    Oh, it is usually there when we are at the end of ourselves with no one else to turn to or to trust, where God shows us how He brings beauty only out of ashes, and how Jesus, while He walked this earth, drew power only from a place of weakness. When I saw Madiba’s name in the heading of your post, I had to come here and read about our country’s great leader! Oh, how we South African’s are going to miss our Tata Madiba.
    Blessings XX

  • Duane Scott

    Emily… Emily… This is why I read your words. To know I’m not alone. Bless you, for blessing us all.

    • Emily Wierenga

      you are most definitely not alone dear Duane. here with you, brother, always. e.

  • Anna Cook

    So nice…to remember all the good..I have a hard time at christmas..being away from family….but readi g these blogs help me alot for I am thankful for all.

  • Brent Esarza

    I just want to thank you for writing this heartfelt piece since I have also experienced dealing with the recent loss of a very special and important person in my life. You really made a good point that even though our loved ones are not with us anymore, their presence can still be felt through remembrance and faith and love and memory and most importantly–hope.

    This is something that is is line with what Churchgoers advocates to people and I hope you will take the time to visit their site for more details:



  • Anna Cook

    Thankyou so much..I needed this for I too at this time of year felt like running…then something pops up like ur story and helps me xoxo

  • David Helms

    I can relate to this allot. The past seven years have been one bitter disappointment after another. I swallowed my pain and my disappointment. I said God knows what’s best for me. I prayed I stayed faithful.

    And then the straw broke the camel’s back.

    That morning I felt God at my elbow and I said aloud “You don’t want to talk to me right now, you won’t like what I have to say…”
    I heard Him respond “Let me have it.”

    My commute to work is over an hour. I spent the entire hour yelling, crying, accusing. Telling Him how I felt let down. Abandoned. My hope betrayed. I swore at Him.

    When I had run out of words I finally heard Him say “Now I know you really love me.”

  • Joshua Gorenflo

    A beautiful call to open our eyes when our world and faith come to the very edge of ourselves. Been there too and sincerely appreciate your words, especially the Bethlehem Star image. I’ll hold onto that hope. Thank you Emily.