Thursday, May 25, 2006

It is one thing – and a good thing – to give your life to God so that your problems can be sorted out. It is quite a different thing, however, to give your life to God to work towards establishing his authority in the power structures of your country.

It is one thing – and a good thing – to give your life to God so that your problems can be sorted out. It is quite a different thing, however, to give your life to God to work towards establishing his authority in the power structures of your country.

This challenging concept was expressed to me by a former dropout and drug addict when he visited Oregon some twenty-five years ago. He had done both and regarded this as a normal commitment for a Christian.

The words came to mind when I got the sad news that he had just died at London airport on the way home to his country, Zimbabwe .

Alec Smith had the good fortune, or he might say the misfortune when growing up, to be the son of the prime minister. And a prime minister, Ian Smith, who was to make his name for being implacably against black rule in the then Rhodesia.

From the age of 12 onwards when the family moved into the prime ministerial residence Alec was in a state of rebellion and, when news got out of his wilder exploits, an embarrassment to his parents. ‘I wanted to be hooked,' he said. ‘Drugs were the only meaningful thing in my life.' He made money by pushing, mostly grass from Mozambique and LSD which he smuggled from Britain . He regarded this world as his ‘community service'. Studying in South Africa he was expelled from the university and convicted for drug smuggling. Writer Rebecca de Saintonge says that he became Rhodesia 's ‘most famous hippie, politically, radically and permanently stoned'.

At his lowest point Alec had what can be described as a Damascus road experience. Many influences, including the shows Jesus Christ, Superstar and Godspell, led him to think about Jesus Christ in a serious way. ‘It was about this time,' he discovered later, that two groups of women, strangers to him, had begun praying for him and ‘God began to interfere with my life'. One evening driving home, on a high, he heard a voice from the back seat saying ‘Go home and read the New Testament'. There was no one there. ‘But the voice was not an hallucination. It had been real and in my heart of hearts I knew whose voice it was.' In his home, to his surprise he found the Gideon Bible which had been given him at school ten years earlier.

A couple of weeks later a neighbor out of the blue asked him to go to church. Getting drunk to put off this ordeal he met another committed hippie who also asked him to church. At church, he recalled later, ‘I remember the feeling that the Holy Spirit had come into the building there with us. Then I saw Jesus Christ and I knew that he was asking me to give my life to him.' He ran out of the church with the word ‘no' resounding in his mind. But he felt empty and began to pray for another chance. Two weeks later he publicly gave his life to Christ. He knew without doubt that he was a new person. His relationship with his family was healed and restored and he even had a dramatic change of heart towards the police.

He began to get a sense, he told me, of God's guiding hand. It was at this point that he for the first time felt any responsibility for his country and saw racial discrimination. He felt that a wider commitment was necessary and linked up with a group of men and women of different races and backgrounds who were associated with what is now called Initiatives of Change, working with them to organise a major conference to try to bring interracial healing..

One man who attended was an African Nationalist and methodist minister Arthur Kanodereka, Treasurer of the African National Congress. Because of his bitter experiences, tortured by the security forces, and despite his religious position, Arthur felt that no good could ever come from a white man. He was shaken to hear the prime minister's son say that it was his selfish lifestyle and insensitive attitudes which had driven young blacks into the guerrilla war. Arthur was to say later that a care for white people came into his heart: ‘I realized you could not change a man by hating him – you only made him worse.'

Alec and Arthur began to work together. They helped form a ‘cabinet of conscience' to work and pray for the country's leaders. Arthur took Alec to speak to his congregation and Alec took Arthur to meet his father. Afterwards the prime minister told his son, ‘If all black nationalists were like him, I'd have no trouble handing over the country tomorrow.'

Tragically, in the midst of trying to bring the warring elements together Arthur was assassinated. But Alec kept going in his behind the scenes work and at the time of the change over to black rule facilitated a meeting between Ian Smith and the new prime minister Robert Mugabe which is said to have averted a bloodbath. In the book Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft that meeting is described as having altered the history of the nation.

In later years Alec became a chaplain to the Zimbabwe Army. His deep conviction: ‘For me, God is not a matter of faith, but of fact.' He founded the first fully professional soccer club in Zimbabwe, organising charity matches to aid famine relief in Mozambique . He managed his father's farm and helped write his autobiography.

Quietly, as was his way, and despite disillusion with the road Mugabe's government has chosen, he continued to work for his country's healing.

At his funeral his wife, Elisabeth, said that Alec was always positive about the country and ‘the eternal optimist'. Indicative of the change that took place in his life was that when Alec's daughter, Inger, went to tell Ian Smith of her father's death, he said, ‘He was my rock.'

This article first appeared on the website: