Bishop Desmond Tutu celebrated his 81st birthday this past week. The accomplishments of his eight decades are well-known and many. Tony Campolo was on stage with Bishop Tutu many years ago, and he asked him how it happened that he became an Anglican priest, instead of a Baptist or a Methodist. So Tutu told Campolo this story:
“My family moved to Johannesburg when I was twelve years old. In Johannesburg, in the days of apartheid, when a black person met a white person on the sidewalk, the black person was expected to step off the pavement into the gutter to allow the white person to pass.
“One day, my mother and I were walking down the street when a tall white man, dressed in a black suit, came toward us. Before my mother and I could step off the sidewalk, as was expected of us, this man stepped off the sidewalk, and he tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to my mother!
“I was more than surprised at what had happened and I asked my mother, ‘Why did that white man do that?’ My mother explained, ‘He’s an Anglican priest. He is a man of God; that is why he did it.’”
That man’s name was Trevor Huddleston, a priest who worked in the worst slums of the city with the forgotten, marginalized, and suffering. When Tutu was later hospitalized with tuberculosis, it was Huddleston who came to visit the young boy; and it was Huddleston who would offer his own books and time to help Desmond catch up with his studies when he returned to school.
Years later, when Tutu became an adult, he transitioned his studies from education to theology. He turned to Trevor Huddleston’s Anglican Church, for he had experienced firsthand the love and service of this extraordinary man.
Trevor Huddleston’s name is almost forgotten in South Africa’s freedom story, but not forgotten by Desmond Tutu. When Tutu is asked why he doesn’t hate whites he answers, “I never learned to hate…because I was fortunate in the whites I met when I was young.”
Trevor Huddleston’s name is the first on the Bishop’s list, and a name never far away, for “Trevor” is the name of Desmond’s oldest child. So when you think the little things you do and say don’t matter, remember that sometimes there would be no Desmond Tutus without the Trevor Huddlestons.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me