Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

January 21, 2018


One man’s compelling example


       There are few stories more compelling than that of Albert Schweitzer. His example of unselfish service to God is on par with that of the more famous Mother Teresa of India.

        Born in Germany, in a town that is now in France, Schweitzer grew up in the home of a Lutheran pastor. His love of music inspired him to earn a degree in music and later a degree in theology. He soon enjoyed a comfortable life as a college teacher.

        One day, convicted by the biblical story of the rich man and Lazarus, Schweitzer was soundly converted. To the dismay of family and friends, he walked across the campus of the University of Strassbourg and enrolled in the School of Medicine.

After receiving his medical degree in 1913, now 38 years old, he moved with his wife to Lamberene, a town in what is now the west central African nation of Gabon. There he established a hospital to care for the poor who were suffering from leprosy, polio and other diseases. Spurning the advantages of “the good life,” Schweitzer spent the rest of his life serving the poor.

        A gifted writer, theologian and philosopher, Schweitzer explains in his book, On the Edge of the Primeval Forest, why he gave up his comfortable life as a professor:

        “I had read about the physical miseries of the natives in the virgin forests; I had heard about them from missionaries, and the more I thought about it, the stranger it seemed to me that we Europeans trouble ourselves so little about the humanitarian task which offers itself in far-off lands. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus seemed to me to have been directly spoken to us! We are the rich man, for, through the advances of medical science, we now know a great deal about disease and pain, and have innumerable means of fighting them. . . . Out there in the colonies, however, sits Lazarus, who suffers from illness and pain just as much as we do, nay, much more, and has absolutely no means of fighting them. And just as the rich man sinned against the poor man at his gate because . . . he never put himself in his place and let his heart and conscience tell him what he ought to do, so do we sin against the poor man at our gate.”

        Asked by a visitor at his African hospital why he was serving the poor in Africa, Schweitzer replied, “Jesus sent me.” That was reason enough. A brilliant answer – in three words.

        The good doctor had a long career serving the medical needs of the poor. He died in 1965 at the age of 90. Over the years he helped promising young Africans acquire an education. Some went on to earn college degrees, and even medical degrees.

        On one occasion Schweitzer was in the woods cutting down trees to use in building a larger medical clinic. He was struggling in vain to move a tree out of a ditch. Nearby several African stood watching. One young man, neatly dressed in his white suit, was urged to give a hand.

        “No,” the young man replied, “I cannot; I am a doctor.” Evidently he did not want to soil his “whites” because such manual labor was beneath him now that he was a doctor. Yet it was Schweitzer who had helped him complete medical school.

        Ponder that scene the next time you are reluctant to get your hands dirty in the service of others. The compelling example of Albert Schweitzer may inspire you to crawl down in some ditch and get your whites dirty. + + +