Albert Schweitzer was born Jan. 14, 1875, in a village in Alsace, Germany. The son of a Lutheran-Evangelical pastor, he won acclaim at playing the organ. He earned doctorates in philosophy and theology.
Albert Schweitzer was pastor of St. Nicholai’s Church, the principal of St. Thomas College, and a professor at University of Strasbourg. Then, at age 30, his life changed. He read a Paris Missionary Society article of the desperate need for physicians in Africa. To everyone’s dismay, he enrolled in medical school and became a medical missionary.
In 1912, he married a nurse, Helene Bresslau. The next year they traveled to west central Africa, and founded a hospital in the jungle village of Lambarene, Gabon. After first using a chicken hut as their medical clinic, they erected a hospital building of corrugated iron in 1913. In the first 9 months they saw over 2,000 patients.
World War I started, and the conflict between France and Germany reached into Africa. The Schweitzers were arrested and put under French military supervision, then taken to a prison camp in France. After the war, they moved to Alsace-Lorraine, a border area between France and German, where their only child was born, Rhena Schweitzer Miller. Saving their money, Helene stayed back with their daughter, and Albert returned to Gabon in 1924.
Traveling back and forth several times, they rebuilt the hospital, serving uninterrupted throughout World War II, and being joined by additional staff.
The patients they treated suffered from: malaria, fever, dysentery, severe sandflea bites, tropical eating sores, leprosy, crawcraw sores, sleeping sickness, yaws (tropical infection of skin & bones), nicotine poisoning, necrosis, heart disease, chronic constipation, strangulated hernias, and abdominal tumors. Mbahouin tribes and pygmies were in fear of cannibalism.
Albert Schweitzer spoke in Europe and in 1949 visited the United States. Once he was asked “Why are you traveling in the fourth class?” He replied “Because there is no fifth class.”
Once on a train two schoolgirls asked him, “Dr. Einstein, will you give us your autograph?” Not wanting to disappoint them, he signed: “Albert Einstein, by his friend Albert Schweitzer.”
His daughter, Rhena, became a medical technician and married an American doctor, David C. Miller, who was serving at the African hospital – Albert Schweitzer Hospital.
Albert Schweitzer joined Albert Einstein in warning the world of the dangers in developing nuclear weapons. In 1952, Dr. Albert Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and used the prize money to build a leper colony.
He embraced a philosophy of reverence for life, explaining: “For months on end, I lived in a continual state of mental agitation. Without the least success I concentrated – even during my daily work at the hospital – on the real nature of the affirmation of life and of ethics. … I was wandering about in a thicket where no path was to be found. I was pushing against an iron door that would not yield. In that mental state, I had to take a long journey up the river … Lost in thought, I sat on deck of the barge, struggling to find the elementary and universal concept of the ethical that I had not discovered in any philosophy. I covered sheet after sheet with disconnected sentences merely to concentrate on the problem. Two days passed. Late on the third day, at the very moment when, at sunset, we were making our way through a herd of hippopotamuses, there flashed upon my mind, unforeseen and unsought, the phrase: ‘Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben’ (‘Reverence for Life’). The iron door had yielded. The path in the thicket had become visible.”
Albert Schweitzer’s words stand in contrast to utilitarian cultures engaging in abortion, euthanasia, organ harvesting and honor-killings.
Schweitzer stated: “Ethics is nothing other than Reverence for Life. Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil.”
Dr. Albert Schweitzer wrote in “Indian Thought and Its Development” (1935): “The laying down of the commandment to not kill and to not damage is one of the greatest events in the spiritual history of mankind.”
Dr. Albert Schweitzer wrote in his autobiography “Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography” (1931): “The world-view based on reverence for life is, through the religious character of its ethic of active love and through its fervor, essentially akin to that of Christianity. … What Christianity needs is to be filled with the spirit of Jesus Christ, to become living, intense, a religion of love which it was meant to be. Since I myself am deeply devoted to Christianity, I seek to serve it with fidelity and truth. I hope that the thought which has resulted in this simple, ethical-religious idea – reverence for life – may help to bring Christianity and thought closer to each other.”
The Voice of the Martyrs documents crimes committed against Christian minorities in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, Palestine, Uzbekistan, South Sudan, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Indonesia and Nigeria. The International Society for Human Rights reported that 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity in the United States estimated that every years 100,000 Christians, 11 every hour, die because of their faith. The Pew Research Center reported in 2012 that Christians faced discrimination in 139 countries, nearly 3/4s of the nations in the world.
In The Gobal War of Christians (Random House) author John Allen stated that followers of Jesus are “indisputably … the most persecuted religious body on the planet.”
In “Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack,” author Rupert Shortt reported from Nigeria to the Far East, Christians are targets of violent human rights abuses and intimidation: “in a vast belt of land from Morocco to Pakistan there is scarcely a single country in which Christians can worship entirely without harassment.”
Open Doors USA estimated 100 million Christians are persecuted globally each year, mostly from Islamic extremism. Open Doors president David Curry “Tactics used by the Islamic State are being adopted and used in Africa.”
World Magazine reported: “Of the 50 countries most hostile to Christians, Kenya rose on the list more than any other country, jumping to No. 19 … Sudan (No. 6) and Eritrea (No. 9). … Nigeria moved into the top 10 for the first time ever … where more than 2,400 people died for their faith in specific, targeted attacks. … The Wall Street Journal reported Boko Haram now controls a swath of land the size of Belgium.”
After reading these reports, one is challenged by a sermon of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Jan. 6, 1905: “Our Christianity – yours and mine – has become a falsehood and a disgrace, if the crimes are not atoned for in the very place where they were instigated. … For every person who committed an atrocity … someone must step in to help in Jesus’ name; for every person who robbed, someone must bring a replacement; for everyone who cursed, someone must bless. … When you speak about missions, let this be your message: We must make atonement for all the terrible crimes we read of in the newspapers. We must make atonement for the still worse ones, which we do not read about in the papers, crimes that are shrouded in the silence of the jungle night.”
After his wife died, Dr. Albert Schweitzer continued to work in Africa till he died at the age of 90. Overcoming innumerable difficulties, he once wrote: “One day, in my despair, I threw myself into a chair in the consulting room and groaned out: ‘What a blockhead I was to come out here to doctor savages like these!’ … Whereupon his native assistant quietly remarked: ‘Yes, Doctor, here on earth you are a great blockhead, but not in heaven.’”
Dr. Albert Schweitzer wrote: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
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