Albert Schweitzer, medical missionary to Africa – “Reverence for Life”


Albert Schweitzer was born JANUARY 14, 1875, in a village in Alsace, Germany.

The son of a Lutheran-Evangelical pastor, he won acclaim at playing the organ and earned doctorates in philosophy and theology.

He became pastor of St. Nicholai’s Church, 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.

He married in 1912, and the next year he and his wife founded a hospital in the jungle village of Lambarene, Gabon, west central Africa.

After first using a chicken hut, they built their first hospital building of corrugated iron in 1913.

When World War I started, the Schweitzers, were put under French military supervision, then interned in France.

After the war, he saved money and returned to Gabon in 1924.

Staying in Africa throughout World War II, Albert Schweitzer later spoke in Europe and in 1949 visited the United States.

His daughter married an American doctor volunteering at his 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 cultures engaging in abortion, euthanasia or honor-killings:

“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.”

With Voice of the Martyrs listing under-reported atrocities on Christian minorities in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, Palestine, Uzbekistan, South Sudan, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Indonesia, and Nigeria, one is challenged today by Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s sermon on January 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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Bill FedererSelf-Educated American contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.

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