I have been to Africa a number of times, both for business and pleasure. It was business that first took me to this large continent where I met with national energy companies in Algeria and Nigeria. These trips were strictly professional travel and I just visited hotels and corporate offices. I only stayed a few days each visit, and the travel was uninspiring.
In 2011, I took an extended family vacation to Egypt and toured antiquities in Cairo and Luxor. We cruised the Nile south to the Great Temple Abu Simbel dedicated to Pharoah Ramesses II. The size and scale of the advanced Egyptian civilization was a feast for my eyes.
After retiring, my wife and I traveled to Zimbabwe to tour Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River, experienced a Botswanan safari, and then cruised the southern and eastern coast of African stopping in South Africa, Mozambique, and Tanzania. We viewed stunning landscapes and spectacular wildlife in their natural setting. I took over two thousand pictures!
This year, we returned to Africa and traveled to Rwanda. Our main objective was to see the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, but we stayed longer to go on a safari in Akagera National Park. This small landlocked country is packed with world-class beauty, wildlife, and welcoming people. Rwandans have rebounded from their horrific 1994 genocide and remarkably rebuilt prosperity and stability into their country.
When I was in seminary, we studied writings on the Historical Jesus which is an analysis of the Gospels using historical and anthropological critical methods. One of the earliest theologians to use this analysis was Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965) who wrote The Quest of the Historical Jesus in 1906. He graduated in 1899 with a Theological PhD from the prestigious University of Tübingen (Germany) and was beginning a distinguished academic career.
But most people associate Schweitzer with his missionary medical work in Gabon, not his theological views. At the age of 30, he surprised his family and friends by stating that he wanted to serve humanity in equatorial Africa as a medical doctor. His family thought that he was wasting his talents and tried to dissuade him. “They said I was a man who was burying the talent entrusted to him and wanted to trade in false currency. I ought to leave work among Africans to those who would not thereby abandon gifts and achievements in scholarship and the arts.”
In his autobiographical Out of My Life and Thought (Chapter 9), published in Leading Lives that Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be (Mark R. Schwehn and Dorothy C. Bass, Editors, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2006, pages 29–36), Schweitzer recounted the moment in 1896 when he made the change: “As I awoke, the thought came to me that I must not accept this good fortune as a matter of course, but must give something in return.”
When asked his opinion by persons seeking to serve in exceptional ventures, Schweitzer urged caution. “Only a person who finds value in any kind of activity and who gives of himself with a full sense of service has the right to choose an exceptional task instead of following a common path. Only a person who feels his preference to be a matter of course, not something out of the ordinary, and who has no thought of heroism but only of a duty undertaken with sober enthusiasm, is capable of becoming the sort of spiritual pioneer the world needs.”
Schweitzer put his faith into action by using his many God-given gifts in service to people desperately needing medical assistance. He could have been surrounded by university students and professors but chose to serve the poor in another country. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor and Schweitzer put Scripture into practice. “One can save one’s life as a human being, along with one’s professional existence, if one seizes every opportunity, however unassuming, to act humanly toward those who need another human being. In this way we serve both the spiritual and the good. … Everyone in his own environment must strive to practice true humanity toward others. The future of the world depends on it.”
In 1952, Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work. He chose action over words. “I wanted to be a doctor so that I might be able to work without having to talk. For years I had been giving of myself in words, and it was with joy that I had followed the calling of theological teacher and preacher. But this new form of activity would consist not in preaching the religion of love, but in practicing it. Medical knowledge would make it possible for me to carry out my intention in the best and most complete way, wherever the path of service might lead me.” The light of Christ shined brightly within Albert Schweitzer and led him towards the new creation.