The Servant Leadership of King

In preparation for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I wanted to learn more about the man we remember, mourn, and celebrate each January. So I headed to the library and rented one of King’s classic works: Why We Can’t Wait.

This book was written in retrospect of the Birmingham Campaign of 1963, a movement organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to shed light on the integration efforts of Birmingham African Americans. Throughout its pages, King eloquently discusses the causes of that momentous summer as well as its many triumphs toward civil rights in both Birmingham and beyond. Additionally, the book highlights King’s fervent conviction that racial equality and reconciliation could no longer wait to be achieved.

As I read, I quickly realized that King’s thoughts, descriptions, and anecdotes would provide a wealth of directions in which to take this blog. However, one theme in particular stood out to me, and that was servant leadership. Those words get thrown around a lot on the DBU campus, sometimes to the point where they begin to mean very little to us. But the fact remains that servant leadership is integral to mirroring the character of Christ, and what better way to learn it than studying servant leaders of the past?

While King demonstrated servant leadership in a variety of situations throughout the campaign, there is one moment that stands out as a beacon to guide those striving toward servant leadership. It came in the late spring of 1963. Just as the Birmingham Campaign was gaining momentum and attention, there came news that threatened the entire movement: the bondsman who had previously been supplying bail for all arrested demonstrators would be unable to continue this service. In the thirtieth room of the Gaston Motel, twenty-five prominent leaders of the campaign sat and questioned whether to proceed as planned and personally participate in demonstrations despite the new lack of bail money. With regard to this moment, King writes:

I sat there, conscious of twenty-four pairs of eyes. I thought about the people in jail. I thought about the Birmingham Negroes already lining the streets of the city, waiting to see me put into practice what I had so passionately preached. How could my failure now to submit to arrest be explained to the local community? What would be the verdict of the country about a man who had encouraged hundreds of people to make a stunning sacrifice and then excused himself? (King 79-80).

Undoubtedly, there were a host of reasons for King and his fellow leaders not to put themselves on the front lines and at risk of arrest. If they did, who would take up the torch to rally and lead the remaining demonstrators? Who would stand at the pulpits on Easter Sunday and preach the good news of Christ’s resurrection, which gave so many African Americans the hope they needed to challenge injustice? And perhaps the most frightening question of all, who would work tirelessly to secure another source of bail, which would be needed to release both leaders and hundreds of wrongly imprisoned demonstrators?

King had no answers to these pressing questions, and as he sat pondering them, avoiding arrest would have clearly seemed the wisest course of action. But this was not the decision he made. Instead, King told his fellow leaders, “‘I don’t know what will happen; I don’t know where the money will come from. But I have to make a faith act’” (King 81). Instead of excusing himself, King made a bold decision of faith in the face of uncertainty, which ultimately led to his imprisonment alongside the Birmingham demonstrators.

King acted as a servant by coming alongside his people as an equal, struggling toward a common goal. He displayed leadership by making a difficult decision and encouraging others to follow his example of faith. While some might argue that King’s decision to participate in the Birmingham demonstrations was unwise, the fruits of King’s imprisonment speak otherwise. Much like Paul, King’s time in jail was used by God in mighty ways. There, King drafted his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, in which he respectfully addressed and rebuked those who did not support the nonviolent direct-action movement.

Countless positive outcomes resulted from the servant leadership of King and many others during the Birmingham Campaign. Some of these include strides toward the desegregation of lunch counters and other public areas, plans to hire African Americans on a non-discriminatory basis, actions to release all persons wrongfully jailed for their participation in the campaign, and avenues for better communication between African Americans and Whites. Truly, without King’s willingness to be a servant leader, the city of Birmingham, and indeed America, would not be what they are today. While it is sometimes hard to believe, never doubt that God can and does call people like you and me to be servant leaders who change communities, cities, states, countries, and with enough faith, the world.

Written by Meredith (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!)

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King, Jr. Martin L. Why We Can’t Wait. 1964. Beacon Press, 2010.

To check availability or place a hold on Why We Can’t Wait at the DBU Vance Memorial Library, click here.

To find other works by King, click here.


Following the Railroad Tracks

The train station manager saw Mi Yun wandering around the empty train station, knowing she had been there for several hours. She had previously told him that she was waiting for her uncle to pick her up. He said, “‘You cannot wait here. Do you hear me? No one is coming for you!’ Hanging her head in confusion and alarm, [Mi Yun] obeyed. The thumping in her chest started again. Tears burned her eyes as she stumbled back to the ox cart… Mommy, I need you!” After being abandoned on a train by her mother, four-year-old Mi Yun spent her childhood on the streets of war-torn South Korea, scavenging for food, warmth, and love. Because her father was American and her mother was Korean, no Korean would accept her, and she was repeatedly beaten, tortured, and purposefully starved because of her origin. However, every time she was near death or so cold and hungry she wanted to die, someone would be placed in her path to remind her to never stop trying to survive. In her book She Is Mine, Stephanie Fast uses differing perspective, realistic details, and heart-wrenching events to communicate that Someone had a plan for Mi Yun no matter what happened to her.

Throughout the book, I felt as though I was in the mind of Mi Yun because Fast uses differing perspectives based on the age of Mi Yun to unfold the details of the story. When Mi Yun is young, the thought process in the book portrays that of a very young girl, who cannot understand what is going on as her mother puts her on a train alone; a girl gullible enough to believe after several days of being abandoned that her mother would still take her in if Mi Yun could only get back to her. As she sat in the cardboard box she had called her home for several days, while waiting for her uncle to pick her up, “She repeated again, ‘It will be all right. It will be all right. I will find my way back home… I will get back to my mama” (60-61). Then, as more and more people hurt her, beat her, and torture her, Mi Yun’s innocence turns to fear and hate. She stops trying to get help from the local villagers and instead hides as much as possible in shacks, burrows, and caves, stealing food and warmth whenever she could. Each encounter she has with strangers, I was immediately placed in the mind of the young girl, reading her words, thoughts, and fears. On one particular occasion when Mi Yun is caught stealing, she is grabbed by a farmer. As the farmer drags Mi Yun down the street and into a crowd of angry villagers, she cries, “‘Please don’t hurt me… I will leave… Just let me go.’ …Is there any kind person here… someone who will stand up for me, someone who will protect me? She could only see hatred, anger, and disgust on the faces of the villagers” (101). This switch between dialogue, Mi Yun’s thoughts, and narration made me feel thoroughly engrossed in the book, as if I were right there alongside the little girl.

In addition to differing perspectives, Fast also uses realistic details that kept me thoroughly engrossed in the story. For example, there are accurate descriptions of the Korean countryside scattered throughout the book, so I could picture where the events were taking place: “She saw the train tracks running along the rugged mountains… She looked to the right… and scanned the train tracks surrounded by the grass, rice paddies, and more mountains. Turning, she saw behind her only the empty countryside and even more mountains” (75). There are also many descriptive portrayals of Mi Yun: “She was tiny and beautiful in a way that was both Western and Asian. Her eyes were a bit rounder than the other children… Her hair, lighter in color than the rest, had a soft curl to it” (37). These are two of the many examples of Stephanie Fast’s excellent descriptions in She Is Mine. There are also depictions of Mi Yun’s encounters, the places she goes, and the experiences she has. These depictions allowed me to visually picture the characters and scenery, so I could imagine what Mi Yun saw as she suffered.

Finally, there are many events in this novel that caused me to deeply empathize with Mi Yun. One time, when she was caught stealing from a farmer, Mi Yun was dragged to a water mill and tied to it, and the water mill was then turned on. “[Mi Yun] didn’t quite know what was happening, except that the wheel was moving. Its slow rotation took Yoon Myoung to the top, where a flood of water spilled into her face, causing her to sputter and choke…With no time to catch her breath, she was thrust under the murky water as the wheel continued its rotation. Scraping along the graveling bottom of the pond, she felt her face being cut and bruised by the mud and gravel” (103-104). She was raped, beaten, run out of villages, suffered a fall from the hands of strangers that killed the baby she was taking care of, and nearly died from sickness. Many times, I found myself mentally yelling at the other characters, aghast at the inhumanity of the Koreans that Mi Yun encountered. However, no matter how much she went through, someone was always put in her path that cared for her, encouraged her, and helped her to keep going.

The story of Mi Yun is one that captures the interest of every reader, as they learn about the horrors she endured as a result of her origin, from being abandoned by her mother to being refused food by villagers. However, the reader is constantly reminded that someone is watching out for Mi Yun through the little things that happen to her along the way. The end of the story renews one’s confidence that God is always watching over us, no matter how hard life becomes. But, if you would like to know what this incredible ending is, you will have to read Stephanie Fast’s She Is Mine.

Written by Michelle

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Radical Christianity

Radical: Taking Back your Faith from the American Dream. The title of the book alone steps on so many toes, and the pages ahead only get more painful and uncomfortable. David Platt is the author of the book and is the current senior pastor of McLean Bible Church located in the Washington, DC metro area. He has also previously served as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board. radicalFurthermore, he has and still is one of the great heroes of the faith; I am convicted, encouraged, and challenged by his messages. I heard so much about this particular book that I had to get my hands on it to see what all the buzz was about. I was not at all prepared for what I was about to read.

Radical does not waste its time introducing the subject of Christianity or the American dream. Instead, it dives straight to scrutinizing and inspecting Western Christianity. The author does this mainly by using Scripture but also by laying out his experience as a missionary in several countries around the world. The contrast is evident and hard to swallow at times when it comes to how oversees believers practice their faith, how they go about completing the Great Commission, and how they see Christ himself.

One of the stories he shares in the book that left a lasting impression on my life as a Christian was about what occurred during his time in China. After spending some time fellowshipping with the believers there, he went on to get some rest. As he tried to slip into slumber, he heard wailing, crying, and murmuring. In the pitch dark, the Chinese believers were gathered in prayer. David leaned in and asked one of them what on earth was happening and the response was that they loved and cared for American/Western believers so much that they were praying for God to strengthen them in their faith and help them persevere. The idea that a group of Chinese believers who have to meet in secret, despite possible danger, intercede on our behalf both warmed and stung my heart. They truly see us as their brothers and sisters, but I also fear that they know, in our comfort, in our cushioned chairs and our colorful stage lights, we’ve started to become too comfortable with the way that we live and have neglected the task at hand.

Platt stresses that the Gospel the Bible preaches is different from the one preached by the American dream. The life we settle for and the earthly things that we desire do not align with the word of God. Furthermore, Radical illustrates that there is a great need in the mission field, because so many are without Christ. If we truly are crazy enough to believe the claims of Christ, then we ought to live like it. We have to realize that denying ourselves daily and radically following Christ means to risk it all to go into all the nations and preach the Gospel.

The central message of the entire book can be summarized by the following quote:

The modern-day gospel says, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Therefore, follow these steps, and you can be saved.’ Meanwhile, the biblical gospel says, ‘You are an enemy of God, dead in your sin, and in your present state of rebellion, you are not even able to see that you need life, much less to cause yourself to come to life. Therefore, you are radically dependent on God to do something in your life that you could never do. (David Platt, Radical)

The church has been plagued by the prosperity Gospel for too long. It has ignored the true Gospel and sought the wealth, health, and comfort this world offers. God has been reduced to a genie who will attend to our wishes and commands as we see fit. We live life thinking that fulfillment is found in the degrees we accumulate, the jobs we secure, the estates we oversee, and the cars we own, yet nothing drains us more. We have made the Gospel about ourselves and our needs when the Gospel was never about us but the grace of God. Platt pleads the same truth to his audience and warns that we will not be able to stand or give an answer to the Lord when the day comes.

The book not only talks about the true calling of the Christian life, but it also points the reader to the plight of so many people around the world, while we indulge in materialism, consumerism, and the self-centered Gospel that seeks to get a hold of the next best thing for fulfillment. The Bible teaches us compassion and selfless giving; if we were to make small changes in our lives, maybe miss out on the newest iPhone and buy a lunch for the homeless around our community, it would open up the door to a greater change in our lives and the people around us. Taking small radical steps for the sake of God and others will eventually lead to a completely radical life altogether.

Reading this book was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life. Not that the truth found in it was somehow hidden or that it could answer all my questions, instead, it simply pointed out the flaws in my philosophy, everything I thought my faith in Christ looked like and turned it up-side-down. It has radically changed the way that I thought I was going to live out my life, and I am forever thankful to the author for that change. Getting the chance to hear Platt speak at Hillcrest Baptist Church only amplified the message of his book for me.

At the end of the event, I spoke with him and told him about how I’ve decided to change all my plans in full surrender to the Lord and the great impact that he has on the younger generation. The excitement and joy he got from hearing about how he has helped change our lives was barely masked by the utter exhaustion the speech and conversations with countless other people had caused.

Risking everything for the sake of the Gospel and denying ourselves the pleasure that this world offers is not an easy thing to do. When we know that his grace is sufficient, however, the yoke does become easy and the burden light, and my absolute favorite quote from the book echoes the same message:

Radical obedience to Christ is not easy… It’s not comfort, not health, not wealth, and not prosperity in this world. Radical obedience to Christ risks losing all these things. But in the end, such risk finds its reward in Christ. And he is more than enough for us. (David Platt, 98)

Written by Kenean

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