Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Knock At Midnight

It’s close to midnight on January 18, 2010, and today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Every year at this time, many Americans commemorate one of the greatest sons this nation has ever born. While many think of King as a champion of civil rights for black Americans, most who have studied his life and his words, know that he was a champion of the poor and oppressed. And while black Americans enjoy substantially more civil liberty than they did when King began his famous work in the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, the world is still filled with stifling oppression, especially of the poor. King’s words still echo in the hearts and minds of Americans today, because they are still relevant. I am reminded of King’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize when he noted that all of man’s technological achievement had not allowed him to overcome racial injustice, poverty, and war: “We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”

And tonight, as the clock nears midnight and I am awake with such heavy thoughts in my mind, I wonder what Dr. King would think about our progress were he alive in 2010 on what would have been his 81st birthday. I think if Dr. King was still alive, his heart would remain heavy with anguish about the disproportionate suffering of the poor throughout the world. In particular, I think he would be deeply troubled by the devastation in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere shaken to its foundation by last week’s earthquake. I think Dr. King would weep knowing that so many more people were dying, because it is a poor country.


Natural disasters cannot be reliably predicted. Mother nature is far too powerful a force for man to ever hope to contain her, or predict her most catastrophic moods. But what can be reliably predicted, is who will suffer the most, when natural disasters occur…it will inevitably be the disenfranchised…the poor, the young, the old, the weak, etc. These are people who live at the margins of society, and their marginalization becomes their decimation, when disaster strikes. Haiti is an incredibly poor nation with very little infrastructure…bad roads, unreliable utilities, and terrible sanitation. In a place like Haiti that is scraping by, on the margin if you will, the results of a natural disaster are amplified and the suffering is always so much worse and prolonged than it would be if the same circumstances occurred in a more affluent setting. Sometimes the devastation merely highlights what terrible and precarious circumstances people have been living in. Almost a week has passed, and so far the biggest challenge has been getting supplies and personnel to the small country. The news reports have been awful, but finally some doors appear to be opening to allow more relief workers into the area.

As a surgeon with a desire to go and help the critically injured, it has been frustrating for me to hear how much suffering is taking place in Haiti. I have put my name on the list of doctors and nurses from my hospital who are willing to go, but the last 5 days, all I have heard is more and more push backs in the time to deployment. Meanwhile, broken bodies that are in need of someone with some general expertise of how to put them back together again lie everywhere. Who will help them?

Well a few hours ago, I got word from an organization that has several temporary operating rooms up and running. The organization says they have lots of medical supplies going to Haiti, but are in dire need of medical personnel to staff these facilities. The problem is that they leave from Florida tomorrow, and in order to get on the plane I will need to leave Boston in a few hours…not much time to prepare.
So now the hour is midnight, and I have to decide if I want to go into the fray. Little can be guaranteed about the trip, but one thing is certain…if we continue to wait, more people will die. The opportunity to help rarely comes with convenient circumstances. It sometimes comes at strange hours, and it sometimes comes with risks. Just like the proverbial knock on the door at midnight, the opportunity to help can be very inconvenient and anxiety-provoking.
But here I sit at my computer in Boston at 12:04am, and the knock on the door of my heart is too loud to ignore. I am perfectly equipped to save lives in Haiti, and any opportunity to do so must be taken. It is possible that I may not even be able to get to Haiti. It is possible that I may not be able to get to the operating rooms. It is possible that it may be too late to intervene and help those who need it. But what is impossible is for love to ever be in vain. If all I can do is cry with a mother about her dead child, the trip will not have been in vain.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a sermon called “The Knock At Midnight.” I leave you with this excerpt from the ending of this speech.

Centuries ago Jeremiah raised a question, "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?" He raised it because he saw the good people suffering so often and the evil people prospering. Centuries later our slave foreparents came along. And they too saw the injustices of life, and had nothing to look forward to morning after morning but the rawhide whip of the overseer, long rows of cotton in the sizzling heat. But they did an amazing thing. They looked back across the centuries and they took Jeremiah’s question mark and straightened it into an exclamation point. And they could sing, "There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul." And there is another stanza that I like so well: "Sometimes I feel discouraged."
And I don’t mind telling you this morning that sometimes I feel discouraged. I felt discouraged in Chicago. As I move through Mississippi and Georgia and Alabama, I feel discouraged. Living every day under the threat of death, I feel discouraged sometimes. Living every day under extensive criticisms, even from Negroes, I feel discouraged sometimes. Yes, sometimes I feel discouraged and feel my work’s in vain. But then the holy spirit revives my soul again. "There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul." God bless you.

Delivered at Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois, on 27 August 1967.


At Tue Jan 19, 03:03:00 PM, Anonymous Ana said...

Good luck and God bless you.

At Tue Jan 19, 07:23:00 PM, Blogger Tha Mello 1 said...

I know that you will allow the LORD to guide your decision. Keep letting Him use you. God bless.

At Wed Jan 20, 10:54:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God Bless you Dr. Chad. You might not read this message for awhile, if indeed you are on a plane to Haiti right now. I know if you go there, you will do great work in God's name, the way you did so in Africa! I'm encouraged by reading your message on your blog, that you someday want to continue your work there again! Helping to save lives!

At Thu Jan 21, 12:25:00 AM, Blogger Reina Proverbial said...

Thank you for answering the call to service and for taking the time to generate this moving post. As you know, I am covering you in prayer.

At Thu Jan 21, 11:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You make me so very proud to be your Dad. May your heavenly Father continue always to be source and strength.

At Sat Jan 23, 10:25:00 AM, Blogger Heart To Heart said...

I am full of tears of such emotion, Chad. Reading this has touched so me so very deeply this Sabbath morning. 'Proud of you' dosen't cut the feeling that I have for what you are and have been doing all along. I hope to do ministry with you some day. I would love to be in Haiti with you, serving in some capacity. Please keep me posted.

wendi turner

At Tue Feb 02, 09:37:00 PM, Blogger Falanda said...

You are truly a blessing. May you continue to be used by God to help so many wounded bodies and souls all over the world. May God's angels surround you and protect you from things seen and unseen. May your hands continue to be hands of healing and may your understanding, knowledge and wisdom be multiplied.

At Tue May 18, 07:13:00 AM, Blogger Anything Is Possible said...

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