It was 90 years ago this week, January 15, 1929, that an ordinary baby boy was born into an ordinary pastor’s family at an ordinary hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. As a firstborn son, the boy was named after his father, Michael. Several years later, when Michael, Jr., was still just a little boy, his father took a trip to Germany to attend a worldwide gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Berlin. During his visit to Germany in 1934, just one year after Hitler had been named chancellor, Michael’s father voted with his Baptist colleagues to publicly condemn “all racial animosity, and every form of oppression or unfair discrimination toward the Jews, toward coloured people, or toward subject races in any part of the world.”
Before his departure from Germany, Michael’s dad toured the country where, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the Wittenberg castle church, an act that would spark the Protestant Reformation. Upon his return to Atlanta and the resumption of his pastoral duties at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Rev. Michael King promptly changed his name to Martin Luther King, and his son’s name was simultaneously changed to Martin Luther King, Jr., in honor of the great reformer and in memory of the extraordinary sequence of events that the elder King had experienced during his life-changing pilgrimage to Germany.
I don’t know many more details about the life and ministry of Martin Luther King, Sr., but as we prepare to celebrate the MLK national holiday on Monday, I am struck yet again by the power of “ordinary holiness,” i.e., the extraordinary difference that is made in the world when faithful Christ followers are willing to walk in loving obedience to our good and beautiful God in very ordinary places, at very ordinary times, in very ordinary ways. I can guarantee you that Pastor King had no idea when he left Berlin in 1934 that his firstborn son would one day become known as the most influential leader of the American civil rights movement, or that his new name would become a household word attached to a national holiday.
So never underestimate the value of your life and ministry, dear friends. As my mother, someone most of your have never met, used to tell me on a regular basis:
“If you are ever tempted to question your value in this world, just remember that you are precious to your parents and a great blessing to your whole family.”
– David O. Williams, General Superintendent