Recently I (Clay) was listening to a podcast about impactful, historical speeches. This specific episode explored Martin Luther King Junior’s last speech in Memphis, often referred to as the “Mountain Top” speech. He was speaking to peaceful protesters gathered to support local sanitation workers who were being mistreated and discriminated against. This was the very night before he was murdered.
People close to MLK had asked him to stay home that night because of the numerous threats he’d received. Even earlier that day, his flight from Atlanta had been delayed three hours for a bomb threat on the plane. Yet MLK ventured out that night in the rain, amidst the threats of violence, and sought to encourage and inspire others to rally to the aid of these sanitation workers.
It was an eloquent speech, as many of his speeches were. But there was something in this speech that resonated with me as my family and I count the cost of answering God’s call to serve in El Salvador. Dr. King referenced the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.
I, like many of you, know this story well. There is a man traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho who is attacked, robbed, and left on the roadside for dead. A priest and a Levite pass by him and continue on. The Good Samaritan stops to help and care for the wounded man.
Dr. King shares his own experience on that very road in Israel. He explains that it’s a dark, winding road that descends in elevation all the way to Jericho. On a road that became known as Bloody Pass, the priest and the Levite had a good reason not to stop. Dr. King imagines what the two men may have been thinking:
“…it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over at that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking – that he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them… So the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?””
Dr. King then contrasts what the Samaritan might have thought as he happened upon the same injured man on that same treacherous road
“But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?””
Often, I am listening to podcasts while driving to work, not always paying attention. But that morning, I focused intently on what Dr. King was saying and especially what he said next:
“That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?”
“If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.”
“If I do not help, what will happen to them?”
My thoughts began to wander at this point to our family’s mission in El Salvador. When we first began to explore this call, we received lots of encouragement and affirmation, mixed with well-meaning words of concern and caution. And in our own private conversations, Hannah and I also were considering the cost of moving our family to El Salvador.
It’s a small, impoverished country in Central America, with high rates of gang violence and drugs, frequent earthquakes, 23 active volcanoes, and a language we don’t speak. What about our jobs and accomplishments? What about the safety and security of the familiar? What about medical care and retirement? What about our children, their friends, their future educational opportunities?
These and many other questions were either asked of us or we asked ourselves. I even thought about a statistic I heard recently that there has recently been a 48% attrition rate for foreign missionaries after two years, because there is no visible fruit from their ministry.
It struck me as I drove down 75 South with the cruise control on passing the Amazon warehouse… There are a lot of I’s, we’s, and me’s in that line of thinking, so much mental energy and anxiety spent on us and what we could lose. But a simple question refocused for me why we are answering the call to share the Gospel and plant a church in El Salvador:
“If we don’t take the gospel of Christ to Salvadorians, what happens to them?”
How convicting, and at the same time, motivating. Many of those things we worry about are important, but they wane when put into the perspective of eternity in either Heaven or Hell and the eternal glory that awaits those found in Jesus.
And shouldn’t we all consider that question when it’s awkward inviting that neighbor into our homes or to church? Or when we feel the urge to share the gospel with our long-time friend who doesn’t know Christ as their Savior, but it could negatively affect our friendship?
I am reminded to ask not what the cost might be for myself, but instead ask what might happen to that person with a soul if I don’t act. In the end, it cost Dr. King his life to stop and help, and maybe this is the same fate ordained for our future as well.
But my inheritance is secure in Christ; therefore, should my main concern not be for those whose eternal future is in doubt?
If you know Christ as your Savior, are you resistant to a call you feel on your life because you are asking questions about what it could cost you or your family? I would encourage you to consider reversing the question by considering what others may lose if you do not.