What is our legacy?
A legacy is defined as “something left or handed down by a predecessor.” So what will our legacy from this historical year be? Perhaps it won’t be as significant as the fundraising of Captain Sir Tom Moore or daily workouts from Joe Wicks. But how about blogs like this, which may be read in the future, or memories of a special birthday celebration for someone?
This week we are being inspired by Christians who left lasting legacies through their work in human rights. Hopefully, by looking at their actions and attitudes, we might find bigger moments in our own lives to demonstrate our faith and its mandates.
Martin Luther King Jr (1929-1968)
If someone slaps you on the cheek, turn to them the other also (Luke 6:29)
Martin Luther King Jr followed his father by becoming a Baptist pastor, although his legacy came from leading the civil rights movement in the USA which eventually led to the end of racial segregation. Along the way his incredible leadership and speeches, often referencing Christian ideals, inspired many to join the movement for equal rights: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice”.
One of these ideals was the use of non violent tactics to create change, something recognised by his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. While this was partly influenced by time in India and Ghandi’s policy of nonviolence, King also established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. He fully embodied Luke 6:29 by not only refusing to protest with violence, but by being arrested several times when peacefully demonstrating against segregation.
You can read more about King's life and mission here:
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)
Heal the sick... Freely you have received; freely give (Matthew 10:8)
Nightingale was called by God at the age of 16 to go into nursing and, despite her family considering it unbecoming of a lady of her social stature, followed in faith. Her career started by training nurses, which in itself would have left a legacy. However, when the Crimean War began in 1853 there was a public outcry about the conditions in which British soldiers were being treated. Once at the battlefields, Nightingale established higher standards of care and even spoke personally with soldiers, leading to her nickname of “The Lady with the Lamp”.
Her legacy comes from faithfully following God’s calling, as she helped formalise the education of nurses and midwives, with the Nightingale School of Nursing opening in London in 1860. She also emphasised the importance of district nursing, viewing the home as the best place to care for others, plus reformed military healthcare.
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William Wilberforce (1759-1833)
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners…to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18)
The beginning of Wilberforce’s political career was not overly ambitious: “I did nothing – nothing to any purpose”. However, this changed during a tour of Europe in 1784-5 when he travelled with an evangelical Christian, Isaac Milner. Here Wilberforce’s spiritual life changed completely, as he would get up early each day to pray and study the Bible.
Despite considering priesthood, James Newton (writer of Amazing Grace) persuaded him to use his faith as an MP. Influenced by the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, Wilberforce consistently campaigned and lobbied for the abolition of slavery, even giving a 3 hour speech in parliament in 1789.
Although the slave trade was abolished in 1807, Wilberforce eventually dedicated 45 years to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. The legislation to free slaves was passed just three days before his death in 1833, and the law was passed in 1834. His legacy remains through other social issues too such as restricting child labour, while he also helped found the Bible Society.
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Christian Führer (1943-2014)
At the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed (Joshua 6:20)
Führer, a pastor of a Lutheran church in Leipzig, is a lesser known figure in the fall of the Berlin Wall. Despite being watched carefully by the Communist authorities in East Germany, Führer followed his conviction that churches should continue to meet and share their faith.
In 1982 he organised prayers for peace on Monday evenings, which attracted hundreds of people and eventually became demonstrations. News spread to other areas of East Germany and others began demonstrating on Monday evenings too. Eventually 70,000 protested on 9th October 1989 despite police warning that they would be shut down and armed soldiers being present. The movement finally ended with fall of Berlin Wall on November 9th: “If any event ever merited the description of ‘miracle’ that was it… It is astonishing that God let us succeed with this revolution.” (Führer).
Even after this Führer continued be an activist, particularly by standing up for the rights of the unemployed in East Germany following the fall of Communism.
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What legacy have others left for you this year? What legacy do you hope to leave for the future?