Written by Tim Robertson, Director of Global Partnerships
During the first national observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, on January 20, 1986, then-President Ronald Reagan stated that it was a “time for rejoicing and reflecting.”
In his official Proclamation 5431, he wrote further:
“We rejoice because, in his short life, Dr. King, by his preaching, his example, and his leadership, helped to move us closer to the ideals on which America was founded. We reflect on his words and his works. Dr. King was truly a prophetic voice that reached out over the chasms of hostility, prejudice, ignorance, and fear to touch the conscience of America. He challenged us to make real the promise of America as a land of freedom, equality, opportunity, and brotherhood.”
President Reagan quoted Dr. King regarding what motivated him: “Our actions must be guided by the deepest principles of our Christian faith. Love must be our regulating ideal. Otherwise, our protest will end up as a meaningless drama on the stage of history … shrouded with ugly garments of shame.”
Also included in the President’s proclamation was Dr. King’s most famous quote: “I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a Nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character …This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, ‘My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.”
I remember how special that day felt in the community where we lived. My wife and I had moved across the country eight years earlier to live and minister in Jackson, Mississippi.
We had moved into a neighborhood of extreme need, where our three children were born, and where we worshipped in a racially diverse and reconciled congregation. We were actively engaged in Christian community development efforts, attempting to flesh out the Good News of God’s love to hurting neighbors in a decaying community.
We had also grown to appreciate the lyrics of a song we had never heard before: Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson. Affectionately known as the “Black National Anthem,” the words of the first and last stanzas seemed to echo the speech delivered by Dr. King.
Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory won.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.
Observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day always brings back a flood of memories. One memory, in particular, continues to profoundly impact me decades later.
The sun shined brightly, but the wind was brisk, and the temperatures crisp … as they often are in the month of January in rural Mississippi. My wife and I had left southern California two weeks earlier, stopped briefly in Denver to pick up our meager belongings, and then drove to our new home in the Deep South. The year was 1978.
Recently graduated from seminary, commissioned by our church to serve the “rural poor,” we arrived wide-eyed and hopeful of being used by God in some strategic way. We eagerly (naively?) embraced our new roles, wanting to experience everything possible within the shortest amount of time … not wanting to miss anything that might help us make a difference in our new community filled with heart-breaking needs.
So we toured a pre-school, housed in a small church, located in a poor community, stuck between railroad tracks and the flood-prone Sellers Creek. It was there that God surprised me as I stumbled upon a bit of “Mississippi wisdom.”
Three brief bullet points, hand-printed on faded construction paper, tacked to a crumbling bulletin board, hung on the wall of a narrow hallway:
- Speak to basic human need.
- Use terms that people understand.
- Focus sharply on Jesus Christ.
I never learned who wrote them or fixed them to the wall. But they have shaped every aspect of my life and ministry ever since, including how I approach grandparenting.
“Intentional Christian Grandparenting” may be a new phrase, but it’s truly an ancient concept, grounded in God’s Word, and His design for how families should function. Dr. King acknowledged that we all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.
Intentional Christian Grandparents recognize that it will be our shoulders upon which our grandchildren and their grandchildren will one day stand as well. That trilogy of “Mississippi wisdom” is worthy of reflection as we observe this national holiday.
Editor’s Note: Reflect on your words and deeds as they speak loud and clear about race and race relations to your grandchildren. What is God telling you?