from The Book of Amazing Stories by Robert Petterson
As he studied letters written by a jailed apostle some 1,900 years earlier, he realized that his hope wasn’t in how much he loved others but in how much his Savior loved him.
Day 14: A Letter from the Birmingham Jail
Who would have believed that Michael would grow up
to change the world? Surely the odds were stacked
against a black baby born in the Old South. It helped that his
preacher daddy saw him as a special gift from God. Maybe
that’s why this child prodigy entered college at the tender
age of fifteen.
But his early success masked the deep scars of segregation.
He first felt the sting of the Southern class system when a
white friend invited him home. His playmate’s mother chased
Michael away while loudly berating her son for bringing a
“colored boy” into the house. By the time he was a teenager,
he no longer trusted a religion that looked the other way
while folks practiced bigotry. The preacher’s kid dismissed
the Bible as myth and rebelled against church.
Everyone was shocked when he announced that he was
off to seminary. But Michael didn’t enter the ministry so
much to preach the gospel as to use his pulpit to promote
racial justice. He organized bus boycotts and peaceful protests.
When redneck sheriffs unleashed their police dogs, he responded,
“Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. . . .
Beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you.
But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity
to suffer. ”
Just when it seemed that Michael’s nonviolent protests
were finally paying off, the US attorney general ordered an
investigation. Secret FBI wiretaps suggested his associations
with Communist influences. Agents also uncovered evidence
implicating him as a serial adulterer. When his wife found
out, she threatened to leave him.
By 1963, many of his impatient followers were deserting
to militant groups with slogans like “Burn, baby!
Burn!” Michael hit rock bottom when he was thrown into
Birmingham City Jail. With plenty of free time, he began
to reread the Bible he had dismissed as myth. As he studied
letters written by a jailed apostle some 1,900 years earlier, he
realized that his hope wasn’t in how much he loved others
but in how much his Savior loved him.
Not only did Michael experience a conversion in
Birmingham, so did the nation. Violent police reaction to his
peaceful protests galvanized America. Not long after, he was
awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The name Michael appears
on his birth certificate, but history remembers the moniker
that his preacher daddy later gave him: Martin. By the time
he was assassinated in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had
unleashed a tidal wave that changed everything.
Every January the United States celebrates his birthday.
But maybe you don’t feel like throwing a party, because you
still feel the sting of bigotry. Perhaps you are imprisoned in
your own jailhouse, shackled to the ball and chain of some
disability or disappointment. Could it be that, like Martin,
you are deeply aware of your own hidden flaws and failures?
Take heart. You just might find courage from a line that Dr.
King penned in that Birmingham jail:
You must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
And we know that in all things God works
for the good of those who love him, who have
been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28, NIV
Featured image credit: @UnseenHistories
The Book of Amazing Stories by Robert Petterson
You may have thought you knew the lives of famous people—such as Martin Luther King Jr., Howard Hughes, Mother Teresa, Muhammad Ali, Ronald Reagan, Susana Wesley, and many more. But, in The Book of Amazing Stories, you’ll know so much more about Ronnie’s faithful church-going single mom and William’s early days as a humble shoemaker’s apprentice. You’ll marvel at how God used the lives of these ordinary people to change the course of human history.
Life makes the strangest sharp turns and, sometimes, U-turns. Robert Petterson—popular speaker, storyteller, and author—has been a student for his entire life of what God is teaching us through those real-life U-turns. In this book, he compiles 90 amazing stories that teach lessons you won’t easily forget.
About the Author
Dr. Robert Petterson has been senior pastor at some of America’s well known churches, counselor to community and industry leaders, has served on the boards of major non-profit organizations, and was on the adjunct faculty of Covenant Theological Seminary. As East Coast President of Mastermedia International, Dr. Bob consulted with film and TV executives in Hollywood and New York City. In addition, he has hosted numerous inspirational, international pilgrimages and served as a partner with life-affirming non-profits in their fundraising initiatives.
Dr. Bob is in demand worldwide as a speaker and has addressed audiences across America and in 30 countries internationally. He holds both masters and doctoral degrees. He is the author of Desert Crossings, Theater of Angels, and Pilgrim Chronicles.
Connect with Dr. Bob Petterson at www.robertapetterson.org, on Facebook and Twitter at Dr.BobPetterson.