Albert Schweitzer Taught A Reverence For Life

by Stan Griffin

By the age of 30, Albert Schweitzer was a success, no matter what method was used to measure his accomplishments.

He was an outstanding church and concert organist; he even designed some of the world's greatest organs. In addition, he was an authority on composer Johann Sebastian Bach and wrote several books about him.

Schweitzer was also a theologian. He wrote number of books on religion including "Quest of the Historical Jesus." He was a teacher at the University of Strasbourg in Germany and a much-respected principalof a small theological college. He taught university courses in religion, philosophy, and also Greek and Hebrew

Even with all of those achievements and honors, Schweitzer believed his life was incomplete. A 1904 issue of "Paris Missionary" magazine contained an article titled "The Needs of the Congo Mission." It described the lack of workers in Gabon, the northern province of the Congo. After reading this article, Schweitzer finally saw the end of his search: he would go to Africa and try to help the unfortunate people there. First, though, he would train himself in medicine to be able to do the most good.

Schweitzer's decision cost him his job and his place at the university. The happy life he had built was lost, and his friends were unhappy that he hadn't consulted them. Even his mother couldn't understand his reasoning. In his own mind, he believed he was going to Africa to work, to serve, and to heal; he would try to pay back some of what the white races owed the black.

Schweitzer enrolled in the University of Strasbourg medical school. His goal was to become a medical missionary to the Congo. He got his medical degree in 1913 and made arrangements to travel to Africa. He and his wife went to the city of Lambarene in French Equatorial Africa, and he founded Schweitzer Hospital on the Ogoove River. Being on the river was vital because of the lack of roads in the jungle. The hospital needed to be easily accessible to villagers in all directions.

People came to Dr. Schweitzer from the very first day, suffering from diseases like smallpox, leprosy, malaria,\ sicknesses, skin diseases, osteomyelitis, tropical dysentery, to name a few. During the first nine months, 2,000 patients were treated. The very first hospital was in an old chicken house

Schweitzer developed a personal philosophy he called "Reverence for Life." This was a basic belief that life was GOOD and should be preserved, promoted, and raised to its highest value; it was bad to destroy, injure, or repress it. Included in "Reverence for Life" were man and other animals--and also trees, flowers, and insects. He was willing to restrain, or even kill, creatures that were genuinely harmful; but no life should be taken without careful thought for the consequences. Today we might use this idea in environmental arguments.

Local customs sometimes hindered the healing process. Patients had to eat food cooked only by their families. As a result, while treatment was in progress, they needed to live nearby; so camps were set up in the surrounding jungle. To help provide food for the families, Dr. Schweitzer's staff grew vegetables and planted fruit trees. They also kept livestock for that purpose.

I If a patient died, because of death had to be explained very carefully and convincingly to the family. Witch doctors frequently blamed sickness on poisoning by an enemy; so in case of death, Schweitzer wanted to avoid a murder when the family went back to their village.

Lepers often stayed after being cured because villages refused to allow their return.

Be sides helping to heal them, Dr. Schweitzer taught the Africans how to stay healthy, ow to grow foods, how to plan for the future, how to avoid infections, and how to defeat superstition and hate.In 1953 Dr. Schweitzer won the Nobel Peace Prize and became a very famous man, known the world over. His hospital became a popular tourist stop.

Schweitzer rejected many offers from corporations to provide financial help to the hospital. While such aid would have meant a more modern hospital, he was afraid he might lose control and that patient-care would suffer. In Schweitzer's mind, the patients always came first.

By 1964 Schweitzer had 72 buildings grouped around acentral area. There was an operating theater, a X-ray room, a laboratory, a dental clinic, a delivery room, an outpatient clinic, and a dispensary. The hospital did nearly 1,000 operations with a death rate lower than the average in European hospitals. There were 6,000 patients treated during the year.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer died in 1965 at the age of 90. He first gained prominence in music and religion, then changed his life's directions into 60 years of service to others. Dr. Schweitzer was a symbol, representing that kind of selfless attitude, and he inspired others to do the same.

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