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Still Dreaming

In a society torn apart by discord, what is our message?

You might wonder what a middle-aged White male could possibly say that would be a worthwhile contribution to the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was born in Spokane, Washington. I was 6 years old when King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Even though I was somewhat removed from the tensions that existed in the South, I did, during my adolescent years, have a vivid sense of the unrest in the United States during the 1960s.

I found stories of segregation and “Whites Only” restrooms and restaurants repulsive. “Why can’t they all get along?” I asked my dad.

“I don’t know, son—I’ve been trying to figure that out myself,” he replied. Then he told me this story that made me both proud and angry.

In the fall of 1952 my dad, who was 20 years old at the time, had just enlisted in the United States Air Force. My father, likewise a product of the Pacific Northwest, was sent to Camp Gordon, in Augusta, Georgia, for basic training before being deployed to Korea.

This was a new experience for him, having never been to the South before. His worldview had not been colored by the prejudice and suspicion so common in the southern United States of his day. Somehow, he didn’t get the “memo” that Blacks should be treated differently. Even if he did, he blew it off.

Jesus told His disciples that before He returned, the world would go through rough times.

While at Camp Gordon he made friends with everyone, White or Black. One such friend was a young African American airman named Gilliam. While my father was naive to the social dynamics of the South, Gilliam was all too familiar with them.

One day Dad and Gilliam had some free time, so dressed in their military greens they hitchhiked into Augusta to do some sightseeing. Their adventure over, they caught a city bus back to camp. When they got on the bus, Gilliam dutifully made his way to the back of the bus, with Dad close behind. The two of them had already sat down when the driver brought the bus to a screeching halt.

“Hey you, White boy. See that line?” the bus driver hollered to Dad.

“Yeah, what about it?” responded my father.

“Don’t you know any better, boy?” the driver retorted. Then, using the N word, the driver told my dad that behind the line was for them, in front of the line was for Whites.

“I’ll sit where I want,” Dad told the driver. “I’m sitting with my friend.”

“I’m calling the military police,” the driver said. “We’ll let them deal with it.”

Gilliam knew what would happen if the MPs got involved. “Come on, Merlin, go in front of the line,” he said. “I appreciate your support, but it ain’t worth getting in trouble over.”

Seething with anger, Dad crossed over the line and sat down.

More to Do

I’ve never forgotten that story. My detest for prejudice and bigotry has been woven deep within the fabric of my being.

“Red and Yellow, Black and White,

All are precious in His sight.

Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

But do we?

What has happened in the United States, in the world, in the nearly 55 years since Martin Luther King’s dream? He dreamed that humanity could live in peace and harmony. He dreamed that “one day . . . little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little White boys and White girls as sisters and brothers.”

Yes, we’ve made progress in civil rights in the United States over the past 50 years. Yes, we've had an African American president. We have Hispanic and African American governors and legislators. We have women serving in government and on the Supreme Court. We have minorities, once relegated to ghettos, now serving their communities with dignity and honor.

But we cannot lull ourselves into thinking that this world is getting better.

The book of Revelation describes a scene of warfare. “Then war broke out in heaven” (Rev. 12:7). Ever since, the devil has done everything he can to make this planet a miserable place.

Should we strive for freedom, justice, and equality? Absolutely! Christ calls us to be His ambassadors. But we should never do it at the expense of our ultimate dream.

Notice the words of the apostle Paul: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24, 25).

As the day of Christ’s coming draws closer, so must we! That’s the dream of Martin Luther King.

Jesus told His disciples that before He returned, the world would go through rough times.

On September 11, 2001, thousands were killed as terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States. In the 15 years since, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost in the terrible aftermath of those attacks. Violent extremism is no longer contained in certain parts of the world.

Tensions are building on mul tiple fronts. The threat of pandemics lurks all over the world. Domestic violence, road rage, and sniper attacks are everyday realities.

What about our global economy? Wall Street investors are nervous. The stock market is a roller coaster. I see the day approaching!

Major corporations and manufacturing firms are cutting back their workforces and laying off employees. I see the day approaching!

Natural disasters—wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods—leave devastation and pain in their paths. I see the day approaching!

A friend told me of a conversation with her daughter that went something like this:

“Mommy,” the child asked, “when is Jesus going to come and take us to heaven?”

“I don’t know, sweetie,” Mommy replied. “But we need to be ready every day.”

“Mommy,” Jessica replied, “I’m ready now!”

Friends, the day is approaching when our dreams will become a reality. Are we ready now?

We’re not free until we’re all free! I have some incredibly good news about that. Two thousand years ago, in the face of a threat mounted by a rebel angel, Jesus died and rose again so that you and I can one day be “free at last.”

Phil White is senior pastor of the Simi Valley, California, Seventh-day Adventist Church. The article is adapted from remarks he made at a Martin Luther King, Jr., rally at the Gordon County Courthouse when he served the Calhoun, Georgia, Adventist Church.

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