Inspirations: Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) - Preacher, Public Intellectual, Activist, Martyr


"The end of life is not to be happy nor to achieve pleasure and avoid pain but to do the will of God, come what may." Strength to Love

“Who doubts that this toughness of mind is one of man’s greatest needs? Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think… The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of soft-mindedness. A nation or a civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.” Strength to Love

“Who is my neighbor? ‘I do not know his name,’ says Jesus in essence. ‘He is anyone toward whom you are neighborly. He is anyone who lies in need at life’s roadside. He is neither Jew nor Gentile; he is neither Russian nor American; he is neither Negro nor white. He is ‘a certain man’ – any needy man – on one of the numerous Jericho roads of life.’ So Jesus defines a neighbor, not in a theological definition, but in a life situation.

What constituted the goodness of the good Samaritan? Why will he always be an inspiring paragon of neighborly virtue? It seems to me that this man’s goodness may be described in one word – altruism. The good Samaritan was altruistic to the core. What is altruism? The dictionary defines altruism as ‘regard for, and devotion to, the interest of others.’ The Samaritan was good because he made concern for others the first law of his life.” Strength to Love

“The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life.” Strength to Love

“Our responsibility as Christians is to discover the meaning of this command [to love our enemies] and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives.” Strength to Love

"The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral and spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will. But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight.” Strength to Love

“Only an irrelevant religion fails to be concerned about man’s economic well-being. Religion at its best realizes that the soul is crushed as long as the body is tortured with hunger pangs and harrowed with the need for shelter. Jesus realized that we need food, clothing, shelter, and economic security. He said in clear and concise terms: ‘Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of.’ But Jesus knew that man was more than a dog to be satisfied by a few economic bones. He realized that the internal of a man’s life is as significant as the external. So he added, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.’ The tragedy of the rich man was that he sought the means first, and in the process the ends were swallowed in the means.” Strength to Love

“All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” Strength to Love

“We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope. Only in this way shall we live without the fatigue of bitterness and drain of resentment.” Strength to Love

“As guardian of the moral and spiritual life of the community, the church cannot look with indifference upon these glaring evils. If you as Christians will accept the challenge with devotion and valor, you will lead the misguided men of your nation from the darkness of falsehood and fear to the light of truth and love… Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline using love as your chief weapon. Let no man pull you so low that you hate him. Always avoid violence. If you sow the seeds of violence in your struggle, unborn generations will reap the whirlwind of social disintegration.” Strength to Love

“The Gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but also his body, not only his spiritual well-being but also his material well-being. A religion that professes a concern for the souls of men and is not equally concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion.” Strength to Love

Inspirations: Mother Teresa (1910-1997) - Missionary, Educator, Servant Of The Poor


"God is calling me – unworthy and sinful that I am. I am longing to give all for souls. They will all think me mad – after so many years – to begin a thing which will bring me for the most part only suffering – but He calls me also to join the few to start the work… All beginners have their many crosses…" January 13, 1947

 “When I walk through the slums or enter the dark holes there Our Lord is always really present… the streets, Kalighat, slums & Sisters have become places where He lives His own life of love to the full.” Letters to Archbishop Périer from June 21, 1950 and November 17, 1956

"If I ever become a saint - I will surely be one of 'darkness.' I will continually be absent from heaven - to light the light of those in darkness on earth." March 6, 1962

 "At the beginning St. Peter would not let me enter heaven because there were no slums in heaven. - Now heaven is full of slum people. Jesus must be very happy to have those thousands coming to him, with love "from Calcutta" January 1, 1988

"A pure heart can see God in the Poor - a humble heart can love and serve Jesus in the Poor." June, 1990

 “We need to be pure in heart to see Jesus in the person of the spiritually poorest. Therefore, the more disfigured the image of God is in that person, the greater will be our faith and devotion in seeking Jesus’ face and lovingly ministering to Him. We consider it an honor to serve Christ in the distressing disguise of the spiritually poorest; we do it with deep gratitude and reverence in a spirit of sharing.” No Greater Love

 “The simplicity of our life of contemplation makes us see the face of God in everything, everyone, and everywhere, all the time.” No Greater Love

 “Our poverty should be true gospel poverty: gentle, tender, glad, and openhanded, always ready to give an expression of love. Poverty is love before it is renunciation. To love, it is necessary to give. To give, it is necessary to be free from selfishness.” No Greater Love

“What we need is to love without getting tired. How does a lamp burn? Through the continuous input of small drops of oil. What are these drops of oil in our lamps? They are the small things of daily life: faithfulness, small words of kindness, a thought for others, our way of being silent, of looking, of speaking, and of acting. Do not look for Jesus away from yourselves. He is not out there; He is in you. Keep your lamp burning, and you will recognize Him.” No Greater Love

Inspirations: Oscar Romero (1917-1980) - Pastor, Advocate For The Poor, Martyr


“Christ put his classroom of redemption among the poor – not because money is evil, but because money often makes slaves of those who worship the things of earth and forget about God.” December 25, 1978

“With all contributing their own interior life, their own responsibility, their own way of being, all can build the beautiful structure of the common good, the good that we construct together and that creates conditions of kindness, of trust, of freedom, of peace. Then we can, all of us together, build the republic – the res publica, the public concern – what belongs to all of us and what we all have the duty of building.” July 10, 1977

“For the church, the many abuses of human life, liberty, and dignity are a heartfelt suffering. The church, entrusted with the earth’s glory, believes that in each person is the Creator’s image and that everyone who tramples it offends God. As holy defenders of God’s rights and of his images, the church must cry out. It takes as spittle in its face, as lashes on its back, as the cross in its passion, all that human beings suffer, even though they be unbelievers. They suffer as God’s images. There is no dichotomy between man and God’s image. Whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being abuses God’s image, and the church takes as its own that cross, that martyrdom.” December 31, 1977

"This is the mission entrusted to the church, a hard mission: to uproot sins from history, to uproot sins from the political order, to uproot sins from the economy, to uproot sins wherever they are. What a hard task! It has to meet conflicts amid so much selfishness, so much pride, so much vanity, so many who have enthroned the reign of sin among us.   The church must suffer for speaking the truth, for pointing out sin, for uprooting sin. No one wants to have a sore spot touched, and therefore a society with so many sores twitches when someone has the courage to touch it and say, 'You have to treat that. You have to get rid of that. Believe in Christ. Be converted.'" January 15, 1978

“There is one rule by which to judge if God is near us or is far away – the rule that God’s word is giving us today: everyone concerned for the hungry, the naked, the poor, for those who have vanished in police custody, for the tortured, for prisoners, for all flesh that suffers, has God close at hand.” February 5, 1978

“The guarantee of one’s prayer is not in saying a lot of words. The guarantee of one’s petition is very easy to know: how do I treat the poor? Because that is where God is. The degree to which you approach them, and the love with which you approach them, or the scorn with which you approach them – that is how you approach your God. What you do to them, you do to God. The way you look at them is the way you look at God.” 

“The church considers this its ministry: to defend God’s image in human beings.” January 21, 1979

“All of us, if we really want to know the meaning of conversion and of faith and confidence in another, must become poor, or at least make the cause of the poor our own inner motivation. That is when one begins to experience faith and conversion: when one has the heart of the poor, when one knows that financial capital, political influence, and power are worthless, and that without God we are nothing. To feel that need of God is faith and conversion.” February 18, 1979

“We should not feel superior when we help anyone. Those who give materially receive spiritually. There is exchange of property that is understood only in a true spirit of poverty, which makes the rich feel they are close brothers and sisters of the poor, and makes the poor feel they are equal givers and not inferior to the rich. The giving is mutual, ‘that there may be equality,’ as St. Paul says.” July 1, 1979

“The whole purpose of the church’s existence is to make obvious and operative, in the midst of humanity, the abundant energy of the death and resurrection of the Lord… The church does not exist for itself. Its raison d’être is the same as that of Jesus: service to God to save the world.” First Pastoral Letter, April 10, 1977

“In the countenance of every individual, especially in a countenance made transparent by tears and suffering, we can and should recognize the countenance of Christ (Matthew 25:40).” Georgetown Address on February 14, 1978

“I am going to speak to you simply as a pastor, as one who, together with his people, has been learning the beautiful but harsh truth that the Christian faith does not cut us off from the world but immerses us in it, that the church is not a fortress set apart from the city. The church follows Jesus who lived, worked, battled and died in the midst of a city, in the polis.” Louvain Address on February 2, 1980

Inspirations: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) - Professor, Pastor, Martyr


“The proper education of preachers of the gospel is worthy of our ultimate commitment." Finkenwalde Circular Letter from, April 1942

“Who is God? Not primarily a general belief in God’s omnipotence, and so on. That is not a genuine experience of God but just a prolongation of a piece of the world. Encounter with Jesus Christ. Experience that here there is a reversal of all human existence, in the very fact that Jesus only ‘is there for others.’ Jesus’s ‘being-there-for-others’ is the experience of transcendence! 

Only through this liberation from self, through this ‘being-for-others’ unto death, do omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence come into being. Faith is participating in this being of Jesus… Our relationship to God is no ‘religious’ relationship to some highest, most powerful, and best being imaginable – that is no genuine transcendence. Instead, our relationship to God is a new life in ‘being there for others,’ through participation in the being of Jesus. The transcendent is not the infinite, unattainable tasks, but the neighbor within reach in any given situation.” Prison writings, April 1944

“The church is church only when it is there for others… The church must participate in the worldly tasks of life in the community – not dominating but helping and serving. It must tell people in every calling what a life with Christ is, what it means ‘to be there for others.’ In particularly, our church will have to confront the vices of hubris, the worship of power, envy, and illusionism as the roots of all evil. It will have to speak of moderation, authenticity, trust, faithfulness, steadfastness, patience, discipline, humility, modesty, contentment. It will have to see that it does not underestimate the significance of the human ‘example,’ which has its origin in the humanity of Jesus and is so important in Paul’s writings! The church’s word gains weight and power not through concepts but by example.” Prison writings, April 1944

“Jesus Christ is also in us every step we take, in every person we meet… Jesus Christ, God himself, speaks to us from every human being; the other person, this enigmatic, impenetrable You, is God’s claim on us; indeed, is the holy God in person whom we encounter. God’s claim is made on us in the wanderer on the street, the beggar at the door, the sick person at the door of the church, though certainly no less in every person near to us, in every person with whom we are together today. ‘Just as you did it to one the least of these, you did it to me,’ Jesus says. I am for you, you are for me God’s claim, God himself; in this recognition, our gaze opens to the fullness of the divine life in the world. Now life in the human community acquires its divine meaning. This community itself is one of the forms of God’s revelation. God is with us as long as there is community.” Sermon from April 15, 1928

“I find it a tremendously liberating thought that Christ is not at all dulled to the suffering and sin in the world, as we are, but rather that he experienced and bore it all unceasingly.” Letter to Ernst Wolf on September 13, 1942

“Personal suffering is a more useful key, a more fruitful principle than personal happiness for exploring the meaning of the world in contemplation and action.” Essay “After Ten Years” from late 1942

“For me the idea that God himself is suffering has always been one of the most convincing teachings of Christianity. I think God is nearer to suffering than to happiness and to find God in this way gives peace and rest and a strong and courageous heart.” Letter to the Leibholz Family from May 21, 1942

“Christian love and help for the weak means humiliation of the strong before the weak, of the healthy before the suffering, of the mighty before the exploited. The Christian relation between the strong and the weak is that the strong has to look up to the weak and never to look down. Weakness is holy, therefore we devote ourselves to the weak… So Christianity means a devaluation of all human values and the establishment of a new order of values in the sight of Christ.

Here we have arrived at the last question: What is the reason for this new conception of the meaning of weakness in the world? Why is suffering holy? Because God has suffered in the world from man, and wherever he comes, he has to suffer from man again. God has suffered on the cross. It is therefore that all human suffering and weakness is sharing God’s own suffering and weakness in the world. We are suffering: God is suffering much more. Our God is a suffering God. Suffering conforms man to God. The suffering man is in the likeness of God. ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness,’ says God. Wherever a man in physical or social or moral or religious weakness is aware of his existence and likeness with God, there he is sharing God’s life, there he feels God being with him, there he is open to God’s strength, that is God’s grace, God’s love, God’s comfort, which passeth all understanding and all human values. God glorifies himself in the weak as He glorified himself in the cross. God is mighty where man is nothing.” Undated sermon from London in 1934

“Ecce homo – behold God become human, the unfathomable mystery of the love of God for the world. God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love. God establishes a most intimate unity with this. God becomes human, a real human being. While we exert ourselves to grow beyond our humanity, to leave the human behind us, God becomes human; and we must recognize that God wills that we be human, real human beings. While we distinguish between pious and godless, good and evil, noble and base, God loves real people without distinction.” Ethics

“I want to learn to have faith… [O]ne learns to have faith by living in the full this-worldliness of life. If one has completely renounced making something of oneself – whether it be a saint or a converted sinner or a church leader…, a just or an unjust person, a sick or a healthy person – then one throws oneself completely into the arms of God, and this is what I call this-worldliness: living fully in the midst of life’s tasks, questions, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities – then one takes seriously no longer one’s own sufferings but rather the sufferings of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane. And I think this is faith; this is metanoia [repentance, a changed mind]. And this is how one becomes a human being, a Christian… How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world? … I am grateful that I have been allowed this insight, and I know that it is only on the path that I have finally taken that I was able to learn this. So I am thinking gratefully and with peace of mind about past as well as present things.” Prison letter to Eberhard Bethke on July 21, 1944

Inspirations: Eyob

By Andrew DeCort

On May 1, 2010 I met a stranger who changed my life forever. I consider this unexpected encounter to be one of the decisive events of my adult life. It is to this day that I trace the birth of ICCG and its mission.

The months leading up to May 1 were some of the most difficult and painful in my life. I had walked through a painful separation with the church I was serving in Addis. Then I began serving as the interim pastor of the International Lutheran Church. In my sermons and private life, I found myself interrogating again and again the true meaning of following Christ.

My mind turned repeatedly to Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan. In Luke 10, a religious expert asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus eventually responds by telling his famous story. A man is robbed and left for dead on the roadside. Two religious leaders see the man in his desperate suffering, but they cross to the other side and leave him for dead. A third man – a hated ethnic minority considered condemned by God – stops and helps the man left for dead. Jesus concludes, “Go and do likewise.” This was Jesus’s answer.

The problem that vexed me was that I usually “went and did” like the religious experts. My work required me to pass through Mexico Square several times a week, and Mexico was a place where many of the city’s poorest and most maimed people gathered to beg. Like the man in Jesus’s story, they were seemingly left for dead on the roadside. As I reflected on Jesus’s parable, I desperately wanted to follow the example of the Samaritan Jesus praised, and yet I repeatedly played the role of the ones Jesus condemned – the religious leaders who had something more important to do and thus passed by the suffering man on the other side. This deeply troubled and disturbed me.

Then on Saturday, May 1, I was having lunch at a roadside cafe directly across the street from the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST). I was eating and talking with a few friends, who were students at EGST, when a young man approached our table and begged for help. As so often, we respectfully indicated that we were not going to give anything, and the boy turned away.

But when he turned, the dirty hood he was wearing slipped off, and I saw that he had a terrible wound on the back of his head.

Immediately I found myself wrestling with inner turmoil: Should I stay seated and continue eating lunch with my friends? Or should I get up and help him? I’m not sure how long that inner debate lasted, but I quickly became certain somehow that if I didn’t help this specific person right now, I would be rejecting God’s direct call to me. Somehow I knew must act.

By this time, the boy was some ways down the road, so I got up from the table and started running after him. When I caught up to him and said hello, I saw that he had a condition unlike any I have ever seen before. Approximately the back sixth of his head had rotted away; the bone of his skull was gone and his decaying flesh was exposed. I could literally see the boy’s brain pulsating through his monstrous wound, and I could see that he was in excruciating pain. I was horrified that he was stumbling through the streets begging for help by himself in this critical condition.

His name was Eyob – the Amharic name for Job.

Eyob became for me what Mother Teresa called a “saint of darkness,” a God-sent witness of goodness, love, and hope in the midst of the most horrific suffering – realities that sometimes tempt me to despair that life is meaningless and without redemption.

As I fought for Eyob’s life with the help of many friends and sat with Eyob for hours and then days that turned into months in the hospital, I found out that Eyob’s dream was to become a professor and pastor. Of all the possible young people in Ethiopia, with all the possible dreams that I could have met on May 1, 2010 – sitting across the street from the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, a place for training Ethiopia’s future pastors and professors – Eyob’s dream was my dream: to become a professor and pastor.

To shorten a longer story, we tried our best to save Eyob’s life. Generous friends from around the world contributed money, and Eyob underwent numerous grueling surgeries and skin grafts. Throughout, Eyob maintained his extraordinary strength and cheerfulness, and the surgeon promised that Eyob was cancer-free and would live “a normal life.” But that was not the case. Eyob’s cancer returned over the next few months, and he died in February of 2011. His death came just a few months after I started my Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago – the final step of my training to become a professor.

Ever since I met Eyob and then even more intensely after his death, I have attempted to live with him in my heart. Having finished my education and professional training, the work of ICCG is meant as my attempt to devote myself to fulfilling God’s call on Eyob’s life that death cut short, starting in the very place where I met Eyob years ago: the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology.

In Jesus’s teaching, the questions “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and “Who is my neighbor?” are inseparable. For Jesus, salvation and the way we respond to the sufferings of others are inseparable. According to Jesus, in the response of compassion for the one left for dead, the love of God is revealed, and the way of heaven is opened.

I experienced this with Eyob. A young man, who physically embodied what I hated about the world and what drove me to question the goodness of God, became for me a powerful witness of God’s love, kindness, and goodness. A time of death became a season of new birth in my life. I discovered in Eyob’s character and way of life a kindness, generosity, and care for others – especially for other suffering children in the burn ward of the hospital – that acted like a window into the heart of Jesus despite his horrific appearance. Eyob, the embodiment of the problem of evil, became for me the embodiment of God’s promise of redemption and resurrection.

ICCG aims to inspire and empower Christian leaders in Addis Ababa to study and practice the connection between God’s salvation and the suffering neighbor, neighbors like Eyob. In all of our work, Eyob will always be the founding pastor and professor of The Institute for Christianity and the Common Good.

As we attempt to share presence, strengthen theological education, and promote neighbor-love for the suffering in Ethiopia and beyond, we seek to continue the work that Eyob started.