The Rev. David Van Arsdale of Faith Presbyterian Church spoke about his father Monday at a service in Sun City West honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

Van Arsdale’s father was a Baptist minister in Detroit.

“I remember as a young boy in our living room hearing for the first time a name that I had never heard before: Martin Luther King,” he said. “And I remember years later when I helped my father clean out his office and found some of his unpublished sermons from that time, written when he was 28 or 29” and clearly influenced by King.

His father wrote about the length, breadth and width of life as being about concern for oneself, for others and for God.

“Too often we are concerned with the length of life,” Van Arsdale’s father wrote. “But whatever affects one directly affects us all indirectly. As long as there is poverty I can never be rich. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”

Van Arsdale spoke to a small gathering of Sun City West residents at the Desert Palms Presbyterian Church. “Martin Luther King called on us to dream,” said the Rev. Linda Bailey of Desert Palms. “He called on us to imagine an alternate reality, and to bring it to our daily lives.”

Sadie Penn is a member of the Desert Palms congregation whose late husband, Shelton, attended Morehouse College along with King. Penn shared some of her husband’s recollections of the young man who would become an icon.

“He was studious, somewhat quiet, a gentleman. He was a lover of words,” she said. “He wrote wonderful essays, and I think his love for words was evident in the speeches he made and the sermons he gave.”

Penn said her husband described him as a typical youngster who enjoyed the company of his classmates.

“I don’t think anyone at the school thought (King) would go on to win the Nobel Prize, but I also don’t think any of them were surprised when it happened,” she said. “They knew he would go on to achieve great things.”

The Rev. Sam Sawitski of Desert Garden United Church of Christ read from the book of Isiah and spoke about John the Baptist. Sawitski said King’s dream, like God’s dream for his children, is too often ignored.

“Where are we with our dreams? We are hopelessly behind,” he said. “Our world is in desperate need of people who have been taken over by that dream, who have a fire burning inside. Too often we build partitions between us, walls made of brick.”

Rabbi David Rosenberg of Beth Emeth Congregation said he is thankful for the accomplishments of King and the walls he was able to break down.

“God praise America for learning and growing and realizing we have among us such fantastic human beings,” he said.

Penn said she believes King’s message is simple and direct.

“When you are given a challenge you don’t quit. You keep on keeping on. Martin said, ‘I have a dream.’ It is up to us to go out and make that dream come true.”

Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or

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