March 12th, 2015. That was the first time I heard Dr. John Perkins speak. He was interviewed at an event hosted by the church I worked at. At the time I was 23 years old and knew very little about Dr. Perkins. But that time listening to him speak was deeply impactful. It began my journey of learning more about this life of Dr. Perkins.
After you are done reading this, my hope for you is that you would also be inspired by who Dr. Perkins is, seek to learn more about him and his work, and to live out a life well lived just like John Perkins.
Who is Dr. John M. Perkins?
He was born in 1930 in Mississippi. It was a time and place drenched in explicit racism. He did not receive a higher education than the 3rd grade. He moved from Mississippi to California after his older brother was murdered by a white police officer. While in California he became a follower of Jesus. Compelled by his new-found faith, he felt called to move with his wife, Vera Mae, and their five children back to Mississippi. Did he want to? No. But he could not shake this call from God to go back to his home state to partner with God in reconciling people to Him, and people (particularly the black and white communities) with one another. Was this a welcomed mission from the dominant culture? No, and I’ll get to a profound story that highlights this in a second. He was a Bible teacher, community developer, and civil rights activist. He now serves as the president of the John and Vera Mae Perkins foundation and is a sought after speaker on racial justice and community development.
Why is he significant to me?
A black civil rights activist in the south during 1960s sacrifices a life of comfort and security. He became a target. One night, with several other fellow activists, Perkins was unlawfully arrested and tortured, almost to the point of death. If you read his famous book Let Justice Roll Down, he goes into detail about what that night entailed. I highly recommend picking up the book and reading it, but just know that chapter 18 is particularly gruesome. I will spare the details, but I want to express why this is significant to me. Here was a man who could have (and no one would have blamed him) simply chosen a life under the radar. He had some comfort, security, and respect in California (still experiencing implicit racism, but nowhere near the extent of racism in Mississippi). But he chose to commit his life to partnering with God in His mission of justice and reconciliation. He courageously led, even though that meant putting he and his family in danger. Courage to lead over comfort and security. Truly inspirational.
But there is another reason why Perkins is a hero of mine, and it is this: his love for his enemies, even the ones who tortured him that night in the Mississippi jail. In Let Justice Roll Down he wrote:
[Jesus’] enemies hated. But Jesus forgave. I couldn’t get away from that. The Spirit of God kept working on me and in me until I could say with Jesus, “I forgive them, too.” I promised Him that I would “return good for evil,” not evil for evil. And He gave me the love I knew I would need to fulfill His command to me of “love your enemies.”
Inspirational. No one would blame him for hating those who beat him nearly to death. Honestly, after reading it (and currently writing about it) I think to myself “I want to love my enemies like John Perkins and like Jesus.” But then I catch myself thinking “But do I really want to love my enemies? Do I really want to forgive those who have wronged me?” Good people to look up to as heroes should inspire us to become more loving, even to the point of being uncomfortable. Good heroes challenge us to get out of our comfort zone.
Where can I learn more? If you want to learn more about Dr. John Perkins or, better yet, learn from him (he is a man who emanates wisdom with every word), look up some of his messages and interviews on YouTube. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I highly recommend reading his book Let Justice Roll Down, which is one of his earliest books. Then read his most recent book Dream with Me. Reading his latest book, which came out in 2017, is a remarkable experience knowing that it comes from a life well lived.
So, may you, along with John Perkins, and courageous Jesus people around the world, fight the good fight of love and justice in all areas of life. May you not only forgive your enemies, but love your enemies. And may you faithfully join in with Jesus in His mission of reconciliation – reconciling God with humanity, and humanity with one another.
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Eating lots of food and looking at pictures of puppies are couple of ingredients to David's perfect day. The driving passion of David's life is walking alongside people as they figure out what it means to follow Jesus today. David holds a B.A. in Psychology from Vanguard University and an M.A. in Theology from Talbot School of Theology. He currently works at Beaverton Foursquare Church in Beaverton Oregon, where he lives with his amazing wife Laura.