As we have been meeting various African-Americans who made or are making a difference in the world, there seems to be a common thread in each story. Many were heading one direction—until God interrupted. God changed the course of their lives, and we are better for it.
John Perkins’ parents worked as sharecroppers, a common job for black people in Mississippi in the 1930s. His life began tumultuously—his mother died when he was seven months old, and his father left shortly afterward, leaving John and his siblings to be raised by their grandmother. As time went on, John attended church mostly because that was the only place where black people could get together to socialize.
After John’s brother, Clyde, was shot and killed by a white deputy outside a movie theater, John moved to California at age seventeen. The Golden State did not have the same open racism so prevalent in Mississippi and it provided opportunities for John to succeed. Life was going well for him. John was able to marry his sweetheart, Vera Mae Buckley, who was also from Mississippi.
John seemed to have a course for his life, working as a janitor and then as a welder after serving in the Army. Then God interrupted him. His young son, Spencer, wanted his daddy to come to church with him. While in church, John came to faith in Christ. And as he began to read his Bible, he felt called to begin preaching the gospel.
Once again, God interrupted. John felt God was telling him that he needed to return to Mississippi, the same place he fled from. John and Vera Mae held Bible classes, Sunday school classes, Youth for Christ meetings for young people, and evangelistic tent meetings for the whole community. They advocated for social justice and helped to start churches, a child care center, economic cooperatives, credit unions, and leadership training programs.
One day, John learned that one of the white volunteers he worked with had been beaten badly by the police for participating in a peaceful protest. When John and other men arrived at the jail to post bond, they were beaten as well. As much as John wanted to, he could not hate the officers who had done this. He didn’t want hatred to make him into the kind of person these officers were.
John Perkins did not become a man of hate, but rather a man of reconciliation. He worked in California to create the Christian Community Development Association with the stated goal of bringing races together for the sake of the Gospel.
Let us thank God for John Perkins, who allowed for God’s interruptions in his life. May we be the kind of people who return love for hate and press on to share the Good News.
-Brian for Faith In Store