[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]
John Perkins. Community organizer. b. 1930
John Perkins is a bridge from struggles of the civil rights movement to calls for evangelicals to “let justice roll down” to the poor and oppressed. A careful activist, Perkins inspires a new generation of Christians involved in social justice as chairman of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). He says he seeks to “fill the vacuum of moral, spiritual, and economic leadership that is so prevalent in poor communities by inspiring people to develop themselves and their community through the gospel.”
When John Perkins meets with colleagues on boards and planning groups, he doesn’t seem angry, but cheerful, even grateful. He listens more than he speaks, but when he speaks, he does so with conviction. Perkins is an outspoken but gentle speaking man whose words and actions have thundered and shaken the evangelical establishment and complacency about the needs of many parts of the community that are being left behind.
A sharecropper’s son who grew up in New Hebron, Mississippi, in terrible poverty, he fled the Deep South to California at age 17, after his older brother’s murder at the hands of a town marshal. He vowed never to return.
But after his Christian conversion in 1960 he returned to Mendenhall, Mississippi, where he and his strong wife Vera Mae, founded Voice of Calvary Ministries to evangelize and work in community development. There, VOC started a church, health center, leadership development program, thrift store, low-income housing development, and a training center. Perkins also started development projects in the neighboring towns of Canton, New Hebron and Edwards.
Other the years, he never backed down from injustice, and his support and leadership in civil rights demonstrations resulted in repeated harassment, beatings and imprisonment (he was arrested and jailed during a protest as recently as 2005).
In 1982, the Perkins family returned to California and lived in the city of Pasadena, where John and Vera Mae founded Harambee Christian Family Center in northwest Pasadena, a neighborhood that had one of the highest daytime crime rates in California. Harambee is yet standing, running numerous programs–including after school tutoring, Good News Bible Clubs, an award-winning technology center, summer day camp, youth internship programs, and a college scholarship program.
In 1983, while yet in California, Perkins and his wife, along with a few friends and other major supporters, established the John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation & Development to support their mission of advancing the principles of Christian community development and racial reconciliation throughout the world.
Perkins is the author of nine books, including A Quiet Revolution, Let Justice Roll Down, With Justice For All, Beyond Charity, He’s My Brother, Resurrecting Hope, and A Time to Heal, and has written numerous chapters in others.
His strategy has always included not only community action, but also infiltration of the largely white evangelical governing structures. He has served on the Board of Directors of World Vision, Prison Fellowship, National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), Spring Arbor College, and fifteen other boards.