Once, when I was 10 years old, I had an opportunity to meet Mother Teresa. My family and I were living on an army base in Japan at the time, and I belonged to a small children’s church choir that had been invited to sing for Mother Teresa during her visit to Camp Zama. We were going to sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth”–a song that I loved, a song that had filled me with rapture from the first moment I heard it.
But I didn’t go. When it was time to leave for the event, I simply decided to stay home.
At that time, I didn’t have a very clear idea of who Mother Teresa was, only that she was famous for being good. My ears always pricked up after that, though, whenever I would hear news of her; and slowly over the years I developed a fascination for the work she was doing in India (and for the life she had left behind). I often regretted that I had so flippantly thrown away my chance to cross paths with her.
I am grateful I didn’t make the same mistake this summer when I was invited to rub elbows for a whole weekend with another of Jesus’ powerful champions for the poor and one of my personal “heroes of the faith,” Dr. John M. Perkins.
If you’ve read much of my blog, you’ve probably heard me talk about Dr. Perkins before. I stumbled upon him through his book, Beyond Charity, which lays out both the theology and some of the practices of Christian community development–a concept that Perkins developed over a lifetime of ministering inside poor, marginalized neighborhoods. I was immediately struck by his intelligence, sincerity and humility and found his unique perspective on race and poverty in the U.S. to be both eye-opening and timely (even though the book was written more than 20 years ago).
This past weekend I had the great honor of attending the InnerCHANGE 2016 conference as a guest. Dr. Perkins was one of the primary speakers for the weekend, and I had several opportunities to not only hear him speak, but to chat with him and his lovely daughter, Priscilla.
Now in his 80’s, Dr. Perkins is a beautiful example of someone who has “fought the good fight” and “kept the faith.” He is still speaking with passion and integrity about what it means to walk with and teach others about our BIG God. He is still speaking about racial reconcilition in our country and our church. He is still calling on his fellow Christians to live with compassion–which he defines as “sharing pain with others” as we go through life together.
On the last night of the conference, 2 of my children participated in the talent show. Dr. Perkins watched my 5 year old play “Go Tell It On the Mountain” on the piano–a song he had coincidentally sung snippets of in his talk the night before. The next morning, as the weekend was drawing to a close, he told my daughter how well she had done and how brave she was to play in front of that big crowd. I was touched that he took the time to connect with her and my other children.
In a way, I feel like the missed opportunity of my own childhood has come full circle and been rectified. Ten, twenty years hence, I hope my children’s ears will prick when they hear Dr. Perkins’ name, and they’ll say, “Hey! I met John Perkins when I was a kid.” I pray they learn from his message and his example, as I have. Even more, I pray they help carry his legacy forward into the next generation.
Watch the music video Switchfoot made in honor of John M. Perkins: