Tony Kriz, author of Neighbors and Wise Men, wrote of his experience hearing Dr John Perkins speak at Reed College. Tony had lost his way in the church. He.was.struggling. He was one of only 400 students to hear the 70-year-old Civil Rights leader speak.It changed his life (he might even say it saved his life) forever. Here is what Tony said about that evening with Dr Perkins:
The old man, already in his seventies, slowly rose from his seat. He moved deliberately. He carefully climbed the stairs and took his place behind the small podium. He looked over the room. He is not a large man, stooped further with age. He wore a simple suit, and large glasses rested on his dark face. Four hundred young faces stared back at him.
Though he personally advised five presidents, addressed Congress, and spoken to audiences of thousands, you would have thought this was the most significant group he had ever spoken to… [He began by saying, “I greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
His address lasted forty-five minutes. I looked around No one moved. With his simple Southern accent , he set the stage of racial and economic injustice in America. He began with his childhood and walked the room through the essential and painful drama of the 1960s. He unapologetically insisted that the disparities of race and class remain today.
Dr. Perkins spoke of his own personal story in the broader civil rights narrative. He spoke about his family. He talked about the death of his brother Clyde at the hands of police. He spoke of his numerous nonviolent stands, many of which ended in his imprisonment, alongside his family and friends.
With the stage of the civil rights story carefully set, he then told a story of one of his arrests. He described being thrown into a police station’s windowless back room. He was crumpled to the floor under a surround of large, white police officers. His voice was clear and deliberate, steeped in his Mississippi accent. While he spoke, he made every effort to make eye contact with each student, “I was without defense as the beat me,” he recalled. “I can remember seeing my own blood splatter on the wall as they struck me again and again.”
Then he paused. The room was silent. His words continued. “As I lay there at the feet of those huge, white police officers, I looked up into their faces…twisted with anger…immediately my heart was filled with compassion. Seeing them, all I could think was, “Dear Jesus, what pain these men must have endured in their lives to feel such hatred. Have mercy on them.”
You could have heard a moth’s wings.
He allowed the moment to wash over the room.
From there Dr. Perkins moved to his own thoughts on the very real plight of America’s disenfranchised and marginalized communities…and then he stopped. You could tell the speech was almost over, but not quite, He took off his glasses and stared out over the podium, looking back and forth across the student gathering. “There is one more thing…There is no hope,…there is…no…hope apart from the reconciling work of Jesus Christ. There is no hope apart from a revival of God’s love across this country. There is no hope for our broken communities apart from the cross of Jesus Christ and his resurrection. There is no hope to reverse the tide of racism. There is no hope to heal poverty and return dignity to all people. There is no hope for my people back in Mendenhall, and there is no hope for you and your people here at Reed College. The Gospel of Jesus Christ…he is our only hope….Thank you.”
He stepped away from the podium and moved toward the stairs. That is when it happened. Like a sonic boom, four hundred students rose to their feet and filled the echoing space with applause… (excerpts from pages 135 – 137)
I think about being thrown in the back of a paddy wagon and being beaten with clubs just because of the color of my skin. What would I be thinking? doing? There is nothing going to happen to me today that will resemble anything near what John Perkins describes here. May I, at the very least, have mercy as he had mercy. May I have mercy in the same way Jesus pours mercy on me every living minute.
He is with us, My Friends,