STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 06/14/2010

John M. Perkins: Peacemaker, Mentor, Friend

Learning the Language of Peace from a Man of Peace

Jo Kadlecek

My writing career began in part because of Dr. John Perkins. Of course, I’m only one of the many white, suburban, middle-class, educated folks—as he affectionately calls us—whose lives have been changed because of him.

I’d come to Christian faith during college in the 1970s and found Christ’s message of justice and compassion a balm to the social wrongs that had always troubled me. But I didn’t necessarily know what to do in response. Then I picked up a copy of Dr. Perkins’ book When Justice Rolls Down and devoured it. Suddenly I had a language for justice I hadn’t heard before. I moved into Denver’s historically African American neighborhood known as Five Points, once considered the jazz capital of the West, and recruited college students to help me plan Jammin’ with Jesus day camps in the summer for the children in our community. I began to write about what I saw: the heroism, tragedies and beauty of city life. At first I wrote for a few local newspapers, then for Christian publications I admired.

After a hot summer day of Jammin’, I pushed the button on my answering machine and heard a voice I had only read on paper. It was Dr. Perkins. He had seen my articles in some of those Christian magazines and wondered if I’d be interested in writing a book with him, one that told the stories of the churches across the country who were living out the three R’s—reconciliation, relocation and redistribution.

The next week I was sitting beside him in a meeting with his editors, where he insisted that my name appear on the book with his. “I want to help Jo’s career,” he told his editors. “And I won’t do the book unless you do.”

They did, we did, and 15 years later I can say that because of that meeting I’ve been able to explore the themes of passion, justice and reconciliation in other books and more articles. Coauthoring a book with a spiritual hero was a daunting task. But without him I imagine I’d still be wondering what to do about doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. 

Jo Kadlecek, M.A. (pictured above) is senior communications writer at Gordon.

Dr. Perkins has received honorary degrees from Gordon for his work in reconciliation, and for many years Gordon students have traveled to Mississippi, to work with his ministry, Voice of Calvary.

NEXT: A Peace Offering of Blueberries