The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 53
President Dr. Philip Eaton and Dr. John Perkins were given gifts by the John Perkins Center for their work toward racial reconciliation. Caenisha Warren presented memory books to the two at chapel on Tuesday.
Photo credit: NATHAN SOSNOVSKE/The Falcon.
Students inspired by Christian leader’s story
By VANESHA MANUTURI,
Published: April 25 2012
Junior Katie Sullivan is not a Seattle native: she came to Seattle Pacific from the Golden State.
The Californian found Seattle unfamiliar – until she participated in the programs of SPU’s John Perkins Center.
“My college experience would have been ... different if I hadn’t been a part of the John Perkins Center,” Sullivan said. “Working with organizations who also implement [Dr.] John Perkins’s ideas [is] one of the biggest things that got me outside of the SPU bubble and really see Seattle.”
Dr. John Perkins became a prominent campus figure when, in 2004, a group of students traveled to Jackson, Miss., for a Seattle Pacific Reach-Out International program.
As the group attended a Bible study by Dr. Perkins and worked alongside him, they were deeply touched by Dr. Perkins’ story of reconciliation and forgiveness.
When they came back to SPU, they asked President Dr. Philip Eaton to meet with Dr. Perkins.
Tali Hairston, then the assistant director of campus ministries, traveled alongside Dr. Eaton and the students back to Mississippi.
“While we were meeting, John had this idea, and he pulled myself, Dr. Eaton, and his daughter, Elizabeth Perkins into a room,” Hairston said, who is now the director of SPU’s John Perkins Center. “[John] said, ‘I have an idea. I want to do a Perkins center in Seattle Pacific University, because you all believe that the gospel of reconciliation is important.’”
The idea traveled to the Board, to the President’s Cabinet and to faculty.
On Oct. 20, 2004, the John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training and Community Development opened.
Today, the John Perkins Center is a hub for students to be involved in global and urban service work through various programs such as SPRINT, Urban Involvement, Latreia and City Quest.
Dr. Perkins is one of the leading evangelical voices from the American civil rights movement, and his message on issues of racial reconciliation and Christian community development has inspired many.
From Shane Claiborne to Switchfoot, Dr. Perkins’ life of forgiveness and love made him a saint to many, Hairston said.
Dr. Perkins’ legacy at SPU has driven many students to go into justice work around the world, from Palestine and Cambodia to Africa, Hairston said.
“[Students] are not just inspired by Perkins,” she said, referring to the usefulness of the John Perkins Center. “They’re also trained through the center, through SPRINT, Urban Involvement, Latreia, our reconciliation studies minor. They’re really trained to get out there and to work in the world.”
Junior Rebecca Gonzalez, Latreia coordinator, and Sullivan, Urban Involvement team leader coordinator, read Dr. Perkins’ book Let Justice Roll Down, which includes parts of his biography.
Sullivan said the book contained heart-wrenching stories of Dr. Perkins’ journey reaching out to people of minority groups who had been arrested by white police officers in his Mississippi hometown.
Gonzalez and Sullivan said Dr. Perkins’ story completely changed how they view ministry. Through his stories, Sullivan said, Dr. Perkins’ message to love others unconditionally also inspired the ministry in the John Perkins Center.
“Some people are hesitant at first, because [they’re] serving minority communities,” Sullivan said.
She said that often, people realize that the individuals they serve are not so different from them.
“They still have problems, but at the end of the day, you can’t help but love them,” she said. “And there’s no reason not to.”
For Sullivan personally, Dr. Perkins’ persistence, even in adversity, also made an impression.
“[Dr. Perkins] doesn’t necessarily follow the social norms, but he follows what God is calling him to do,” Sullivan said. “That’s been a huge thing in inspiring me to not let what society says dictate where I am going.”
As oppressive marginalization and abuse exist in the world, the mission to care not only for people’s relationship with God, but also with each other is the legacy that Dr. Perkins has left SPU, Hairston said.
One of the things that comes up when talking about Dr. John Perkins is the phrase “love God, love people,” Gonzalez said.
“Many have begun to say [that] what Dorothy Day was to the Catholic Church, what Gandhi was to the Indian people, what Bishop Tutu was to South Africa, John Perkins is to the Christian evangelical Church today,” Hairston said.
The John Perkins Center at SPU is considered a distinguishing characteristic of SPU, Hairston said.
“What makes SPU unique from other universities is this center and this man, who represent not just Christianity, but also the love of God to the world,” Hairston said.
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