As some of you know, I have spent the last several days at the annual conference of the Christian Community Development Association, also known as CCDA. I’ve been here with two dear friends and colleagues from CCC, Laura Herridge and Janet Mendenhall. It’s been a great trip, and a great conference, and I just wanted to share a little bit of it with you.
CCDA was founded by Dr. John Perkins. Dr. Perkins was born in 1930, the son of sharecroppers in rural Mississippi. He left home when he was 17 after a racist town marshall murdered his brother. Vowing never to return to the South, he moved to Los Angeles, carrying all the hatred against white people that you can imagine. But that’s when God stepped in.
His heart was touched by a song that his little son came home singing one day – a song he had learned at church. “Jesus loves the little children,” the song said. “All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” (I sang this very same song myself at VBS when I was a child! Many of you did, too.)
This simple, childish song led to his eventually giving his heart to Christ and later, becoming a pastor in L.A. But God still wasn’t done, and in 1960, he and his family moved back to Mississippi, and he began a community development ministry not far from his old hometown.
What is Christian community development? Well, to use a cliche, it’s a hand up, but not a hand-out. It’s moving into a neighborhood and reaching out to neighbors, but not with the attitude that says, “You’re broken, and I’m here to fix you.” Rather, it says, “We’re all broken, but let’s work together and learn from each other and come out of our brokenness.”
Over the years he marched for civil rights, was arrested several times, was beaten, worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, prayed and struggled. God cured him of the hatred in his heart against other races. Eventually, he founded CCDA as a way for like-minded groups and individuals to encourage each other and work together cooperatively.
There’s a lot more to tell about Dr. Perkins, but I won’t go into that. If you’re interested, you should read his biography, Let Justice Roll Down. I will say, we were honored to have him come to our Friendship House in 2010 on his last visit to Abilene, where he delighted in the interaction between the kids and the volunteers who were there.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Reconcile.” Racial reconciliation has been a buzzword for some time now, but this conference has been asking harder questions – is there a way to move beyond joining hands and singing “Kum By Yah,” to really healing the wounds between the races and actually bringing the Kingdom of God, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus?
The speakers have been challenging, and we have explored together the ideaa that we need reconciliation not just between races, but also between economic classes, education levels, generational groups, and in many other ways. The touchstone Bible passage for the week has been 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and behold, all things have become new. Now all this is from God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation – that is, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them, and has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. Now therefore, as ambassadors for Christ, we beg you for Christ’s sake, as though God were pleading through us: Be reconciled to God.”
It’s been a great week, and I’m feeling recharged and ready to come home just as fast as Southwest Airlines and I-20 can get us there. But let me leave you with this: to whom do you need to be reconciled? If God can change John Perkins, and turn him from a race-hater into a world-changer, with whom do you or I need to make peace?
God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus, and in Christ, is not counting our sins against us. Let us extend each other that same grace, and forgive as we have been forgiven. And may we truly be reconciled to each other – breaking down walls of race, income, status, gender and age – so that they world may know we are His disciples, by the way we love one another.