John Perkins, Switchfoot, Belhaven Dance, and the CCCU Forum

This week the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Forum was held in Atlanta.  Over 1,200 participated from among the 109 member institutions in the US and 73 affiliate members in this country and from around the world.

Our dancers were featured during the Performing Arts Showcase, and they were magnificent.  They stole the show, and I had dozens of other schools talk to me about the quality of our dance program and how/why Belhaven University has become a significant leader in the Arts.

Another highlight of the event for me was the  privilege to present to Dr. John Perkins CCCU’s highest award, the Mark Hatfield Leadership Award. And Dr. John spoke with great insight, presenting a marvelous challenge to our Christ-centered schools.

Dr. John’s message, along with all the sessions will be available online soon, including the address of  Francis Colins the Director of the National Institute of Health, and Rich Sterns the President of World Vision.

Since Dr. Perkins is such a good friend of Belhaven University, I thought you’d be interested in my introduction:

Those of us who live in Mississippi understand the Magnolia state has often been defined by stereotypes.

In fact, when visitors drive out of the Jackson airport, they are greeted by large banners confronting these assumptions . . . presented in traditional southern self-deprecating humor.

One reads:  Yes, we can read. And a few of us can even write – with the hope visitors to our state will have read William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, Shelby Foote, Walker Percy, and Elizabeth Spencer – who is one of our Belhaven alums.

Some assumptions of Mississippi are grounded in truth and others are not, but if you take the worst of Hollywood stereotypes of 1940s Mississippi, that doesn’t begin to reflect the difficult and dangerous world faced by John Perkins when he was growing up.  There is no romanticized soundtrack when living through the real thing.

As the son of a share-cropper in the pinewoods of Mississippi, life was hard, people were desperately poor, and racial tension consumed every aspect of life.  Dominating white folks lived in fear that blacks would upset what little comfort they had, and black folks learned to submit to excruciating injustice or pay the consequences.

On a hot Saturday evening in the summer of 1946, 16 year-old John Perkins had come into the little town of New Hebron to escape for a few hours the endless toil of King Cotton.  His older brother, a decorated World War II veteran, was also in town to see his girlfriend.

And while Clyde and Elma waited in line for the movie theater to open, a local sheriff thought they where talking to loudly.  So as naturally as we would shake hands, the sheriff used his night-stick to remind Clyde who was in charge.

It must have been his hard fights against that Germans that made Clyde forget where he was, because rather then submitting in silence, Clyde grabbed the night stick.  And that was all the excuse the sheriff needed to take a step back and fire his gun twice into Clyde’s chest – and then, with no remorse, turn and walk away as Clyde lay dying in the street.

After Clyde’s violent death, his family was determined to protect the younger brother from seeking retaliation, and so John Perkins was put on a bus to go live in California with extended family, taking with him only one change of clothes, a sack lunch, and $3.

My six minutes to introduce John doesn’t allow me to unpack any more of this story, but if you don’t have a glimmer of where he came from, you can’t begin to grasp the enormity of where John Perkins has lead us.

  • Introductions like this among the academy are supposed to start with the litany of academic credentials, so let’s begin there:  John Perkins is a graduate of the 3rd grade . . . but I’d make the case that he’s the smartest person in the room tonight, and I believe you’ll agree because 10 of our CCCU schools have awarded an honorary doctorate to him.
  • He is the father of racial reconciliation for the evangelical church and more than any other person has moved us from passive observes to active players.
  • Dr. John is the founder of Christian Community Development Association, now the leading group for best practices in faith based community development.
  • He has traveled the world, often with a former Klansman friend, to preach the message of reconciliation among many cultures divided by hatred and fear.  John casts more bold vision before breakfast than most of us do all year.
  • He has served on the boards of World Vision, Prison Fellowship, National Association of Evangelicals, and Spring Arbor College among many others.
  • He is the author if 15 books . . . yes, like fellow Mississippi greats, he can write. In 2006 he received the lifetime Achievement Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.
  • He has modeled hands-on community development in ministries he founded in Mississippi, and California.  And if you want to really see John in action, come be with him as he hugs the kids coming off the bus for afternoon programs, at the Perkins Center on Robinson Road in Jackson – which, for those of you not from our town, is not far from the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, and Medgar Evers Avenue.

We don’t have a street named after him . . . YET.  But who else in this room tonight has a song written about them by an alternative rock band?   Switchfoot’s,  The Sound – (The John Perkin’s Blues), is making John Perkins known to a whole new generation of young evangelicals.  John has become their Tony Bennett.

The leader of Switchfoot, Jon Foreman, wanted to share in congratulating Dr. John tonight and so we have a short video greeting from him.


John Perkins has lived God honoring grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation like no one else I know.

I have found great personal joy in being accepted by and loving the marvelous people of Mississippi who are the best of the New South.  But from John Perkin’s living through the very worst of the old divided South, he had every reason to hate.

Today at 80 years old, his life could be a stockpile of justified resentment, but instead, God has made it a fountain of joy and Godly grace.

From that Saturday night in New Hebron and the arrogance of a small town sheriff with too much power, to the battles of the civil rights era of the 1960s that earned John numerous beatings, endless harassment, and jailings, to the far-to-early death of his son Spencer who was dedicated to carrying forward his father’s work, John Perkins had every right to be angry at God and everyone around him. But he’s fill with grace instead of anger.

But rather than use John’s words, let me use Spenser’s to summarize this grace filled outlook the son learned from watching his father, when no one else was around.  Two days before he died, Spencer preached:

Being able to extend grace and to forgive people sets us free. We no longer need to spend precious emotional energy thinking about the day oppressors will get what they deserve. What I am learning about grace lifts a weight from my shoulders, which is nothing short of invigorating.  The ability to give grace while preaching justice makes our witness even more effective.

Spencer Perkins
From his message, “A Culture of Grace”
October 18, 1997 – two days before his death

John, it seems like yesterday we had Spenser’s funeral.  And it was somewhere in the middle of that three hour service, when your dear wife Vera Mae stood up on the front row and began to sing by herself:  “The Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow.”

For all these years, you’ve been following Jesus through a wilderness most of us have never seen and little understand. Thank you for being to us a model of grace, joy, courage, inspiration, and insight.

It is a very special privilege to present to all you our speaker tonight and the recipient of the Mark Hatfield Leadership award,

  • a humble servant of Jesus – who is celebrating his 50th year of ministry
  • a prophetic voice whose story is deeply rooted in the past, but whose spirit soars into the future
  • and leader who embodies the kind of bold breakthroughs, which is not just the theme of our conference, but the dream we hold for our students

Dr. John Perkins

Hallelujah – At the Olympics

During the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, the dramatic special effects spectacle stood still for K.D. Lang’s singing of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

I’ve heard the chorus of the song before, primarily as background music in any television show that wants to have a semi-spiritual moment.  But I’d never really listened carefully to the words.

Leonard Cohen spent several years in a Buddhist monastery and is known as a poet and song writer who grapples with spiritual questions in his body of work.  And although it is not a “Christian song”  bringing us to a clear message of hope in Christ, several verses of this song probe deep and insightful questions of our Christian walk.

The song (at least much of it) seems to be about King David and his fall into sin and struggle.

That tune has been circling in me repeatedly since Saturday night’s opening ceremonies, and there are three ideas that continue to be on my mind:

1.  “Hallelujah” is the Hebrew word that means “Praise Yahweh” It is an exclamation point of gratitude and worship.

We usually hear “hallelujah” in songs that are upbeat and full of clear theology and salvation.  But this song seems to have such a haunting, floating, and searching melody.

There are times of life for all of us when we are searching for stability and life is complex, difficult, and hard to understand. During those times we not only don’t have the answers, but hardly know the questions to ask or how to pray.

We can still pray Hallelujah, because we know the loving, protecting, and grace-filled nature of God who loves us, even in our times of questions, searching, or doubts.

I did my best, it wasn’t much

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you

and even though
it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song

with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

2. “The baffled king composing Hallelujah” So often we assume our spiritual heroes had it all figured out.  When we read their stories, we sometimes even recast their story into a children’s Sunday School version where their spiritual walk was nice and tidy, and they always exemplified a well-ordered theology.

Showing the reality of David’s life, this phrase of the song captures David so well – even at the periods when his life wasn’t put together and orderly, he could praise God and reach out with his praise as well as his questions.

I’ve heard there was a secret chord

that David played, and it pleased the Lord

but you don’t really care for music, do you?

it goes like this
 the fourth, the fifth

the minor fall, the major lift

the baffled king composing Hallelujah

3. “and from your lips she drew the Hallelujah” I am overwhelmed at the significance of this phrase and the hard question it asks all of us.

This verse describes David’s fall and sin – in just a few words, as only a remarkable poet can articulate.

So we have the King – although far from perfect, growing in his faith. And then as he is drawn into sin by allowing himself to be put in a position that will intensify his temptation.  He gives into it, all that he values is taken from him…..including most importantly, his “hallelujah.”

Is there anything in your life that takes the ability to praise God from you?  What could “draw from you your hallelujah?” • a poorly grounded relationship?  • a selfish or resentful attitude? • a skewed priority? • a secret sin?

Whatever might draw the hallelujah from you . . . Is it worth it?

Can you say with full breath “hallelujah” or have you allowed something to come into your life that has taken that from you?

Your faith was strong, but you needed proof

you saw her bathing on the roof

her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you

she tied you
 to a kitchen chair

she broke your throne, she cut your hair

and from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Cohen’s song continues with a variety of verses that articulate the struggle of faith, love, and how life is not a straight line of success.

But rather than just a continual searching, and settling for our best effort, our hope is found in God’s redeeming love.

So through the words of some of the stanza’s of another song – this one sung by King David, rather than written about him (Psalm 51) – hear the true ending to this song by Leonard Cohen:

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.

For I recognize my shameful deeds – they haunt me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just. For I was born a sinner – yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. But you desire honesty from the heart, so you can teach me to be wise in my inmost being.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me – now let me rejoice.

Restore to me again the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.


Former Employee Evelyn Usry

Many of our alumni and long-term employees will remember Evelyn. We thank the Lord for her service to Belhaven, and rejoice in celebrating her life on earth and her love for Christ as she moves into our promised eternal life.

“None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” Romans 14:7-9

Evelyn Zimmerman Usry, 87, died at home Saturday, February 6, 2010. Visitation will be at Fondren Presbyterian Church on Monday, February 8, 2010 from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. The funeral service will follow at 11:00 a.m. Burial will be at Sharon Primitive Baptist Church in Lake, Mississippi with Wright & Ferguson Funeral Home in charge of arrangements.

She attended Forest public schools until her graduation. She was employed by Belhaven College as secretary, bookkeeper and chief fiscal officer for many years, and after retirement there worked for Norwalk Furniture.

She is preceded in death by her husband, John Burnham Usry, a beloved aunt, Mrs. Beadie Henderson, and her parents.

Survivors include her only daughter Nancy Usry Bourn and former husband Ralph Bourn, granddaughter Amy Bourn McGowan and husband Joe, grandson Kevin Bourn and wife Leigh, five great grandchildren, and cousin Jean Henderson Harvey.

Try This For The Coming Week

Our board member, Lon Alison, Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, sent to a few friends an idea he has been trying…and finding very helpful in staying focused on God’s priorities through busy work days.

You might want to try it this week – and if it fits for you, develop it as a pattern in your life.

Here is what Lon suggests:

Take Two Minutes, and Call Me in the Morning

I am seeking to erase the division between the sacred and the secular in my life.

By that I mean the daily danger of spending a bit of time with God in the morning, and then working the remainder of the day without him. The real kicker is that while working without him, I claim to be working for him!  (I know that was a run-on sentence, but it corresponds to my run-on life!)

So, I’m taking two minutes more often to shut down the engines of incessant busyness. I’ve read that St. Benedict had his monks stop what they were doing 8 times a day to enter into brief prayer.  I’m starting with maybe two times a day for two minutes.  It’s almost a habit now, since I’ve done it for 3 days!!!!!

To be honest, it seems to help. I just finished a two-minute prayer retreat.  At 6pm on Friday night, I had 3 projects yet to finish. My back was aching, my pulse racing. I was pushing through to try and finish. You know the feeling. So, I stopped. I shut off the fluorescent lights and turned on my softer lit lamps. I plugged in a little serenity fountain to pretend I was near a brook.  Then I just sat back with God, released some cares and just sitting there. Oh my, it was nice.

I’d like you all to hold me to this practice. Who knows- maybe two by two will become three by three, and I can claim another life accomplishment. “Oh help him Lord”.

Lon Allison

Are You Ready For 11 Minutes of Football?

As you get ready for the Super Bowl, here is an interesting report about football from the Wall Street Journal –  only 11 minutes of action during an average NFL game.

If over 100 million people will watch the big game, but this must mean we are more into the drama of the game, strategy of the coaches, high stakes of every play, and stories of players, more than we are the action of football.  (And for this game, the commercials.)

It is still the biggest sporting event in America, although not the biggest in the world. Soccer, tennis and Formula 1 racing are among the most popular draws beyond North America.

Here is the contrast from a CNN report, “the final for the 2008 European Championship, the world’s second-biggest soccer contest, boasted 166 million viewers (57 percent higher than the 2009 Super Bowl’s). About 287 million people caught at least part of the game, compared with 162 million for the Super Bowl.”

The report from the WSJ will help you prepare your snack breaks during the game:

According to a Wall Street Journal study of four recent broadcasts, and similar estimates by researchers, the average amount of time the ball is in play on the field during an NFL game is about 11 minutes.

In other words, if you tally up everything that happens between the time the ball is snapped and the play is whistled dead by the officials, there’s barely enough time to prepare a hard-boiled egg. In fact, the average telecast devotes 56% more time to showing replays.

So what do the networks do with the other 174 minutes in a typical broadcast? Not surprisingly, commercials take up about an hour. As many as 75 minutes, or about 60% of the total air time, excluding commercials, is spent on shots of players huddling, standing at the line of scrimmage or just generally milling about between snaps.

In the four broadcasts The Journal studied, injured players got six more seconds of camera time than celebrating players. While the network announcers showed up on screen for just 30 seconds, shots of the head coaches and referees took up about 7% of the average show.

Lausanne III Key Issues

Some of you have asked me more about the Lausanne III Congress in Cape Town, and the meeting of the US delegates meeting in Dallas last week.

Below is a summary of that meeting from Lausanne, and you’ll especially be interested in the six key issues of the Congress which will frame the discussion.

In preparation for the Congress, Lausanne is hosting 12 “Global Conversations” across the United States.  Belhaven University will host one of of those conversations, on April 13th.  This will be the focus of our chapel on that Tuesday, and then in the evening, the Global Conversation with Lausanne leaders will be held at First Presbyterian Church.

Here is the summary from Dallas:

Summary Report
Cape Town 2010 US Participants Meeting
Dallas, TX
January 25-27, 2010

Nearly 300 men and women from 175 organizations— local churches, denominations, mission agencies, schools, businesses, and foundations— gathered at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas for a foretaste of this October’s Cape Town 2010 and the Lausanne Global Conversation that will lead up to and ripple out from it.

In October of this year, 400 US participants will be in Cape Town with some 4000 other participants from 200 countries.  Many at this Dallas meeting commented on the beautiful diversity of the participants in age, gender, ethnicity, region, ministry focus and denominational affiliation – a diversity that will also be reflected in Cape Town

The Dallas gathering was intended to catalyze relationships between the US representatives and other leaders identifying with the Lausanne Movement, to begin discussion around the six themes of Cape Town 2010, and to look beyond Cape Town 2010 to collaborative evangelistic efforts in the US leading toward 2020.

Throughout the three days participants met around tables of six to eight. The core of the program consisted of six extended conversations related to the key issues of the upcoming Congress:

1) Making the case for the Truth of Christ in a Pluralistic, Globalized World

2) Building the Peace of Christ in our Divided and Broken World

3) Bearing witness of the Love of Christ with People of Other Faiths

4) Discerning the Will of Christ for the 21st Century World Evangelization

5) Calling the Church of Christ back to Humility, Integrity and Simplicity

6) Partnering in the Body of Christ Toward a New Global Equilibrium

Each topic was introduced by brief, incisive comments by Nikki Toyama-Szeto, complemented by video clips and/or thought-provoking insights from Os Guinness and others.  Woven around the lively table discussions were presentations of the genesis of the Cape Town 2010 idea and of the Lausanne Global Conversation and the supporting technology that would enable participation of thousands of Christians around the world— before the Congress through the Internet, and during the Congress itself through 250 Cape Town GlobaLink sites.

Other highlights included meditations on Paul’s prayers in Ephesians guided by Lindsay Olesberg, worship songs in several languages, live greetings through Skype from Rick Warren, an enthusiastic invitation from Lon Allison for US delegates to regather in March 2011 to tend the flame and to plan for the coming decade of evangelization, and Doug Birdsall’s reminder of the “spirit of Lausanne” as expressed by Dr. Billy Graham: “the spirit of fellowship, humility, study, prayer, partnership and hope.” The spirit of Lausanne was evident throughout the days in Dallas – a gathering that contributed powerfully to the growing momentum for Cape Town 2010.

NYT – “Suffering Well: Faith Tested by Pastor’s Cancer”

Last week I was in Dallas for a meeting of the 400 United States delegates who have been selected to attend the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town in October, bringing together 4,000 Church leaders from 120 nations.

Ligon Duncan has also been selected to participate, and since we only have 400 coming from the US, it is wonderful we had  Mississippi represented.

Lon Allison of our Board is chairing the evening plenary programs, and Scott Dawson, also of our board will be leading the evangelistic services across Africa the month before the Congress.

Attending that meeting in Dallas was the pastor of a large church in the city.  Two days ago his story was published in the New York Times. Especially for those among us who are dealing with difficult struggles, it will encourage you to read about Matt Chandler

Suffering Well: Faith Tested by Pastor’s Cancer
Published: January 31, 2010

DALLAS (AP) — Matt Chandler doesn’t feel anything when the radiation penetrates his brain. It could start to burn later in treatment. But it hasn’t been bad, this time lying on the slab. Not yet, anyway.

Chandler’s lanky 6-foot-5-inch frame rests on a table at Baylor University Medical Center. He wears the same kind of jeans he wears preaching to 6,000 people at The Village Church in suburban Flower Mound, where the 35-year-old pastor is a rising star of evangelical Christianity.

Another cancer patient Chandler has gotten to know spends his time in radiation imagining that he’s playing a round of golf at his favorite course. Chandler on this first Monday in January is reflecting on Colossians 1:15-23, about the pre-eminence of Christ and making peace through the blood of his cross.  MORE

Report from Haiti

The news from Haiti is starting to roll off the front pages, but the recovery will take years.  Here is a report from our friends at Somebody Cares.  Doug’s wife Lisa Stringer is in Haiti and gives this look into the challenges and recovery work:

This morning we made our way onto the airport grounds where many Humanitarian groups from various countries are camping out, unloading and storing goods and supplies for those in need.  We saw flags from Turkey, France, Israel, Great Britain and the USA to name a few. I met soldiers from Uruguay, Portugal, Brazil, as  well as a few others. The nations are ever present and the UN has troops everywhere. The US military has a strong presence as well.

My observation is that the locals tend to have reservations about the UN since they do not have access to news sources and do not know the great effort made by many to assist them. I met people today that have only had a few crackers to eat in the last few days and have begged for them.

The downtown area of Port-Au-Prince was a disaster and looked more like a war zone. Four-story buildings are now just a pile of rubble. The area is quite dusty, the air smells of death and people are digging through the rubble in hopes of finding anything they can use or sell to survive.

Thousands of people lined up around the Presidential palace in hopes of receiving something to eat from the UN troops that are guarding it. We saw one desperate man drink from the dirty and probably contaminated water along the curb. We desperately wanted to give him our own water but to do so would cause a riot. People who are desperate do desperate things.

In front of the main, historic, and now destroyed cathedral we met two (now homeless) ladies that were attending service and ran out when they felt the Quake. One said her niece was in the rubble along with hundreds of others.  She escaped with a few scrapes which our field medic, Craig, treated. They have lost everything. They only own the clothes on their back and have decided to call the sidewalk next to the destroyed church their home for now. Although it is unsafe for us to pull anything out, I found a way to leave her my lunch (an orange and
fruit cup).

A teenager we met shares that he lost his parents and some siblings and now is the only caregiver for his younger brother. He lost a tooth yesterday trying to get a gallon of water and is desperate for food and shelter.  In a few hours our team will head out to get in line at the port and wait for a barge to arrive that has food.

We are in hopes of getting anything to help the pastors and the 10,000 people they represent.  One pastor, now homeless, sleeps in the driveway of the guest home where I am staying with a mere sheet as a bed. Now homeless, other friends of the ministry sleep on the patio, or wherever there is space.

At one mission, our team helped dig a military style latreen in  the “Tent City” as the 2,000 people that are living under sheets and in cardboard boxes have no restrooms.  A few hundred yards away, the medic on our team assisted in the medical clinic helping amputate the tip of someone’s finger as the patient watched.

I am blessed to be a part of something so much bigger than  ourselves. I am with a group of people that love the Lord and are  demonstrating to the Locals that Somebody Cares. Please continue to pray for our health and strength. Pray that we find favor with  those in charge of food and water distribution. Pray for the many teams that are here and those that are on their way.

To have the heart of Jesus,
Lisa Stringer
Somebody Cares America/Int’l

P.S. It is now the evening of January 27th and the team was able to secure the needed food, water and other goods to help the pastors and those they represent. <> <>