Reflections from Jackson
For the better part of the last year I’ve been working on the Emerging Leader’s Initiative for the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). This initiative is designed to recognize and empower the emerging leaders within CCDA. John Perkins, Wayne Gordon, Mary Nelson and many others originally founded CCDA in the 1980’s. These men and women were very tight-nit and have a strong bond of friendships. CCDA has now grown to be many thousands of people. As a board we’ve been concerned about the aging of the leadership of the Association and I was tasked to develop and lead this initiative.
The initiative revolves around choosing 20 or so individuals, we call them cohorts, to journey together for a year. The cohorts are mostly leaders under 40 years old who are in primary leadership in a CCDA member organization. During the year there is a focus on relationships, on transfixing the ‘legacy’ of the founders and considering the future of CCDA.
Last week was our first cohort retreat. We traveled to Jackson, MS to be with John Perkins for a week. CEO Noel Castellanos and board Chairperson Barbara Williams-Skinner also joined us. One unexpected blessing was to have Lowell and Dixie Noble also join us for the week. Mr. and Mrs. Nobel are likewise CCDA pioneers. Lowell is a theologian and provides much of the theological reflections for CCDA principles.
Last week’s retreat was truly a wonderful and anointed experience. The cohort team came with a spirit of excitement and expectation. In addition to Noel and Dr. Skinner’s anointed teaching John Perkins was in amazing form. It’s such an honor to sit under that humble servant of God. Every time I’m with him I have the sense I’m in the presence of greatness. I imagine it’s much like being with one of the Apostles or one of the great historical leaders of our faith.
One of the highlights of the trip (among many) was our time in Mendenhall. On Thursday we rented a tour bus and traveled with Dr. Perkins to the place of his early ministry during the civil rights movement. Mendenhall, MS was where he planted a church and founded Mendenhall Ministries, which was the early model of CCD ministry.
Along the journey to Mendenhall Dr. Perkins narrated some of the stories of his youth. We stopped by the truck stop on the infamous Highway 49 that Dr. Perkins and his team integrated. He recounted the story of literally having to sit on his hands in the booth as he ordered food because his hands were shaking out of fear. He told the story of parking on the side of the road during MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, weeping over the impact of the words on a young civil rights soldier. We saw one of the jails he spent time in while being persecuted for standing for justice and his rights.
Dr. Perkins had many works of wisdom for us. He admonished us to remember the poor. He challenged us to focus our ministries on the neighborhood and not to be concerned with fame or largess. He talked at length about the simplicity of serving and not asking for a return. I was over and over impressed with the ‘mustard seed’ faith of this man. I saw the results of simple acts of faith and trust in God. For those of us in the CCDA family Mendenhall is a sort of Mecca or akin to the Vatican. It’s a place that helped define many of our lives. As I walked around the small Southern town I was shocked how normal it was. We saw young African-American boys and girls playing in a school with white children. Perhaps this is a mundane everyday occurrence in our generation. However, only 40 years ago that would have been an act of treason. Simple faith produced results that changed a generation.
Dr. Skinner likewise was profound. Her late husband Tom Skinner was a close friend and Kingdom conspirator with Dr. Perkins. Barbara told of her and Tom’s courtship, marriage and ministry. Barbara talked about her conversion and a lifetime of ministry in Washington, DC. Today she regularly walks the halls of congress interceding for the congressmen and congresswomen.
Barbara called us to be ‘lifers’ in the work of restoring communities and serving the poor. Aptly and prophetically she ended her sessions with us talking to us about prayer. She emphasized that prayer is where the seeds of change are planted. I again was challenged to a deeper prayer life.
However, one of the greatest blessings of the whole week was having my son Samuel with me. Melissa and I decided to pull him from school so he could participate and observe Dr. Perkins life and ministry. The cohort team embraced him and included him in all of the events. I’m grateful for their expression of love to my son. I pray that this experience was formative as he enters high school and begins to seek God’s will for his life.
All in all I’m overwhelmed and somewhat exhausted from the week. I have yet to digest all the events and experiences. As is hopefully the whole team, I’m already getting excited about the next gathering in Santa Cruz. It’s such an honor to serve these wonderful leaders, both the cohorts and the CCDA board and founders.