This Thursday I'm headed to Jackson, MS to celebrate the life and legacy of Drs. John and Vera Mae Perkins. John is turning 80 and they are celebrating his 50th year in ministry. For those of you who don't know about Dr. Perkins and his life here is his bio: http://www.jmpf.org/content/perkins/biography/. We were asked to jot down a few thoughts to share with John and Vera Mae. I posted them below.
As I wrote this and reflected on our journey from youth to now entering middle age (betrayed by the gray in my sideburns and beard), I became overwhlmed with thankfulness for all God has done in our lives and the friends he allowed us to journey alongside.
All my life though some have changed
There are not enough words to express my deep and heartfelt gratitude for the impact your lives have had my life. I wanted to share a little of my journey and how your lives has changed mine.
Born in New Jersey into an Italian family my parents abruptly moved to Florida to save their marriage and refocus their lives. Shortly after arriving in Florida they encountered Christ in what was called the 'Jesus Movement'. In 1970's Florida there was a palpable tension over race. The civil rights movement was not looked upon well and many whites were fighting for every remaining vestige of Jim Crow. My high school experience was marked by frequent fights and riots between African American and White students. When I accepted Christ I moved from the Catholic church where I was reared into a southern Pentecostal church. Racial jokes, comments and outright bigotry was common along with an apparent fervor for the Gospel. When I left Florida at age 18 I was deeply considering the intersection of race and faith and questioning if the Gospel had power to reconcile.
After high school God immediately called me into ministry with an international missions organization, Youth With A Mission (YWAM). In Los Angeles with YWAM I met this stunning young Mexican girl who became my wife. At the time we were working with teenage prostitutes in Hollywood. Shortly thereafter YWAM sent us to Mexico for four years to pioneer a new ministry location in Tijuana on the US / Mexican border. I am greatly indebted to YWAM. It taught me about stepping out in faith, seeking the voice of God and expposed me to a world of joy, pain, hurt and ministry.
During our time in Mexico we encountered a deep level of abject poverty, deeper than anything I had seen in the States. However as such a young age we didn't have the paradigm to process or address the dire situation in which we found the city and nation. We found refugees living in shanties, working to cross the border by any means, struggling for food and shelter. Our Pentecostal evangelical paradigm and methods simply could not address the deep physical needs of the border. I became frustrated and dissatisfied with merely 'leading people to Christ' or simply giving them a ham sandwich. After four years in Mexico, experiencing all we had through the streets of Hollywood to the hills of Tijuana I was tired, discouraged and burned out on evangelical ministry and began to question its theology.
Melissa became pregnant with our son Samuel and we eventually landed in the Central Valley of California. We needed a place to raise Sam, heal and process all we had learned from the streets of the US and Mexico. I thought I was finished in ministry. However God had his hand on us. Through a connection to Larry Acosta and Urban Youthworker's Institute I came across CCDA and your life and ministry. Your book, "With Justice For All" impacted me greatly and 'turned the lights on' again. It truly was a breath of fresh air. No one had been able to connect my deep commitment to Biblical Christianity with the need to address issues of poverty, racism and injustice. Your example, and the example of the leaders of CCDA, provided me with a new approach, a new paradigm and a new way of thinking about community ministry and the poor. I can truly say that I owe my life's work to your example and, perhaps given the situation I was in, you helped save my faith. I am eternally grateful.
In 2000 God moved our family to East Palo Alto. I greatly appreciate the times you've come to encourage our work. As you're aware, you helped us raise our profile with the credit union project (which opened in 2007). Using that as a platform we have developed the FutureProfits youth program teaching over 400 urban students each week life skills and about financial concepts. Additionally we have thrown ourselves headlong into the current housing crisis and are working to save homeowners from foreclosure and homelessness. Melissa serves young unwed mothers in a residential program, New Creation Home. She 'mothers' the moms and their kids and provides them shelter, training and direction in life. Our life and work are a direct result of your Apostolic ministry to us. All we have done and are doing is a part of your legacy.
Melissa and I and our team at Northern California Urban Development in East Palo Alto wish Dad a happy birthday and congratulate you both on 50 years of ministry. We love you deeply. May God grant you peace as you continue to serve him.
In His service,
Rev. John and Melissa Liotti