You will hear two epiphanies today—one read aloud from Scripture, and one from someone in your group OR the one you can read aloud from John Perkins, supplied below. In your discussions, make sure you leave enough time to hear and respond to both stories.
Share a consolation and desolation from the past week.
Share a time when someone made assumptions about you because of a particular personal characteristic (your gender, race, age, marital status, economic influence, religious affiliation, theological position, political affiliation, sexual orientation etc) and what it felt like.
Background Info: The reluctant prophet Jonah jumps on a boat and goes in the other direction when God calls him to preach against the great city of Nineveh. Though we might initially think Jonah runs out of fear for his ruthless and violent enemies, we learn Jonah’s real reason for fleeing when we see his reaction to the repentance of the entire city after Jonah preaches to it.
Someone from your group can share their epiphany story, or read aloud the story “A Deeper Motivation”
“A Deeper Motivation”
As a black man growing up in rural Mississippi, John Perkins experienced the cruelty of poverty and racism. His mother died when he was young, and he and his siblings were raised by their grandmother, with the five children sleeping in a corncrib for a bed.
As a twelve-year-old boy, John once worked all day as a farm laborer for a white man, expecting the going rate a $1.50 for a day’s labor. At the end of the day, the man gave John fifteen cents. And though he was insulted, he couldn’t show it; he had to pocket the fifteen cents and walk away. But from then on, he analyzed everything from an economic perspective and was determined not to remain a victim.
Another crucial experience for John was when his beloved older brother, a World War Il hero, was killed by white people six months after he returned from the war. John thought of Southern white churches as being complicit in this kind of violence, with pastors who didn’t speak out about racism or who were racists themselves. He had been to some black churches and viewed the people who went to them as victims whose religion was keeping them submissive to an oppressive structure.
John felt that as a black person in Mississippi he had two options: he could accept the existing system and become dehumanized, or he could resist the system and end up in jail or killed, like his brother. As an adult, he decided to move to California, hoping to get ahead economically. He eventually got a good-paying job, but he noticed that the successful people were usually not very religious. He felt that the Christians he met were the kind of people who would never really make it in the world.
But then John’s son started attending Good News Clubs and Child Evangelism classes. “My son would come home and say verses before we ate our meals. I could see that something beautiful was developing in him that I knew nothing about. I had no experience of seeing Christianity in a personal life that was beautiful and good. He would always ask me to go with him to church, and so, finally, because I enjoyed his company so much, I decided to go.”
John began going to his son’s church and became intrigued by a series the pastor was doing on the teaching and the life of the apostle Paul. When John heard what Paul had endured for his faith, he wondered why anyone would risk so much for religion. John had been operating his life based on economic incentives, but he recognized that the apostle had a deeper motivation. So he began to study the Bible on his own at home.
“Then one night the Holy Spirit was able to take the word of God and apply it to my own life. I found out that I could give my life to Jesus Christ, and he would take care of my sin. I didn’t have any solutions for what I’d been struggling with in my life, but for the first time I had an inward peace.”
John’s conversion eventually led him back to Mississippi, where he founded Voice of Calvary, a ministry that helps people with health care, job training, food, and clothing. As a community where black and white Christians live together, Voice of Calvary also provides an ongoing witness against racism, for the sake of both black people and white people.
John recalls his experience one night when he and twenty-two other black people were almost beaten to death in a Mississippi jail: “That night when those men were beating us, I realized for the first time what racism was doing to white people. I looked at those people and felt sorry for them. They had on their badges, and they had all this need to hurt people in order to feel a sense of worth. That’s what racism does to people, and the church isn’t confronting that. But I believe that the gospel, the love of Jesus Christ, is stronger than the Southern tradition.