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Summer 2009 | Volume 32, Number 2 | Campus

Perkins Welcomes Students to Mississippi

Southern hospitality

John Perkins meets with SPU students in Mississippi.
John Perkins meets with SPU students on the morning of their first full day in Jackson, Mississippi.

A global development studies major at Seattle Pacific University, Marissa Ukosakul had already read books by John Perkins, including his autobiography, Let Justice Roll Down. She had also traded a Spring Break of leisure for one of service with Perkins’ ministry in Jackson, Mississippi. But the sophomore from Chiang Mai, Thailand, was still unprepared for her first meeting with the legendary reconciliation advocate.

After a long flight to Jackson, she and her fellow students left the house in which they’d bunk for the next six days. “We came out to go for a walk and look around, and there he was — in overalls, with a shovel, gardening,” she says, still amazed.

Through the SPRINT (Seattle Pacific Reachout International) program, SPU’s Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development sent eight students to Mississippi’s capital to work and learn at the John M. Perkins Foundation. During the week, the students — two freshmen, three sophomores (including Ukosakul’s twin sister, Melanie), and three seniors — saw the home base for Perkins’ decades-long ministry.

During their days, which were punctuated by heavy spring rains and tornado watches, the students attended Bible studies and personal reflections led by Perkins, his daughter Elizabeth, and Lowell Nobel, a close associate. “Those times really helped students think about the philosophy of the work of community development,” says Owen Sallee, coordinator for global and urban involvement for the Perkins Center at SPU.

Students also attended a one-day reconciliation conference in Mendenhall, Mississippi; met author and radio host Charles Evers, brother of civil rights martyr Medgar Evers; learned about the Mississippi Delta Initiative to help develop the area’s economy; and did yard work at the Foundation. “One afternoon, we hung out with the kids in the local after-school program,” says Ukosakul. “We did some tutoring and played with them for a couple hours.”

Although only a week long, the trip’s impact will be lasting, says Ray Sugarman, a psychology major from San Diego, California. “I went not having a clue what we’d be doing,” he admits. But after spending time with Perkins and seeing his legacy firsthand, the sophomore is considering how he can incorporate Perkins’ community development principles — relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution — into his future work. “After this trip, I’m possibly shifting gears to sociology,” he says.

“I want to challenge people during their critical decade, between age 16 and 26.”

Back in Seattle, the students, as well as others in the SPU and greater Seattle community, continued learning from Perkins. In early April, he flew into Seattle for nearly a week to deliver the 2009 Perkins Lecture and take part in a variety of campus and city events. These included leading a Bible study at Emerald City Bible Fellowship in Seattle’s Rainier Beach and gathering with SPU students for a special student dinner that packed the lobby of Emerson Residence Hall.

And finally, on June 14, Perkins returned once more to campus to deliver SPU’s 2009 Commencement address. He encouraged the newest SPU graduates to think about how they would apply the big ideas they had learned at SPU — the same ideas that have guided his own life.

—Photo by Michael Eaton

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See Dr. John Perkins' 2009 Commencement address on iTuneU .


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Student Ray Sugarman recounts his SPRINT trip to the John Perkins Foundation in Mississippi.

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