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Seattle Pacific University
Spring 2007 | Volume 30, Number 1 | Campus

John Perkins Ministers to His “Adopted” City

At home in Seattle

John Perkins
While living on the SPU campus for two months, Perkins ate many of his meals with students in Gwinn Commons.
On January 25, 2007, more than 100 urban and suburban pastors and community leaders surrounded John Perkins. Perkins, an internationally renowned leader in biblical reconciliation and community development, had just finished addressing the Coalition for Community Development and Renewal (CCDR) at Emerald City Outreach Ministries in Seattle. “They put John in the middle of the church, gathered around him, and prayed for him in four different languages: Ethiopian, Spanish, Samoan, and English,” says Tali Hairston, director of Seattle Pacific University’s John Perkins Center for Reconciliation. “It was an amazing moment.”

And that was just the beginning. This winter, Perkins spent eight weeks in Seattle, living on the SPU campus, speaking before numerous audiences citywide, meeting with business and government leaders, talking with students of all ages, and reconnecting with old friends. It was his longest visit to Seattle since he and Seattle Pacific President Philip Eaton became founding partners of the Perkins Center in 2004.

The Center is an innovative partnership whose goal — to strengthen communities by modeling biblical reconciliation — has already received regional and national attention under Hairston’s direction. But this year, rather than simply hosting the annual Perkins Lecture Series, Perkins and SPU wanted more. “I wanted to strengthen the Perkins Center and transfer that philosophy to the greater-Seattle community,” says Perkins. “I wanted to talk about how the Center can become a model — first to the students, then to the city, and then to the world.”

“What a privilege it was to have John live among us,” says Eaton. “He is a shining example of how one person — captured by a vision of hope and reconciliation, even as he lives his life for the poor and the suffering — can truly change the world. My life has been changed by the teaching and modeling of John Perkins. During this visit, I was deeply moved that we have a chance to carry on the legacy of this great man.”

Eaton conferred on Perkins the title of distinguished visiting professor when he arrived. He became an instant celebrity, with students, faculty, and staff lining up to spend time with him. He taught undergraduate and graduate classes; he discussed ways to recruit minority students with Admissions staff; he advised business faculty about teaching economic and community development issues; and he fielded questions from Student Life staff.

One freshman struck up a conversation with Perkins at the salad bar in Gwinn Commons, recounting how he had spoken at the student’s high school in 2006. “We sat down to lunch together and had a great conversation,” says Perkins. When Susan Lane, associate director of the Career Development Center, learned her 11-year-old son, Zack, had been assigned to write about a civil rights leader for class, she suggested he choose Perkins as his subject. She brought her son to campus to hear Perkins speak, and then introduced him to the man whose life story is known worldwide. Impressed, Zack returned to school and told his teachers and classmates that he had asked questions of, and shaken hands with, the civil rights leader.

Perkins’ reach into the city went well beyond Seattle Pacific. He was interviewed by commentator Steve Scher of KUOW’s radio show “Weekday”; and he met with students at the African American Academy, staff at World Vision, and executives from Starbucks, Microsoft, and Boeing. Perkins was also named pastor-in-residence at Seattle’s University Presbyterian Church (UPC) during his time in Seattle. He preached, joined the two-day senior pastoral staff retreat, attended weekly pastors’ meetings, and more. “It was good for us to hear John, who affirmed and challenged us from an outside perspective,” says Ken Kierstead, senior director of urban and global ministries at UPC. “He stretched us to be more intentional about how we embrace opportunities for diversity.”

As the visit neared its close, Barbara Williams-Skinner, another leading U.S. reconciliation advocate, joined Perkins for a conference at SPU titled “A Theology of Reconciliation.” Explains Hairston, during the civil rights era, the Perkins and Skinner families went beyond legal advocacy and preached the biblical mandate of “one body with many parts.” At the conference, more than 100 men and women gathered in Upper Gwinn Commons, where Perkins and Skinner exhorted them to live out their faith through relationships, even outside their racial comfort zones.

For Eaton, it was a profound experience. “And this has been just the opening chapter of the Perkins Center,” he says, “a huge beginning for us as a community, as a city, and as partners together.”

On March 3, after eight intense weeks, John Perkins boarded a plane, leaving behind many changed and inspired hearts, says Hairston: “In eight weeks, John gave SPU a good two to three years of development. We’ll work toward these very doable goals and ideas he deposited.”

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Department Highlights

Destination: Asia
President Philip Eaton joined a historic delegation of U.S. university presidents who traveled to Asia

Perspectives on the 21st Century
Global awareness was the theme of two recent SPU events.

John Perkins Ministers to His “Adopted” City
Perkins spent two months in Seattle, spreading the message of biblical reconciliation.

A New Sound: Gospel Symphony
The Gospel Choir and Symphonic Wind Ensemble took a new symphony in Portland, Oregon.

Largest-Ever Cash Gift Supports a Student’s Dream
A $1 million gift to SPU enables the Reiman-Thomas Scholarship to make dreams come true.