By MARILYN TINNIN
Elizabeth Perkins has come full circle. Urban ministry is in her genes, and she is returning this summer to a place it pretty much began for her as a little girl – Voice of Calvary, a ministry her father founded, a ministry that nurtured her, a ministry where she later ran the after school program, moved on to other things and finds herself back and eager to get started—all over again!
Vera Elizabeth Perkins has been in ministry her entire life. As the youngest child of world-renowned civil rights activist and authority on Christian community development, Dr. John Perkins, she literally cut her teeth on the concepts of helping and serving and of leaving a place better than she found it. She was only six years old when her mother, who held weekly Good News Bible clubs in their home, led her to Christ. She realized, even then, that God had a plan for her life, and she was always walking through the doors He opened to her.
Elizabeth was 23 and working in one of several ministries her father had founded. She happened to be at Harambee, an amazing inner city ministry north of Pasadena in Southern California in an area where families were dysfunctional and teens had little positive motivation to do better. Barely older than the girls she was discipling, she lead Bible studies, overnight retreats and arranged countless creative activities, discovering that she was really good at this. The girls in her program were hungry for somebody’s attention and somebody’s leadership. Her motivation became seeing the difference she could make in an individual’s life. Knowing the right things to do seemed to come naturally for her.
This was the moment when she realized that she was put on this earth to nurture other people’s children. She had a deep capacity to love and a burning, yearning desire to show them that they did indeed have choices beyond repeating the mistakes that stereotype inner city teens. She believed and nurtured in them the same belief that they were smart, capable, and able to do so much more than they dreamed – through Christ who strengthened them.
When she came back to Jackson in 1997, she spent two years at Voice of Calvary Ministries. Her job was directing an after school program, and again, she found that she knew how to do this.
She left that place she loved to become Executive Director of John Perkins Foundation. The best part of that position was getting to start another after school program at the Perkins Center. Her great motivation was her desire to somehow duplicate for high risk children something of the meaningful life lessons and values that had made a difference in her own life growing up.
That continues to be the driving force in her life and the defining principle that she is sure God put her here to accomplish. She started her own ministry to teenage girls in 2009, “Blossom, Inc.” With the assistance of New Horizon Baptist Church, over the past three years, she has operated a successful summer camp for teenage girls, “She-ciples.” The s-h-e stands for special, honorable, and exceptional, and you might say Elizabeth’s “business plan” looks a lot like the one Jesus had. As she pours herself into facilitating the spiritual growth in the girls, the girls become “lights” in the community and are able to impact other girls. It is about multiplication!
Nothing brings Elizabeth more joy than to run into one of her “She-ciples” alumni and hear that she is staying in school and staying on track with the goals she set for herself.
As Elizabeth partners with her brother, Derek Perkins, to organize a new children’s ministry at Voice of Calvary this summer, they bring several decades of experience in outreach ministry to children, youth, and whole families. They also share a personal history with the neighborhood and a depth of understanding of the challenges today’s urban children face. This will be no job for the fainthearted! Elizabeth and Derek agree that one way you know you’ve been called to something is that your passion to pursue it is so much greater than your fear of the obstacles.
Derek, who is 54, is a pastor and a father of three. As a “Bible artist,” he teaches Bible stories through illustrations. His heart is for mentoring black boys. He believes that if they can experience a good father – even a substitute good father – then they will have an example to follow and they will become good and responsible fathers. He is committed to being that example telling me that one of the greatest challenges in working with young black men is finding leaders who will stick with them.
Phil Reed, President and CEO of Voice of Calvary Ministries, has been several years without a children’s program. He says he learned well in his training phase under John Perkins that “If you’re not doing youth development, then you’re not doing community development.” Children are the future of a community.
The Barna Group and George Gallup Research both point to the effectiveness of faith based community programs in producing positive outcomes for children in underserved areas. As Phil points out, “Without some kind of intervention in the lives of so many of these kids, we can pretty much predict where they are going to end up – in prison, in a gang, or they will be victims of a violent crime.”
The importance of youth development being done “right” cannot be overstated. It is not just “day care” or a “baby-sitting service.” The goal of the program is to cast the net wide, to plant seeds in the lives of these children that will provide a permanent foundation for spiritual growth and Biblical values.
Today, Voice of Calvary ministries occupies what remains of the historic Capitol Street United Methodist Church. The gothic twin towers of the old sanctuary are no more, and the surrounding neighborhood where remnants of old Victorian homes, a few abandoned industrial buildings, and vacant lots of piece meal bricks or concrete steps, all give testimony that once upon a time this was a bustling and robust community. That is, until the center of commerce shifted, and families picked up and moved to newer schools and neighborhoods as the capital city sprawled its way north.
On this afternoon in mid-March, the green grass and well-kept lawn around the old church are almost symbolic. There is new energy and fresh hope outside these walls and inside, too. It’s going to be a full circle, new beginning at 531 West Capitol Street this summer!
For information, contact Elizabeth Perkins at MzElizperk@gmail.com or Voice of Calvary at 601.969.3088. Applications will be accepted for ages five through senior high school. Resources of any kind are always welcome. Contributions are tax deductible and volunteering your time or your talent will bless you and the lives of others!