For John Perkins, it's black and white

"For John Perkins, it's black and white" Continued...

Issue: "Global shame," June 15, 2002

Dubbing it "Inside Out," they launched the first pilot program last April. Volunteer Bible study leaders use workbooks and tapes donated by Crown Ministries to teach prisoners how to manage their money. Those who graduate from the 12-week course are paired with church mentors who help them find a job and a home once they leave prison.

In July, 30-year-old Phillip Brown became the program's first graduate. A few weeks before his release, dressed in a crisp white chef's uniform, he shared his story: His trouble began in college where he incurred overwhelming debt with credit cards. Caught in a vicious cycle, he borrowed money to pay the debt and then gambled on Delta riverboats hoping to win money to pay off those loans. Finally, in desperation, he sold drugs to support his wife and 10-month-daughter. He was arrested five years ago for selling drugs to an undercover detective.

"I knew selling drugs was wrong," says Mr. Brown. "But this is the first time I've ever heard that debt was wrong," he says. "All I knew was what I saw-my family and friends had debt and my church didn't teach about it." Upon release from prison, Mr. Brown will receive a church mentor and move into a new home provided by the Perkins Foundation, making mortgage payments on a gradually increasing basis.

Mendenhall Ministries: Mendenhall, Miss.

Hidden in the Piney woods of Simpson County, Mendenhall resembles an antebellum relic. A railroad track next to weathered feed stores still divides the town's black and white residents. On the black side, tiny trailers and wooden homes are scattered along twisting gravel roads. On the white side, quaint red-brick homes surround the town's two-block Main Street, which begins at the railroad and ends at the 1900s-era county seat with a dome-shaped clock tower.

Forty years ago, Mr. Perkins crossed the white side of the tracks to lead a civil-rights march and spent the next few days in jail. Afterward, he turned his first Mendenhall community center into a nationwide model for Christ-based reconciliation. Today, Mendenhall Ministries still provides day care, medical treatment, housing programs, and legal services for some 2,500 residents. It also funds Genesis One-one of the area's only affordable private schools.

9 a.m.: On a two-acre baseball field that serves as the community's only public playground, Genesis One elementary students compete in Hula Hoop contests as part of their end-of-the-year field day. Inside a classroom decorated with handpainted fish murals and alphabet letters printed next to Bible verses, preschoolers begin their morning with a Bible study and a 20-minute phonics lesson.

Housed in yellow concrete buildings with brightly painted blue doors, the school serves as a refuge for 100 preschool through eighth-grade students. Since the town's largest industrial plant moved to Mexico three years ago, many parents drive 40 miles for jobs in Jackson. Without Genesis One, their children would become latchkey kids.

Although tuition is $3,000, most students receive scholarships subsidized through donations to the ministry. Still, parents who cannot afford tuition can sign up for the "parent-work" program. "We are helping them to understand the correlation between work and meeting their needs," says Timothy Keys, president of Mendenhall Ministries. "That way they are not just sitting back and waiting to receive something." Genesis One also provides "summer enrichment programs" that offer job-skills training to teenagers and sports camps for children.

1:30 p.m.: After stopping for some sweet-sauce-covered hot dogs-compliments of field-day volunteers-Mendenhall ministry worker Bea Ross shows WORLD what's on the south side of the tracks-a mixture of rickety shacks and metal trailers interspersed with brightly painted wooden homes that the ministry helped build. "That was the city's answer to requests for a children's recreation center," she says, pointing to a slab of concrete with a basketball goal stuck at the end. As a result, the ministry built a large metal gym with a full-size basketball court, weight room, and snack bar. Open year-round for the community, it doubles twice a month as a community thrift shop. Children's hand-painted murals adorn the gym walls. One picture depicts two stick figures, one black and one white, holding hands as they stand on a railroad track. The track is covered with blood flowing from a nail-pierced hand hovering above the stick figures.

3 p.m.: A dusty white pickup truck with a license plate that says BEEF and a passenger seat full of cabbage pulls in front of Genesis One. Out jumps Chris Schupe-a young, lanky farmer not yet 30 wearing a camouflage baseball hat, blue overalls, and sandcaked boots. As manager of the 120-acre Mendenhall Bible Farm, located six miles from the school, Mr. Schupe raises food for Genesis One school lunches and poor families who pay a small fee for weekly vegetable baskets. He also doubles as a youth mentor.


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