During the turbulent days of the 1960’s John Perkins moved with his family from the relative security of California to the civil rights war zone of Mendenhall, Mississippi. He believed God had called him to go “home” and minister in the name of Jesus. Shortly after his arrival he became a target of the blood thirsty Klu Klux Klan (KKK) because of his growing influence within the African-American community.
Perkins received threats that eventually escalated to a death threat with a deadline. If he did not get out of town, then the KKK promised to end his life and ministry. On the day set for his departure, Perkins called a meeting at his house for the men of the community. At around seven o’ clock in the evening around one hundred men gathered in his yard. During the course of the meeting the men informed Perkins that they were tired of the “white folks” running off their leaders. He need not worry. He was their leader and they were going to stand with him and protect him with their own lives.
The spokesman for the group said, “You go back inside with your family and go to bed. We will stand watch in your yard tonight, and every night this year to protect you.” Perkins confessed when he went back inside his house, he realized those men would die for him. They so longed for a leader they would literally lay down their lives for him. God used that dark definitive moment in his life to stir up within him the courage to stand up and be their leader. In a sense the followers made the leader–their courage inspired his courage. He knew he could not run away to safety when his followers stood willing to lay down their lives.
This story stirred my heart. It taught me the incredible interaction between the people and their leaders. In a real sense we need each other. Leaders inspire people to be more than they imagine they can be and likewise the love and sacrifice of people inspire leaders to give their all.
The writer of Proverbs made this observation:
24 One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24 NIV)
I wonder who I would be today if it were not for the people who have believed in me. Their love and confidence in me has lifted me up and encouraged me to grow and mature by giving more and more of myself to the task. Show me a great leader and I will show you a great people who believe in him or her.