By Dolphus Weary and William Hendricks, Tyndale House Publishers, 1990 and 1997 (special printing).
Vital issues and the writings that describe them are often forgotten with distance and the passage of time. Two such issues are poverty and racism, and one such book is I Ain’t Comin’ Back, by Dolphus Weary. Too few people know about the kind of ministry he describes, and far too few have read this book. Although it has been published for many years, it remains an outstanding work addressing poverty and racial conflict in the United States, and Christian responses to those evils.
The title of the book comes from the promise Weary made to himself as a black child growing up in rural Mississippi in the ‘50s and ‘60s, “Someday I’m leavin’ Mississippi, and I ain’t never comin’ back.” His book tells the story of how, after he did leave to attend Los Angeles Baptist College on a basketball scholarship, God led him back to work toward hope and reconciliation for both blacks and whites.
This compelling narrative gives the reader a strong sense of the interrelated tragedies of poverty and racial conflict in the rural South. It also illuminates the indifference and ignorance of many evangelical Christians in other regions. Although conditions have improved greatly since the days of the civil rights movement, the hard work of reaching both blacks and whites with the gospel and meeting basic human needs continues.
The story of God working through Weary and his wife Rosie provides a structure for reflection on a theology of poverty, race, social responsibility, and contextual evangelism. Many books present theories regarding these topics. This writing, however, offers a vivid description of God’s grace at work through one family committed to finding practical solutions to what looked like unchangeable human misery and defeat.
The story should be read in its entirety, so only a few highlights will be mentioned here. Especially poignant is Weary’s description of his experiences as one of the first two black students at an otherwise all-white college, in an all-white California town. He tells of his bewilderment and sorrow upon hearing students cheer and shout with glee at the news that civil rights leader and advocate of nonviolent resistance, Martin Luther King, had been assassinated. I remember well, as a young man also living in California at the time, observing that same reaction from many Christians. (Dr. King and other civil rights activists had been falsely labeled as Communists and threats to national security, at a time when international Communism was considered the greatest danger to America and to Christianity.)
Weary continued his studies at Los Angeles Baptist Theological Seminary. During that time, he learned to move beyond his childhood reticence to engage in discussions with white people and confront the prejudices and cultural presuppositions of other students. He wondered if his activism made a difference, or “… would the churches keep on looking at poverty and injustice and say that they were someone else’s fault and therefore someone else’s responsibility?”
A key figure in the story is John Perkins, founder of Voice of Calvary Ministries and Mendenhall Ministries, in the very place where Weary was raised. It was through Perkins’ ministry that Weary came to faith in Jesus Christ. Through Perkins’ mentorship, Weary was encouraged to study the Bible and prepare for ministry. Perkins suffered greatly from white resistance, including being jailed, beaten almost to death, falsely charged with various crimes, and hounded by a prejudiced legal system. He authored influential books such as Let Justice Roll Down and With Justice for All. Seattle Pacific University recently established the John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, recognizing his example in promoting a biblical concept of justice and racial harmony. It was to Perkins’ ministries that Weary returned, in the place he had declared he would never live again.
Weary and his wife Rosie have begun a new ministry, the Rural Education and Leadership Christian Foundation. He has another book to be released in June 2012, Crossing the Tracks: Hope for the Hopeless and Help for the Poor in Rural Mississippi and Your Community. Rosie recounts her own experiences and struggles in a recently released memoir, Stepping Out from the Shadows. These books contain stories that must not be ignored nor forgotten. They are available at www.realchristianfoundation.org