Grace is a wonderful gift — pass it on!

My wife and I own and manage several apartments in our home town. We do our best to see it as a ministry, not just a business. Often we lease to persons with a poor credit rating because we think everyone deserves a decent place to live, no matter what their circumstances in life.At times we seek out tenants receiving Federal assistance (Section 8) from the local housing authority.

Recently one of our tenants moved out creating a vacancy. The townhome needed extensive cleaning and renovations. We did the cleaning and painting ourselves and hired contractors to replace the kitchen cabinets, counter tops and bathroom vanities. Another professional steam cleaned the rug. By the time we were done the place looked pretty good. We refuse to become ‘slum landlords,’ fixated on costs, unwilling to make repairs. Rather, we keep our properties clean and well maintained.RentSign2

Over the weekend I set out two “for rent” signs and placed a free ad on the local university’s e-classifieds. Two hours later I started getting calls and emails. Within 24 hours I had shown the apartment to three families, who each filled out an application. However, I was drawn to one family in particular. Dawn (not her real name) is a single mother with two teenage children, a 13 year old daughter April and an 11 year old son Jack. She owns a home in an adjoining county but when her husband left her 18 months earlier, she began to struggle financially. Eventually, she could not keep up with the mortgage payments and the credit card debt he ran up before he left. On the advice of her lawyer, she plans to foreclose on her home and declare personal bankruptcy. She is hoping for a fresh start.

I checked her credit and references. Her credit score is abysmal but her character references were excellent. After some discussion of the various interested parties, we decided to rent her the apartment to help her get a fresh start. When I called to tell her this, she fell silent. I could hear her crying on the other end of the line. Finally, after regaining her composure, she said, “Thank you. This is an answer to prayer.” I explained I too had come through a painful divorce and understood her situation. Again, she choked up. We agreed to meet the next day to sign the lease after she got off work.

The next morning, I stopped by the townhome to mow the lawn one more time and to square away a few small items. When she arrived at the townhome that evening everything was in order. I oriented her to her new home and introduced her to her next door neighbor. She then signed the lease and paid the first month’s rent. When the formalities were over, I gave her a housewarming gift, a copy of Fifty Shades of Grace. I told her my story of divorce and deliverance was in the book. She was genuinely pleased and took it with her when she left to pick up her children.


I have given away more than a dozen copies of this wonderful book which contains amazing stories of God’s grace in the lives of 50 different authors. I’ve passed it on to friends, relatives and this tenant. I’ve given it as a birthday gift, a housewarming gift and just because I thought the person needed to be encouraged by inspirational stories of God’s grace. I just ordered three more copies and plan to give them to our neighbors. I’ve found that Grace is an amazing gift, both to give and to receive. I think you will too.

Steve C 2012

Steve Carpenter, MennoMedia Director of Development

One back story from Fifty Shades of Grace: John Perkins, champion of racial and economic justice

9780836197860One of my favorite stories in Fifty Shades of Grace: Stories of Inspiration and Promise is that of John Perkins. John is the author of the now-classic Let Justice Roll Down.

First a little background.

In the mid-’90s I was asked to be on an anti-racism team for Mennonite Board of Missions (which became Mennonite Mission Network in 2001).  Many teams from the church agencies, colleges and some churches attended intensive trainings: five days at a retreat center here, four days at a conference center there, and eventually many follow-up team meetings in various cities. My three daughters were still school age so they weren’t necessarily happy when I went away, especially for a week at a time.

After intensive training and team work, one of our final meetings in that process just blew up racially. It was painful for all involved. We had tried to come to a consensus about a statement that would be made to the denomination, and ultimately our caucuses could not agree. We were angry and I was fighting tears. I had never been so disillusioned about hope for understanding across racial and ethnic lines in my life. I could not bring myself to participate in the closing communion. I went home severely disappointed.

Several months later I heard John Perkins speak at the annual meeting of the American Bible Society. At that time, the ABS invited and paid for representatives from various denominations to attend their National Church Advisory Council. The agenda looked good but my boss couldn’t go, so he sent me. I’m always up for a trip to New York City.

I was quickly and emotionally swept up in Perkins’s message of God’s love and desire for reconciliation between races. Perkins shared his testimony and many stories from his long and painful work for racial reconciliation, and economic and social justice. He had been beaten and tortured in the days of boycotts, marches and unrest in the South. Here was a man who had truly suffered (not just attending long meetings): his brother was murdered because of racial misunderstanding.

Perkins restored my hope and faith that people could get along across the many boundaries that divide us. He went beyond reconciliation to development: understanding innately that unless people are empowered to find the means to economic development, they will continue to struggle in many realms. To the old “give a man/teach a man to fish” adage, Perkins said it is the man or woman who owns the pond that will eat fish for a lifetime. Perkins had to drop out of school when he was in third grade but has received five honorary doctorates over the years. I could see he carried the wisdom of a Solomon. I wept as I felt that Perkins, and God, were speaking directly to me. It was a time of healing. As I was leaving the meeting, Perkins and I were able to share a taxi to the airport. I tried to put into words a little of what his presentations had meant to me.

Vera Mae and John Perkins filmed by Jim L. Bowman for the documentary, Journey Toward Forgiveness

Vera Mae and John Perkins filmed by Jim L. Bowman for the documentary, Journey Toward Forgiveness

Fast forward a couple years when Mennonite Media (now morphed into MennoMedia) began working on a string of documentaries, which aired on national TV beginning with Journey Toward Forgiveness. Our production team researched unusual and profound stories of forgiveness and my mind went to John Perkins’s immense suffering and, ultimately, forgiveness. I gave him a call. Would he be willing to participate in our documentary, telling his story? He would and did and actively promoted the documentary for many years, taking along copies of the video to his many speaking engagements.Fast forward a bunch more years to working on Fifty Shades of Grace. (Earlier I wrote about the editing/compiling process here.) Now in his early 80s, I wondered if Perkins was still speaking and writing. Would he let us share his story in Fifty Shades? I emailed the contact person at the John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development (which is now named for his son, Spencer Perkins, who died suddenly in the late ’90s).

A week or two later, I got a phone call out of the blue. We receive numerous phone calls at MennoMedia that I sometimes handle, from people who have heard our radio spots on various topics like mental illness, drug addiction, grief. It took me 10-20 seconds to realize it wasn’t a radio spot caller. It was John Perkins himself. He was responding to my email message. He wanted to make sure I had gotten the message that he was happy to have his story included and would look for ways to promote the book in his speaking and appearances. (I just learned he is speaking in Richmond, Va., May 15, 2013.) He has two recent books of his own out: a memoir, Love is the Final Fight and Leadership Revolution: Developing the Vision & Practice of Freedom & Justice (with Wayne Gordon).JohnPerkins

To read John’s brief but dramatic story in our book, I hope you’ll buy Fifty Shades of Grace. And if you’re in the Harrisonburg, Va., area May 9, bop on over to Park View Mennonite Church fellowship hall between 3:30-6 p.m. on your way home from work or before your dinner to pick up a couple of copies. It’s on 30 percent discount until May 9.

Melodie Davis, compiler, author of eight books, the Another Way newspaper column, and blogger at Finding Harmony Blog.