President Collins Remembers Representative John Lewis

I was eight years old the first time I saw a picture of John Lewis on my family’s black-and-white television. I didn’t really understand what I was watching, but it was frightening and sad to watch such violence on the evening news. Forty-five years later, I shook the hand of John Lewis on the historic East Point campus of Point University, then called Atlanta Christian College.

In late 2008, while working on raising needed funds for the College, I first met with a staff member of Representative Lewis in his Atlanta office. The following year, I sat in John Lewis’s office in Washington, D.C., waiting to have a meeting with him. I remember feeling overwhelmed as I looked at various photos and plaques on his office walls. I was both excited and nervous to meet the man I had read so much about. However, that day the Congressman’s schedule shifted, and I was unable to meet with him.

Finally, in 2010, I extended an invitation for Representative Lewis to take a tour of our historic campus, and I requested that I interview him so that our campus community could hear his incredible stories. When Lewis arrived on campus, I met him in the parking lot. We walked our campus and discussed our mission. Our first 30 minutes he asked me questions about the College. He was familiar with our institution, but he wanted to learn more. I was struck by his sincerity and kindness, and by the time we sat down in front of the students, faculty and staff that day, he had put me at ease.

I don’t know how many questions I asked in that interview, but I doubt any of my questions were as profound as his answers and the stories that Lewis recounted. At one point, in the middle of one of his memories of the beatings he took, I began to tear up a little. I had trouble getting words to come out of my mouth. Lewis looked at me with kind eyes and put his hand on my arm to reassure me.

I only can find one picture from that day. It was published in an article in the summer issue of the College magazine. The picture shows me pointing to something, likely giving an explanation of some plan or vision. Lewis is intently looking and listening. I knew I was standing with one whose vision was much greater than mine, yet his humility and respect for me was palpable.

About a year later, I briefly visited with the Congressman in an unplanned moment at Chick-fil-A on Camp Creek Parkway. This time, we laughed together. I won’t embarrass myself by recalling what we laughed about. You will have to ask me if you want to hear that story!

Without question, John Lewis was a man of faith. His words, his eyes, and his life demonstrated that he knew our Father. As I read these two verses in 2 Peter, Chapter 2, I couldn’t help but reflect on Lewis’s life.

“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” 1 Peter 2:15-16 (ESV)

John Lewis lived out this passage. His legacy must be remembered. His determination to do what was right, even if it meant persecution and suffering, is remarkable. No doubt God strengthened this humble yet tenacious leader many times in his life as he fought for human dignity and the rights of all people, especially those of color, who did not experience the same privileges as white Americans.

Peter gives us both hope and a challenge in these two verses. We are free in Christ to live and to serve others because of the grace and love of Jesus. But we cannot, must not, use our freedom to cover up evil. If we are to live as servants of God, we must treat all of God’s children with dignity and respect. Once and for all, we need to get the lingering injustices resolved in our country. It is our responsibility as Christ followers to lead the way.

Representative Lewis is honored as a hero of the civil rights movement. He deserves that honor and our respect.

As people of God, we must honor the King of Kings and Lord of Lords by living lives that align with God’s will. Peter says we do the will of God when we do good. It’s time for more than words. It’s time to act with righteousness.