Koinonia Farm’s vision statement is “love through service to others, joy through generous hospitality, peace through reconciliation.” All of our guest rooms are named after people who have come before us and embodied these ideas. These peacemakers are from all over the world and from all different periods of history. This “great cloud of witnesses” and their stories encourage us to keep pursuing love, joy, and peace in our life and work.
John Lewis was born in 1940 to sharecropper parents in Troy, Alabama. From a young age, he wanted to be a preacher. As a teenager, he learned about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He went to American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, TN to become a minister and was ordained there. He also studied religion and philosophy at Fisk University and received a bachelor’s degree.
Lewis became involved with the Civil Rights Movement as a student in Nashville. He participated in sit-ins and other civil disobedience. In 1961, he became one of the thirteen original Freedom Riders – a group of Black and white people traveling across state lines by bus to challenge the segregated buses. By 1963, Lewis was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He helped organize the March on Washington and was the youngest speaker there that day.
The civil rights movement was based on faith. Many of us who were participants in this movement saw our involvement as an extension of our faith. We saw ourselves doing the work of the Almighty. Segregation and racial discrimination were not in keeping with our faith, so we had to do something.
As the Civil Rights Movement progressed through the 1960s, Lewis continued to be a vital part of demonstrations of all types. He helped register Black voters in Mississippi and Selma. He was on the Edmund Pettis Bridge on “Bloody Sunday” – March 7, 1965 – and was severely beaten. After leaving the chairman of SNCC position, Lewis kept working with the voter registration piece of Civil Rights. He met Lillian Miles and they married in 1968. They had one son, John-Miles Lewis. In 1970, John Lewis became he director of the Voter Education Project.
After many years of working to register voters and in the Civil Rights Movement, Lewis was elected to the House of Representatives in 1986. He represented the 5th Congressional District of Georgia. While in Congress, he did not stop ﬁghting for what he believed in or stop using the tactics of sit-ins, protests, and other nonviolent methods of creating change he learned during the Civil Rights Movement. He boycotted inaugurations, protested wars, held sit-ins to call attention to gun safety measures, and was always outspoken about his own beliefs. Lewis died in 2020 from cancer.
Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can ﬁnally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.
For his outstanding work during the Civil Rights Movement and throughout his life, Lewis received many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He also received many beatings and was arrested more than 45 times, including 5 times as a member of Congress. He was never afraid to put himself at risk to force the change he believed in. His ﬁght for justice and equality moved from buses to the streets of Selma to the voter rolls, to Congress and beyond. But he never stopped ﬁghting for what knew to be right.
Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.
Too many of us still believe our differences deﬁne us instead of the divine spark that runs through all of human creation.