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Tales of Adventure Blog

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.

 

Filtering by Tag: missional enterprise

The Matryoshka Haus: A Community of Innovation

Matthew Overton

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About a year ago I was made aware of a group of folks working on solving social problems together as a human network. The place was called Matryoshka. If you don't know what a Matryoshka is, its a Russian nesting doll. On two different legs of my trip to the U.K. I was able to meet with folks from Matryoshka to better understand who they are and what they are doing. Let's start with the basics.

Matryoshka is a community that began with the work of a woman named Shannon Hopkins. Creatively working in the U.K. she created a pub initiative that helped fight human trafficking and a creative arts project called, "Doxology". She learned she had a knack for this kind of social impact work and that she was adept at gathering others who were interested in this kind of work as well. Overt time a community began to develop of people who were skilled at collaboratively working on engaging social problems in area.

Today, Matryoshka is housed in its own space in the Canary wharf area of London. They have a co-working space that includes folks inside and outside Matryoshka's direct network. Many of these folks are engaged with Christian faith, but others are not. That characteristic is not considered a necessity to solving pressing issues. What is clear to me is that their faith does inform both the work that they do and the way that they gather in intentional community. Matryoshka uses this co-working model to sustain part of its operations, but the majority of their sustainability comes from what they produce.

Matryoshka has begun to develop tools to help non-profits create solutions to intractable social problems and to figure out how to better measure the impact of their work. They sell these tools to organizations throughout the U.K. and the U.S. as well.

There are a number of organizations that are designing tools to help faith based organizations ideate and innovate, but what makes Matryoshka unique is that the people that design their tools are people who are on the ground and have experience practicing social innovation. They are actually engaged in the work on the ground.

Many folks who are beginning to design tools in the U.S. have not themselves actually built any social change organizations or enterprises. It is far more likely that they are able to design tools because they have the time to do so (afforded by their institution) and access to larger institutional funding. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I often wish that practitioners of innovation were the ones designing tools rather than exclusively research institutions or large ministry companies. My own sense is that if practitioners were at least more heavily involved in the design process and testing process that significantly different tools and ideation processes might be developed.

My hope is that research institutions will begin to creatively partner with those that are doing the innovation work to generate ideas and gatherings that might help other individuals do similar kinds of work more effectively. Social innovators who are on the ground take a ton of risk and invest loads of blood, sweat, and tears in their work and they should have a seat at the table to share their expertise when they can. They not only have a clearer sense of what is possible, but also are the embodiement of the passion and ethos that is required to make this kind of work happen. That spirit, or elan, is not something that is reproducible and I am not sure that it is possible to do this kind of work without it. Last, its worth noting that in Matryoshka's early days it was Christian institutions that pulled funding away from their trafficking initiative because it overemphasized social justice. It is important to understand that many Christian practitioners of social innovation are seeking to avoid the church and have often been burned by it. One of the reasons that I think involving and funding practitioners matters is that generally speaking Christian companies and learning institutions are generally not very good at finding, reaching, and involving these sorts of outsiders.

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For Youth Ministry Innovators, the hope is that we can begin to utilize some of the tools that Matryoshka has designed as we work with churches and youth ministries that are seeking to impact their localized communities through the work of their churches. I also hope we can be a helpful conversation partner with Matryoshka to help them reflect theologically on the work that they are doing.

Regardless of what happens, they are doing amazing Kingdom work.  They work collaboratively on problems that each of them faces, they have common gatherings and meals together, and they have a well developed sense of their values:

-They believe that social innovation is a tangible expression of God's Kingdom.

-All people are designed to do good work.

-Hospitality is critical and their community is shaped by the radical welcome of God in Christ.

-Christian Social Innovation is a particular kind of innovation that is guided by the life and work of Jesus.

-The process of innovation involves critical discernment, imagintion, creation, and inspiring future expressions of Kingdom work in others.

Matryoshka is a fabulous organization and one of the most unique expressions of the gospel that I have ever seen. We hope to continue to partner with them in some way moving forward.

 

Sabbatical 2018

Matthew Overton

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I haven't written in a while because I have been on a sabbatical around the U.S. and in the U.K. Mainly I am relaxing with family and writing here and there as well as exploring new places and old places that feel like home. But, part of what I have also been doing is meeting with some folks from different institutions who are interested in Christian Social Enterprise and the work that I have been doing with my team in Washington.

Over the coming weeks I plan on writing a number of posts about those conversations and some growing thoughts that I have been having. Below I am going to list the folks that I am meeting with and lay out some of what I plan on posting about in relation to them. There will also be a couple of guest posts that I have requested.

1. Dave Odom- Dave is the director of the Duke's Faith and Leadership initiatives at Duke University. That initiative is funded by the Lilly Endowment. Dave's main job, as I understand it, is to help improve institutional leadership of every kind in the North American church. He is really good at listening and grabbing ahold of what is at work in new developments in the American church.

2. Abigail Visco Rusert- Abigail is the Director for the Institute for Youth Ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary. She is heavily involved with new youth ministry projects at the seminary.

3. Jonny Baker- Jonny was/is a big figure in the Emerging Church movement in the U.K. He is currently directing the training program for the Church Missionary Society that is training pioneering leaders in the U.K. I am rarely excited to meet with someone. I started reading Jonny's blogs and looking at his stuff related to Proost back in 2002 and am always impressed with his work.

4. Greg Jones- Greg is kind of leadership guru. He has lead Duke Divinity and most recently was the Executive Vice President and Provost of Baylor University. He is helping to coach me in how to build this crazy thing that I have started.

5. Steve Chalke- Steve is the head of one of the largest non-profits (Oasis) in the United Kingdom. He is an amazing speaker and author. I think he is the Rob Bell of the U.K. (love it or hate it is up to you) and many American Christians have no idea who he is. I want to explore with him how he has kept so many missional ministries connected to a local church.

6. Church of Scotland- I hope to meet with some folks from the "Go For It" initiative about their work. I love the Church of Scotland having worked in Scotland doing missionary work for a brief time. I would love to help them with unleashing the idea of social enterprise in the Church of Scotland.

7. Homeboy Industries- This opportunity hasn't been set up yet, but I am trying to meet up with someone from their business end of operations to understand how they have strung together their organization. It would be amazing to get a chance to speak with them. I also have never been to Homeboy despite having Father Boyle come and speak at our church. I am hoping to get a feel not just for the business side of things, but for the atmosphere of the place. We will see!

8. Matryoshka Haus- I don't even know how to describe this community except to say that it is a co-working space in that sustains itself by designing tools for non-profits to better measure the impact of their ministries. They are also really good with design thinking in the startup process. I am hopeful that I can help them in some small way to think theologically (as a practitioner) about how they design their tools.

 

Hopefully, something in this mix interests you! It's been exciting so far. I almost (ALMOST) can't wait to get back to work!

Stripping the Ship: Calling A vs. Calling B

Matthew Overton

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Sometime ago I sat with a colleague who was concerned that as we build a different model of our youth ministry that we were neglecting too much of our existing ministry. We discussed that we were doing a bit less communication and that things were more rushed in general. To be honest, he was right.

In order to build a jobs based youth ministry on the side of our standard youth ministry we had been starving our existing ministry a bit. I told him he was right and that we were taking a calculated risk in order to reach out to a section of the community that we would never otherwise reach.  I appreciated my friend's concern for both our jobs and for my longevity (he was partly worried that I might burn out).

The thing I learned about innovation and change a few years back is that it is impossible to implement any change without sacrificing something. Usually one of the difficulties is that part of what you will have to sacrifice is part of your current picture of success. In order to change anything you are going to have to do a portion of what you currently do well...a little less well. I have come to believe that if we can't/won't take that risk, than any kind of innovation is impossible.

I have begun to refer to this process as "Stripping the Ship". If you have tracked this blog at all you will find that I tend to use nautical imagery to describe the journey I am on and the model I am pursuing. Stripping the ship refers to the intentional process of stripping down your existing model of ministry to its barest components that you regard as essential in order to free up as much capacity as possible to explore your secondary and nascent idea or model.

Sailors throughout history, for various reasons, have had to toss things overboard in order to lighten their load. The might need speed, there could be an emergency on board, or the conditions of the see and the conditions of their boat and its load do not mach well. Generally these objects overboard are referred to as flotsam, jetsam, and lagan. People do this same sort of thingall the time when they move from a larger home into a smaller home. They go through the process of sorting and tossing. There is almost always pain, grief, and satisfaction in this process. And part of this process is really helpful because it helps us define what is really important in our ministries and lives. Some things we don't get rid of entirely, we just get more efficient at them. These days I often find that I have found small ways and spaces of time to get things done that used to take me twice as long.

Stripping the ship often feels scary. You often wonder when you are going to throw some sacred object overboard that is the final straw for someone. You wonder if you are really just sinking your ship rather than stripping it down to make it lighter and faster. What ultimately makes the process worthwhile is if the ministry that you accomplish as a result seems more life giving and honoring to the Kingdom of God than what you were doing before. The difficulty though is that you won't know that until you actually test it all out for a substantial amount of time.  That is always scary.

As I have worked through this process I am learning a few simple things that I have helped me think and pray my way through this process.

1. Ask Lots of Questions and Invite Review- Try to ask your co-workers, leaders, personnel team, parents, students, etc. etc. periodic questions about whether or not they think you are still doing a good job at your primary calling/function. Their voice matters. You don't have to ask it that directly. There are loads of questions that you might ask to gauge how things are going.

2. Be Patient- You may not have had enough time to build up the rapport that you need to take the risk you want to take. Ask  yourself: "How much leadership capital do I have?" You might estimate internally or with others how many months you can sail like this before you need to restock the ship in some way.

3. Be Suspicious...of yourself- Remember that you might not be able to be honest with yourself about how things are going because you could have become so attached to the new ministry idea that you are pursuing.

4. Take an Emotional Review- Pay attention to your emotional sense of how you are doing. As much as you know that taking this risk will be scary, you should pay attention to when you feel like you are cheating calling A to serve calling B. I often use the Ignatian Examen as a way to figure out what the Spirit is telling me about how I am feeling. It is not always good to sacrifice your current picture of success to get to a new one. We should not idolize innovation or risk.

5. Catalogue Your Stories- As you go about your new ministry make mental note of every time that you encounter the fruit off this new way of doing things. Chances are that you are going to need that story to help other see what is happening. They may want to push or pull you back to the old way of doing things. I often tell a story of one of our students in our programs that we have built and ask them whether we should be pouring more resources into those outsider kids or into our church kids? I don't do that smugly (that would be unwise). I invite them into the tension that I feel every day. I am genuinely asking, "Jesus, who do you want me to minister to?" Often, they don't fully emotionally agree, but it always makes them stop and think about our priorities as a body. It also has a funny way of inviting them on the adventure when you do it right.

Blessings on your risks and innovations.

May you carefully strip your ship, so that in a streamline and sleek state, God might enable you to sail into new oceans, dangers, and Kingdom possibilities! Pray for wisdom often and be careful you don't throw anything overboard that is essential to the gospel or to your ability to stay afloat!

How do I Fund My Philanthropic/Social Enterprise Idea?

Matthew Overton

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Fairly frequently these days, people from different places will reach out to me as they are trying to launch their local social enterprise or missional idea. Some people want to make profit as a for profit. Some people are simply launching a charity. Others want to generate net profit, but run as a non profit simply by directing their profits back into the mission of the overall organization. What many of them struggle with is trying to raise the initial funds to get started.

When I began my landscaping company and my non profit I had no idea where the money would come from. I didn't even know how much money I would need. What I did know was that our mission was worth doing and that I was called to do this work. I have learned a lot in the last few years on how to get up and running. Over the past 3 years I have raised about 125k in funding for my organization and I have done that while working a full time job and doing my enterprise on the side.Here is how you might get started.

1.) Your Personal Funds- I know you don't have any, but bear with me. When I started my own enterprise I had to put up about 5k of my own funds. Later I invested much more than that. Your funds matter because unless you are willing to risk for this enterprise you are starting you may not have an idea that is worth pursuing in earnest. Second, when you risk, others believe that their risk might be worth while. You cannot expect others to sacrifice what they have earned if you are not willing to do so yourself. Watch it here though! You do not want to be the only one risking for your idea and if you have means you do not want to fund your idea to the point that it becomes to reliant upon you or your funding stream. That kind of dependency can lead your organization and mission to fold if you step out of the frame or if your personal funding picture should change in some significant way.

2.) Friend Funds- No matter what you do, you are probably going to need to raise funds from those around you. They might be friends or they might be folks that come out of the woodwork as they hear about your ideas. They might also be folks on your board or team that you have assembled. I have been struck at how often folks have emerged with dollars when they have heard about what we are doing. I have also had to learn to make a pitch and ask. This has been a difficult task for me as I don't love talking about money and cannot stand asking for it, but if the mission is good, I will do what I have to in order to forward it. Again, this is a great test for the quality of your idea. If folks aren't interested in funding it then it might not have what it takes to move forward.

3. Grants- You will definitely have to mine local foundation and granting agencies. Just do some Google research and talk, talk, talk to folks about what you are up to. There are loads of sources of funding that your network of folks knows about that you don't. For profits can sometimes get loans from foundations or important advice from them about funding. They can also connect you with people who know the industry that you are about to launch into. Don't underestimate the value of such advice and connection points!!!! Just don't expect those foundations to perpetually fund your dream. They often want to see if you have a plan and have what it takes to hang around for a few years on your own. Their funding will only last a couple of years, so they want to know that you can sustain yourself without their perpetual help.

4. Awards-  Along the way I have won three awards for our work with Mowtown and the Forge. Periodically you just come across these things. Some of the awards are small (1-3k), but some might be larger (5-20k). I also won these awards as a for profit.  I had to pay taxes on those awards, but it was still very much worth it.  They are a nice boost to your bottom line and another sign that you might be headed in the right direction.

5. Denominational SourcesI work in the church world, so I have some connections through institutional networks. I found funding though my local region as well as through a national source that is seeking to launch new ministries around the nation. Sometimes these gifts will require various forms of reporting and accountability that might seem bureaucratic, but there is no source of revenue that has no accountability or strings attached to it.

6. Private Investment- Admittedly, this is the area that I know the least about. My enterprise was built with my own money and a few awards. I was able to do this because my particular industry (lawn care and landscaping) has a fairly low barrier to entry. But, if your idea is larger or more expensive to get off the ground you might need to take out a loan or seek out investors who are going to want return on their cash investment. It's possible that they may take a lower rate of return than is normal based on the fact that your project is socially engaged.

All I can say is that this is going to be a lot of work.  Don't expect anyone to make this thing happen for you. It's going to take some sweat to make this work! I mean that in terms of sweat of your brow as well as anxious sweating it out as you figure out how to fund the next turn in the road. Blessings as you dream and launch!

Windshield Conversations...

Matthew Overton

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I have written several posts about how one of the biggest surprises about how we have tried to do youth ministry and social enterprise at my church (other than how hard it is!) is the impact I think it is having on adults. I have felt that doing a mentoring and business based model of youth ministry has drawn out the gifts of numerous adults in my church who probably would not have had anything to do with youth ministry previously. This sense has been affirmed over the last few weeks in particular.

A few weeks back I was in a parking lot in my truck when one of my mentors called. They wanted to clarify a few things about their student and also check in on their paperwork status. While I was trying to make it into my next appointment I found myself getting the chance to do what I enjoy most: Coaching someone in how to do ministry with teenagers. But, really I was coaching them in how to do ministry with their fellow human being. We talked about listening well and about the unique personality of their particular assigned student. We talked about what to do if any particular crisis issue came up and we revisited our abuse prevention protocols. I also assured them that I was just a phone call away.

The best part about the conversation was that this adult had no business doing ministry with teenagers, and I don't mean because of relative age. I have always used older adults more than younger ones in youth ministry. Age is somewhat irrelevant. What I mean is that this particular adult, while a WONDERFUL human being, just doesn't strike you as somebody you would expect to be hanging out with a teenager. They would be one of the last sort of folks I might recruit for a number of the normal elements that make up a youth ministry. This of course is probably more of an indictment of youth ministry than it is a characterization of the individual. The fact that our models couldn't accommodate the gifts and talents of this individual is egregiously bad. When it comes to youth ministry the hand has often been saying to the foot, "I don't need you."

And then this experience with this one adult seemed to repeat itself another three times in the next week.

What had happened in part was that in the 4th year of our program we doubled in size. We now have 23 students in the program and that has meant pulling from a wider crop of adults from our church and beyond for the first time. During the first three years we mostly had adults that had a good deal of experience with teens from our ministry community. They entered the program with a certain sense of confidence and veterancy in what they were doing. But, this year is requiring more encouragement, coaching, and listening. And it's a ton of fun. In many ways, I feel like I am doing exactly what I ought to be doing most of the time.

When we built the initial landscaping company, one of the things we talked about was "windshield time". We meant that while we were driving around we wanted to take advantage of conversations that would happen along the road with students. But, as it turns out adults need windshield time too. They want to help students. They want to do ministry. But, they just need somebody as a kind of reflective backstop. It's funny at times because I am coaching people who are nearly twice my age. In a lot of ways their nervousness reminds me of my experiences of doing hospital chaplaincy in my early 20's. I remember vividly feeling like I didn't know what to say, what to do, or whether I was going to really screw somebody up through ignorance and the sugary additive of good intentions. It's not a fun feeling, but it is a necessary stage of ministry.

This is what my adult mentors are learning.

1. Most of life's problems are not solvable by human beings. They are knots that are just too hard to untangle. This is partially why relationship with God is so powerful. God does the work we cannot. And while that can make us feel futile at times as servants of our neighbors it's also kind of a relief to know that we don't have to solve problems.

2. Ministry and service to one's neighbor always involve getting involved in someone's mess. When you really engage ministry you find out how most of our forms of service are actually designed to keep us distant from the recipient. We serve at arm's length in most contexts. it's safer that way. Real face to face ministry in which you actually have to just listen and walk with somebody through their crap is often messy. You are invited into the story of a neighbor and that is inherently risky. It might cost you some sleep, some money, time, and probably part of your heart.

3. You don't know your neighbor or their experience until you know them. When you engage ministry you quickly find that you don't have clue about other people's experiences. Most of what we live on in life are assumptions about others from a safe distance. Ministry has a way of disrupting our stereotypes and assumptions about people from the outside because it invites you into the inside of their lives. You end up in conversations, homes, and at tables that teach us just how ignorant we are. It's embarrassing and awkward, but it's good work and it is never finished. You are never done learning about the folks to which you minister.

4. Good listening is the best skill you have. People often get frustrated with how church folk and others will offer all kinds of platitudes to people in crisis ("God doesn't give you more than you can handle."). Often they do this because platitudes actually kind of work...when you keep your distance from your neighbor. They make you feel that you have helped your neighbor when in fact they mostly have just reinforced your distance from them. It's only actual ministry that exposes them for what they are: manure. Actual ministry, wading into the life of my neighbor reveals that reflective listening is the best, and often the only, balm we have. Good listening and good questions are the first tool in a pretty limited actual ministry tool bag.

In any event, these conversations have been fun. It's nice to be doing what you are supposed to be doing. It's nice to invite others into the holy mess that God invited me into some years ago.

Glimpses of Glory #1

Matthew Overton

For the record.  Our truck is not nearly as shiny as this one.

For the record.  Our truck is not nearly as shiny as this one.

What can a dump truck, snow, and bricks teach us about Christian ministry? Something maybe.

Some weeks ago I brought my girls with me to complete a large landscaping job in which we were building a stone retaining wall.  The job was finished and there were about 150 extra bricks that needed to be loaded into a large dump truck and hauled back to Home Depot. When my girls and I got to the top of the ridge in our neigborhood we found that while it had not snowed at our house, it had snowed a couple of inches up there! It was also a good deal colder. As a good Dad, I of course had not anticipated this and brought no work gloves for my girls, 5 and 8 or for me.

Over the next couple of hours I patiently helped them help me load each brick onto pallets in the truck. I stood up on the back end looking down at them as they handed up each brick covered in snow. I felt badly looking at their pink little hands, but I also knew that this was a really good character building experience for them. At one point a couple of older boys bicycled by with gloves on. My oldest could hear them complaining about how cold it was and that they needed to stop and warm up. At one point she looked up and said, "You know at school, the boys always talk about girls being 'fancy'. Sometimes I think boys can by pretty 'fancy' too." I couldn't help but laugh. While my girls were cold, they were learning the borders and testing the margins of their mental and physical toughness through work. All children need to do this. We talked about sometimes needing to focus on the task at hand when things get difficult, that when things get difficult you sometimes have to just keep moving forward until the job is done. I believe these things. But, it was their in their looking up during and after the work that I was most struck.

One of the hopes in pursuing Kingdom work (and specifically youth work) through the vehicle of social enterprise is that as we pursue it we think reflectively about the theology that does or does not undergird what we are doing. In the past I have tried to write on theological frameworks for Christian Social Enterprise and the other day I ran into one of these ideas while in church. There was a connection point between the experience with that dump truck and what I was hearing.

At least part of what we are doing in youth ministry through social enterprise is giving students glimpses of glory.

     In his lecture/sermon on "The Weight of Glory", C.S. Lewis draws an analogy to children and parent while he is trying to define glory as "fame or good report". Lewis is careful to say that glory, on the human side at least, is actually our need for the recognition of God. What we often pursue is fame or good report from our fellow human beings as some kind of substitute for this divine embrace. But, his point is that we are wired to seek recognition from God. A kind of divine approval and blessing.

     All of us long to hear from some final authority the words that we see in Matthew 25, "Well done good and faithful servant." In Matthew 3 we also find that the Son of God, after being baptized receives praise from on high. "And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." Again in Matthew 17 we see in the Transfiguration that the Father again is well pleased with the Son.  The point of all this, and its one that I think I agree with, is that as human beings we long to receive the praise of God. Shoot, apparently even God needs the praise of God! We are in some sense wired for it. But, the trick is that in order for us to believe in that God who delights in us and hope for its future day of fullness, we need to experiences glimpses of glory here and now. That is to say that it is often human beings, our neighbors and perhaps most importantly our parents, who provide that foretaste as we live this side of God's Kingdom. We need somebody, sometimes anybody to tell us, "Well done, I am proud of you!"

     Lewis says that in this way we are rather like children. Anyone that has children can verify that there is nothing they long for more than to earn (honest and genuine!) praise from their parents. They long to hear that they have worked hard and done well.  This is what I ran into with my own girls.  At several stages of the work, while they hardly complained, they did seek out my approval. They clearly wanted to know that they were doing a good job at the task at hand. This dynamic continued after the fact as well. Tucking one of them in at night I told them that I was proud that they had worked so hard and toughed it out.  They wanted to hear what every human being wants to hear from some higher authority, "Well done you hard worker! You are doing great! Keep at it! I am proud of you! I often try to offer them this praise apart from the tasks they perform, but I also want them to be able to honestly assess when they have worked hard and done well. And all of this of course is exactly what Lewis is driving at. We are all looking up in some sense. I think Lewis is exactly right about this impulse to receive glory from the one who made us and it is an important theological pillar that supports all the intergenerational ministry and youth ministry that my church is working on. We are engaged in Christian Social Enterprise through mentoring because it gives us an opportunity to add an adult, or perhaps the first adult, to the lives of local teenagers that need to catch a glimpse of glory.

    Part of what we do when we do ministry is we provide glimpses or foretastes, or inivitations to glory, for those that we work with. We have an opportunity to help people believe and hope that somebody out there is interested in them precisely where they are. One of the reasons that we have created a program around intergenerational mentoring is because we believe that our mentors have much more to offer our students than professional experience. They have much more to offer than years of wisdom. Part of what they have to offer is a glimpse of the glory of God that we all long to hear and know in fullness one day. The voice that says to us, "Well done child! I am proud of you! How did you walk that road!?" In short, what we are providing is foretastes of glory, hints of divine love and approval. We are offering human beings opportunities to be caught in the tonal warmth and magnetic light of God's voice and gaze.

At the end of the day, the world is full of people with technical skills. It is full of people with soft skills. It does not have enough people with the ability to offer these divine glimpses.

My hope is that our program can continue to offer that.