I spent the better part of last week attending the Acton University (AU) conference, the flagship annual event of the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This was my fourth AU since 2004. Many things transpired during the week worthy of note . . . at least in my book.
For those not familiar with the Acton Institute, you can visit their web site at www.acton.org. They are a Christian think tank with the byline toward a free and virtuous society, which is perhaps one of the most succinct eschatological statements I have ever come across. Their slogan is “connecting good intentions with sound economics,” which includes both marketplace considerations as well as public policy concerns. They have initiated an incredible program within the business-as-mission (BAM) space called Poverty Cure (www.povertycure.org) which is worth a long look as they have now partnered with about 160 like-minded organizations (including Eden’s Bridge).
It was great to reconnect with Ray Nothstine, who is an employee of Acton, and Dr. Joy Moore of Duke University, both of whom are fellow Asbury alumni from my era in Wilmore, Kentucky. And those reconnections are at the heart of what AU accomplishes in a most significant way: connections. But I will get back to that.
The University runs from Tuesday to Friday nights and includes twelve seminars (four per day) and evening plenary speakers after what have always been excellent dinners. The event has grown to 800 attendees, more than a quarter from outside the United States, covering seventy five countries and the major traditions – Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Reformed Protestant, and Evangelical – of the global church. The last few years have also incorporated a small interfaith contingency of a handful of Muslim attendees. The last two years AU has been held at the expansive DeVos Convention Center in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids (a beautiful location on the Grand River). I was put up at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. As the previous three times I have attended AU, the food, the accommodations, the teaching sessions, and the people were all beyond expectations.
I need to pause here to give a shout out to a few select people, in particular to acknowledge the heart and hard work of three. Father Robert Sirico (the “face” of Acton) and Kris Mauren founded Acton in 1990. Their brilliant vision and tireless work have created a space in global Christian discussion that is unmatched in the arena of the integration and Christian faith and economics. But their example is fostering other such entities and conferences that are spreading around the world.
The third person that must be recognized is a dynamic and brilliant young woman named Kara Eagle. AU is Kara’s baby, so to speak, though she now has her own flesh and blood child of just six months. Kara is an exemplar of the whole spirit of excellence and servitude that surrounds AU. She, working with every member of Acton’s thirty two other Grand Rapids’ staffers, pulls AU together with unparalleled excellence. I can appreciate what Sirico and Mauren have done in their ministry but, frankly, they struck gold when they hired Kara and her ministry has been of no less significance than theirs. Her cheerfulness, energy, and humility are always present, even amidst the particularly harried moments that inevitably happen in these kinds of events. Kara Eagle defines the good and faithful servant.
Okay, back to connections. I met several new friends during AU, likely the most significant being my roommate Gregory. The Acton staff is diligent in trying to match roommates and Gregory could not have been better suited, at least for me. I hope he feels the same way. We were similar in age, early and mid-life experiences, philosophical leanings (though from very different faith traditions), and innate curiosity about all things Jesus and the outworking of our faith. We are fellow travelers on the path pursuing God’s glory.
Other friends included Cheryl, Tiffany, Trevor, Tomi, Jenni, Roland, Travis, and two Jim’s. Striking up conversations around our ministries and faith journeys extended even to our final parting as we left the airports at our final destinations (except for Travis, an advocate for independent Brazilian coffee growers who was journeying on to Rio de Janeiro). But the most significant contact for me at this year’s AU was Rodolpho (Rudy) Carrasco.
Rudy Carrasco is the U.S. Regional Facilitator at Partners Worldwide (http://www.partnersworldwide.org/), likely one of the most active and effective BAM ministries in the world. He is also very active with the Christian Community Development Association – CCDA (www.ccda.org) which has historically been focused on urban redevelopment but is now expanding into initiatives in domestic rural areas and internationally. I originally “met” Rudy through CCDA’s national conference in Indianapolis last October after being selected to present a seminar on “Small Business Development for Sustainable Funding.” Rudy and I only saw each other in passing in Indy as he was a very, very busy man during the conference.
But imagine my delight when Rudy and I crossed emails just days before AU and I found he was to be a presenter on “Private Charity: A Practitioner’s View.” His was not one of the sessions I had chosen but I was looking forward to the opportunity to meet with Rudy and discuss the convention of the Lausanne BAM Think Tank. I am delighted to report that I will be working on the North American-focused data gathering and reporting agenda for the Think Tank. Stay tuned!
To close I would suggest that anyone interested in the integration of their faith and economic issues, especially marketplace vocation and / or ministry, should check out the Acton web site and seriously consider attending Acton University next summer. The seminars are diverse and insightful, the food and facilities are wonderful, and the people are intentional about advancing the Kingdom of God through marketplace and government relationships. Shalom.