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Speakers - Plenary and Devotional

Plenary Speakers

Brian Fikkert

Dr. Brian Fikkert is the Founder and Executive Director of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College, where he also serves as a Professor of Economics and Community Development. Brian received a Ph.D. in Economics with highest honors from Yale University and a B.A. in Mathematics from Dordt College.  Specializing in Economic Development and International Economics, Brian has numerous academic and popular publications and is a co-author of the book, When Helping Hurts:  How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself.  Prior to coming to Covenant College, he was a professor at the University of Maryland and a research fellow at the Center for Institutional Reform and the Informal Sector.

Helping Without Hurting in Short Term Missions, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, Moody Press, October 2013

Rob and Tara Cahill

Rob and Tara Cahill, directors of Community Cloud Forest Conservation, work together with Q'eqchi' Maya families of the mountains of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala to conserve and restore natural forests and to improve the ecological health of the human environment in villages bordering forests. They teach conservation, reforestation, environmental education, agro-ecology, and sustainable living practices through an integrated set of programs. Local people learn to confront the serious problems that keep them from enjoying the fullness of life such as chronic malnutrition, illiteracy, poverty, exploding population, degraded disappearing forests, and drying springs, while ameliorating the global environmental crises of habitat and biodiversity loss, soil degradation, and changes to climate and water cycles. They curb human encroachment on the forests by planting forest gardens, which integrate native trees and fruit trees with basic grains and traditional vegetable crops to provide food security, good nutrition, and healthy habitat. Rob and Tara work to inspire and empower the most marginalized people: rural, indigenous young women and children. Their Conservation, Agroecology and Sustainable Living Leadership Training Program (CALT) provides access to education and vocation for young Q'eqchi' women from remote mountain villages, preparing them as community leaders to teach conservation, agroecology and sustainable living practices in their home communities. Their environmental education programs in village schools Connecting Kids through Birds (in cooperation with Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the US Fish and Wildlife Service Neotropical Migratory Bird Act) and Artful Eyes of Appreciation on the Earth inspire village children to explore, appreciate, understand and care for nature.
Rob and Tara appreciate the collective experience of working ecumenically with Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies, Mennonite Central Committee, Heifer International of Guatemala, Proeval Raxmu, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, US Fish and Wildlife Service Neotropical Migratory Bird Act, and Centro Dominico Ak Kutan. Connecting global community, they host international environmental education, in research, natural history and sustainable development for high school, college and university students from across the US and Canada.
Rob studied at Westmont College, Calvin College, and Au Sable Institute, earning his BA in History from University of Wisconsin-Madison and his Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. Tara earned her BA in Biology and Secondary Education from Calvin College, her Naturalist Certification from Au Sable Institute, and MS in Land Resources from University of Wisconsin-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

Minas Hiruy

Dr. Hiruy, who was born in Ethiopia  in 1950, received a bachelor’s degree in business from Sterling College, Kansas, a Master of Public Administration in City Management from the University of Kansas , a Master of Higher Education from Kent State University and the  Ph.D. in Public Administration and Policy Studies from Kent State University. Dr. Hiruy has published numerous articles. Returning to his home country after 18 years of life in the US, he has founded many organizations, established schools, vocational institutes and care and rescue missions. His most recent contribution was Hope University College, the first public benefit degree granting institution in Ethiopia. He has also used his knowledge to influence policy directions in his country in a number of areas.  He serves in various boards. In his work he has wedded his faith in Jesus Christ with numerous acts of compassion. He invests a substantial part of his time in evangelism and has been instrumental in the planting of no less than 7,000 churches in less than a decade. SEED, an American award society, saluted Dr. Hiruy for his unselfish devotion and exemplary community service and his alma mater, Sterling College, awarded him the Alumni Distinguished Service Award of 2003.  He is married and has two boys and two girls.

Tarek Abuata

Tarek Abuata grew up in Bethlehem, Palestine, and moved to the United States along with his family at the age of 12, two years after the 1987 Palestinian uprising. After receiving his J.D. with a focus in international law from the University of Texas Law School in 2002, he spent a year in Palestine working with the Negotiations Support Unit, a group of advisers to the Palestinian Negotiations. Over the past 10 years, Tarek has been involved in various nonviolence workshops, including trainings led by Dr. Bernard La Fayette, one of the leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States. In addition to his speaking and nonviolence trainings, Tarek serves as the Palestine Coordinator for the Christian Peacemakers Team.


Devotional Speakers

Rev. Aminah Bradford has served as a chaplain at Calvin College for the past six years, a job she shares with her husband Rev. Nate Bradford.  
Her passions for and experience in spiritual formation, theology, christian hospitality, intentional homemaking,  and neighborhood engagement all root in a deep longing for the Kingdom of God.  She first encountered the practices of community development in collie while working Chicago's Lawndale community.  From there she went on to co-found The Micah Project, a non-profitserving ex-street children in Tegucigalpa, and later directed the service-learning and missions program at Houston Baptist University.  Whether through witnessing the painfully slow and powerful conversion of her previously Muslim father, or by living in a Vancouver neighborhood  that was visibly changed because of a radically welcoming local church, Aminah's imagination has been captivated by the ancient, living God who faithfully calls his people to love God and love neighbor.  And if all of this sounds to too fancy, she's mostly content to hold to the task of keeping her eight hens and two toddlers alive and well.

Michelle Loyd-Paige joined the faculty of Calvin in 1985, four years after she graduated from Calvin with a BA, majoring in Sociology. Before accepting the dean’s position in 2006, Michelle was (and still is) a tenured member of the department of sociology and social work at Calvin College. In 2013 she became the college’s first Executive Associate to the President for Diversity and Inclusion. She is an anti-racism and racial sobriety facilitator. Michelle’s areas of research interests include the lives and ministries of African American clergywomen and the language and efforts of racial reconciliation within the church and the Christian academy. Michelle is also an ordained minister and serves in several leadership capacities in her home church. She describes herself as a transformational leader within the church and the academy. She eats like a vegan and enjoys spending recreational time with family and friends as a way to bring balance to her demanding work.

JoAnn Flett is a Lecturer in Management and Program Director of the MBA in Economic Development at Eastern University.  She teaches courses in Business Ethics, Social Entrepreneurship, and Managerial Accounting.
A native of Trinidad and Tobago, Ms. Flett has over 20 years of accounting and finance experience in industries that include: education, government, retirement communities, and commercial real estate. She has held senior level accounting and management positions for several organizations including: Delaware County Community College, Dunwoody Village, Pura Vida Coffee, Agent General for Queensland (London, U.K.), Bettinger Mifflin Rich C.P.A. Group, and Spieker Properties. JoAnn’s research interest is to examine the role of business in society. She is interested in business as a dominant social institution of influence and power in our world. Therefore, business that combines social mission and market activities to bring about societal change for ‘people at the base of the pyramid’ (BoP) is one form of business to explore. The fact that the BoP population is mostly to be found in developing countries only resonates with her Caribbean identity. Ms. Flett is currently board chair of Capital for Good, an organization whose goal is to fund social entrepreneurship in the developing world.