On Serving the Unquantifiable: Interview with Ken Wytsma
Our Social Media Intern, Vanessa Ashley, recently interviewed Board Member Ken Wytsma. We’d love to share some of his thoughts on service, education, and the intersection of faith and justice.
What inspired you to get involved with the SOLD project?
I have four daughters, and so for me the issue of gender violence and exploitation hits home that way. It’s not a hard stretch to empathize into that particular subset of justice issues. For quite a long time that has been a specific thing that’s been on my heart- how to be a part of something that goes deeper in regards to helping young vulnerable girls. Then just knowing Rachel relationally and how SOLD is very specifically focused in an area and doing good work in its own particular niche; it just brought it all together.
And how did you meet Rachel?
Through mutual friends, like Tony Campolo. The justice circles are small.
Outside of being a SOLD Board Member, you teach philosophy and justice at Kilns College, where you serve as President. Could you speak a little more about what that entails?
Kilns College is unique grad school educational start up. We’re really trying to commit this from the roots standpoint. A lot of times people will give to churches because it’s their church, they tithe. They’ll give to missions because they can see the need, the urgency. But we’re always lamenting how the system is broken or how people are unwise with what they do. Education is really the roots to where it all begins, so we’re trying to tackle it from that level. It’s also a very classical approach to education: more holistic, more organic, flourishing the soul, trying to change people, give them a vision for their future, expose them to different voices. It’s less vocation driven than most educational endeavors that people would normally do. So this one is really cool for a lot of people that feel a calling to go deeper and chase some meaning. We provide that through a graduate program in Social Justice, and then next year we’re starting a grad program in Innovation and Leadership, and two years after, a program in Theology and Culture. That will be what Kilns is.
We also just launched a distance program and added people from all around the country, Canada, and Hong Kong, so they will be doing the grad program in Justice via distance.
What is something you’re looking forward to in the second half of this year, with the SOLD Project?
I’m excited for the vision and funders trip in January. I’m excited to go back and bring some people that I know with me. I think that boots on the ground, first person experience allows you to empathize or even just get the context of an issue so much greater than reading about it or hearing about it casually. Trips are transformative. I’m also excited for Rachel Goble to come guest lecture for the Kilns College grad cohort in October, so it’ll be fun to introduce her to that community and see comes of that.
And your January trip will be what number Thailand trip for you?
It’s my 2nd time.
What about something you’re looking forward to in your own life?
Getting ready for my second book that comes out in January. I’m excited about this book project and just to see how God will use that.
The title is called The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith. And it’s on the spiritual life.
What was your inspiration for writing it?
It’s kind of been my journey. It’s not autobiographical in the sense that I’m telling it like my story, but it’s almost my philosophical journey. These are the things I’ve wrestled with, what I’ve learned, the frustrations I’ve had and why I think they’re nonsensical. The authors, books, and key figures in history that have helped me see it a different way. Twenty years of my thinking and my spiritual journey wrapped up into a non-fiction book.
You also act as a consultant and creative advisor to nonprofits. Is there something particular that draws you to helping nonprofits?
Nonprofits are aimed at something that is not going to quantifiable in terms of money, or profit margin, or output. It’s social change, life change, change in culture, addressing an issue. I’m drawn to that because that’s where I live. It tends to be my peer group and the circles I run in. But there are a lot of things the for-profit world knows very well, like how to tell a good story, how to have a brand with clarity, how to distinguish yourself from other entities, things like that. I’m intuitive so my mind works that way- how to think about a business. I find myself doing a lot of coaching and consulting. I ran for two years as the Director of Creative Office for World Leaf, and it was a lot of fun. I spend a lot of time thinking about culture, culture shifts, globalization changes, what that does for the nonprofit sector, and what it means for communication and education.
And final question, what is an interesting fact some people might not know about you?
The most distinct thing about me these days is my G.I. tract. I went to Haiti and just got really sick, and it was a domino effect, lots of food allergies now. I also love history around the time of the renaissance reformation, so I go to Italy every chance I get, just to study. I was in St. Petersburg Square smoking a Cuban cigar when Joseph Ratzinger was crowned Pope. And my dad was born in Holland; I lived in Holland when I was a little kid.
Do you speak Dutch?
I did, once upon a time. I spoke it fluently because I was six when we left. But my parents were so freaked out about me not being able to speak English when we got back to the states that they forbade me to speak it, and at that age if you don’t speak it, it’s just… gone.
Well, your English is spectacular.
[Laughter] Thank you.