Awakenings / Culture / Formation / Theology / Witness

14 Dynamic Leaders of Color and Women You Should Know About

Mandy Smith and Sean Palmer are members of our writing team and co-hosted our 2019 national gathering, Awakenings: The Life of the Church for the Sake of the World. Check out the Awakenings resources to learn more from diverse voices like theirs.

Why Is Diversity Needed?

It’s easy to think diversity is just being “fair,” like giving people a turn.

But I (Mandy) wonder: what if there are things we can’t know about God without diversity? What if there are ways we can’t experience the gospel, ways we can’t enter the kingdom, ways we can’t welcome the nations into the feast—without diversity?

Diversity allows the church to communicate her mission to the world in a variety of colors and textures. It allows men and women of all ages, nationalities, and races to learn how God wants to speak through their unique worldview, personality, experience, and personhood. Diversity allows the church to communicate her mission to the world in a variety of colors and textures. Click To Tweet

As we welcome many voices, faces, bodies, and perspectives, we will see the many facets of our One True God.

How White is Your Library?

As I (Sean) mentioned in a previous article, it’s possible to go to seminary—and still be uneducated.

Don’t get me wrong, an undergraduate degree in ministry and seminary are all on my resume, but I was missing something, and so are a lot of other people. I was missing a robust understanding of the universal church. As I was scanning my over-filled, buckling bookshelves, I noticed they were populated with the same books, books written by white guys.

The vast majority of my theological reading was penned by white Christian men.

Expanding your library is a good start, but it’s not enough.

We need relationships with people who are different from us who can help us hear from God’s spirit in new ways. We need relationships with people who are different from us who can help us hear from God's spirit in new ways. Click To Tweet

Where to Learn From Diverse Voices in Person

This is a major part of why we are excited to be the hosts of Awakenings: The Life of the Church for the Sake of the World, Missio Alliance’s biennial North American gathering in March 2019. In today’s divided culture, Awakenings is a place where diverse voices are welcomed as teachers, guides, and friends for difficult topics.

Here are 14 voices you can look forward to learning from when you attend the gathering.

Ruth Padilla Deborst

Ruth Padilla DeBorst has been involved in leadership training, church and community development, and strengthening of a Network for Holistic Mission in El Salvador under the auspices of Christian Reformed World Missions. Having spoken and ministered to students and leaders through the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) for many years, she is currently presiding over the Latin American Theological Fraternity, servicing on the Board of the International Justice Mission, and directing Ediciones Certeza Unida, the publishing house of the Spanish speaking movements linked to IFES.

More from Ruth

Ruth’s video series at The Work of the People

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is an international speaker, leadership consultant, diversity and mentoring coach with nearly 20 years of leadership experience in the military, federal government, church, seminary, and nonprofit sectors. She is the author of A Sojourner’s Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World, Mentor for Life and its accompanying leader’s training manual, and the Hope for Us: Knowing God through the Nicene Creed Bible study. She is the Visionary Founder and Chairperson of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Leadership LINKS, Inc. Natasha is a doctoral student at North Park Theological Seminary, and a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Charlotte (cum laude, M.A. Christian Leadership) and the U.S. Naval Academy.

More from Natasha

Natasha’s Missio Alliance Author Page
A Sojourner’s Truth: Conversations for a Changing Culture
Will the Rest of the Church Listen to the Spirit’s Work Among Black Evangelicals? (with Esau McCaulley)

Dennis R. Edwards

Rev. Dennis R. Edwards is Associate Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary (Lisle, IL). Dennis earned a BS in chemical engineering from Cornell University, MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, MA and PhD in Biblical Studies from Catholic University of America. He has served as a pastor in urban contexts for three decades, including twice as a church planter (Brooklyn, NY and Washington, DC) and twice working in established congregations (Washington, DC and Minneapolis, MN). Dennis is married to Susan Steele Edwards, and they are the parents of four adult children.

More from Dennis

1 Peter (The Story of God Bible Commentary)

Missio Alliance Author Page

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior, Ph. D., is an award-winning Professor of English at Liberty University. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T. S. Poetry Press, 2012), Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson, 2014), and On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Literature (Brazos, 2018). Prior’s writing has appeared at Christianity Today, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, First Things, Vox, Think Christian, The Gospel Coalition, Books and Culture and other places. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a Senior Fellow at the Trinity Forum, a Senior Fellow with Liberty University’s Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

More from Karen

Karen’s Website

Karen’s Gospel Coalition Author Page

Keisha Polonio

Keisha is a growth coach, speaker, author, and missionary. She passionately walks with leaders who have kingdom dreams as the Associate Director of the Tampa Underground and is a member of the Ezer Collective leadership team.

She also serves with Created Women, a ministry committed to serving vulnerable women caught in the sex industry in Tampa, Florida.

Keisha leads a house church with her husband, mothers two boys, survived Kidney cancer and loves cupcakes.

More from Keisha

Keisha’s Website

The Value of Coaching with Keisha Polonio // Missional Ministry Coach (Lead Stories Podcast)

MaryKate Morse

MaryKate Morse, Professor of Leadership and Spiritual Formation, is at Portland Seminary of George Fox University. She has served in various administrative roles including University Director of Strategic Planning. She is a church planter, spiritual director, leadership mentor and coach, speaker, and author including Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space, and Influence and A Guidebook to Prayer.

More from MaryKate Morse

MaryKate’s Missio Alliance Author Page


Kyuboem Lee

Kyuboem Lee (BA Biblical & Theological Studies, MDiv Urban Mission, DMin Urban Mission) was born in Seoul, South Korea and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. He was educated in US evangelical and reformed institutions (Wheaton & Westminster). He has lived, church planted and ministered cross culturally in Philadelphia, USA, since 1993. He has also taught urban mission at the graduate level since 2006, and has edited the Journal of Urban Mission ( since 2010. Currently, he serves as DMin Program Director and Assistant Professor of Missiology at Missio Seminary. Kyuboem is married to Christe and is the father of 2 sons, Amoz and Theo.

More from Kyuboem

Kyuboem’s Missio Alliance Author Page


Lisa Yebuah

Lisa Yebuah is the Lead Pastor of the Southeast Raleigh Table, the newest worshipping community of Edenton Street United Methodist Church – a multisite congregation in the heart of downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a ’99 graduate of Wofford College and an ’04 graduate of Duke University Divinity School. Life in ministry brings her great joy. When asked, Lisa sums up her vocation through the lens of Mark 2: “I’m trying to help people in the pews become less concerned about the holes we make in our roofs and become more holy restless about our friends who’re bound to their mats.” Beyond ministry, Lisa is a professional people-watcher and party-starter, a biscuit-eating CrossFitter, and admits to having a slight obsession with The Office.

More from Lisa

04 New Room 2017 – Plenary 3 – Lisa Yebuah from Seedbed on Vimeo.

Rich Villodas

Rich Villodas is the Lead Pastor at New Life Fellowship Church. On October 6th, 2013, Rich succeeded Pete Scazzero as Lead Pastor. Rich was born and raised in the East New York section of Brooklyn, just 20 minutes from New Life. He graduated from Nyack College and then went on to complete a Masters of Divinity degree at Alliance Theological Seminary. When Rich is not reading, he is cheering on his beloved Mets, Knicks and Jets teams. Rich is married to Rosie and they have a little girl and boy, named Karis and Nathan.

More from Rich

Rich’s Missio Alliance Author Page

New Life Fellowship Church on Youtube

Oneya Okuwobi

Oneya Fennell Okuwobi is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology studying race and religion at The Ohio State University. Along with her husband, Oladele, Oneya is founding elder of 21st Century, a church plant in Cincinnati, OH. She is co-author of Multiethnic Conversations: An Eight-Week Journey toward Unity in Your Church. It is the first personal devotional and small group study on multiethnic life and church designed for people in the pews. You can find Oneya on Twitter at @Ookuwobi or

More from Oneya

Amy Davis Abdallah

Dr. Amy Davis Abdallah is Associate Professor of Theology and Bible at Nyack College and also teaches Worship at Alliance Theological Seminary. She preaches and teaches for churches, conferences, and other ministries in the United States and internationally. She also encourages Christian women to expand the Kingdom of God through the educational program Empower as well as a rite of passage for Nyack College Seniors. She is the author of The Book of Womanhood, and her writing has been featured by Christianity Today, CBE International, Redbud Writers Guild, and Missio Alliance. Amy loves to exercise, take photos, climb mountains, adventure with her husband and sons, learn languages, and enjoy the beach.

More from Amy

Amy’s Website

Amy’s CBE Page

Jorge Acevado

Jorge loves Jesus Christ and his Church. Touched by the grace of God at seventeen, he was never the same. Rescued from a life of addictions, his greatest delight is connecting people to Jesus and the Church.

More from Jorge

Profile from Asbury Seminary

Vital: Churches Changing Communities and the World

Sent: Giving the Gift of Hope at Christmas


Mia Chang

Rev. Dr. Mia Chang, Lead Pastor, planted NextGen Church in 2008. Rev. Mia was ordained as a pastor by the American Baptist Churches of New Jersey upon completing her studies at the Alliance Theological Seminary in New York. She obtained her doctorate in ministry studies at Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University in Pennsylvania.

More from Mia

Mia’s Interview on SermonSmith

Santes Beatty

Santes Beatty is currently the Director of Multi-Ethnic Ministries at The Wesleyan Church World Headquarters. In this role he serves 1,700 churches and 31 districts in North America helping to plant new multi-ethnic churches and transitioning mono-ethnic ones. Prior to this he was a youth pastor and teaching team member for a multi-ethnic, missional and multiplying church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and at a predominantly Black traditional Baptist Church in North Carolina. A graduate of Guilford College and Huntington University, Santes is a coaching consultant for Mosaix Global Network, a motivational speaker and guest lecturer for conferences, camps and other events, and the founder of Crossover Consulting. Santes and his wife Nicole live in Indianapolis with their four children.

More from Santes

We’‘re Not All Just Alike: Challenges and Opportunities in Multiethnic Youth Ministries

1-21-2018 Guest Speaker Rev. Santes Beatty at First Wesleyan Church High Point NC from First Wesleyan Church on Vimeo.

Get to know the rest of our Awakenings 2019 Presenters by checking out the resources located here.

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