Presenter bios

Jeremy Ashworth

Jeremy Ashworth is the Pastor of the Circle of Peace Church of the Brethren in the Phoenix suburbs of Peoria, Arizona.

Ryan Braught

Ryan Braught is the Pastor/Church Planter of Veritas. Along with his wife and kids he founded Veritas in 2009. He is the husband of Kim, and father to Kaiden and Trinity. Ryan has a BS in Telecommunications from Kutztown University and a Master of Arts in Religion from Evangelical Theological Seminary. Besides his work with Veritas, Ryan loves to read, listen to music, snowboard, and spend time with his family.

Joshua Brockway

Joshua Brockway has served as the Director for spiritual formation for the Church of the Brethren since 2010. His work includes oversight for the Spiritual Directors Network and the Ethics for Congregations polity. He writes frequently for a range of denominational publications and leads workshops and renewal events on prayer, discipleship, and Brethren identity.

Joshua received his Master of Arts from Bethany Theological Seminary and completed his Masters of Divinity at Candler School of Theology. He finished his PhD in Church History at The Catholic University of America having written on the intersections of prayer, liturgy, and asceticism in the writings of John Cassian.

Dana Cassell

Dana Cassell lives in Durham, North Carolina. She loves mountains, bacon, books, and her dog, Franny. She divides her time between serving as pastor to the Peace Covenant Church of the Brethren in Durham and managing the Part-Time Pastor; Full-Time Church program for the Church of the Brethren Office of Ministry.

David Fitch

David Fitch is the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary Chicago, IL. He’s married to Rae Ann and they have one child, a son Max. He’s pastored and participated in many church plants including Life on the Vine Christian Community, a missional church in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Most recently he and his family have joined Peace of Christ Church, Westmont, a church planted from Life on the Vine.

He writes on the issues the local church must face in Mission including cultural engagement, leadership, and theology. His theology combines Neo-Anabaptist streams of thought, his commitments to evangelicalism and his love for political theory. He has lectured and presented on these topics at many seminaries, graduate schools, denominational gatherings and conferences. Dr. Fitch is the author of numerous articles in places like Christianity Today, The Other Journal, Missiology Evangelical Missions Quarterly, as well as academic journals. He has been featured in places like Outreach Magazine and the Anabaptist Witness.

He is the author of several books including

  • The Church of Us vs. Them: Freedom from a Faith That Feeds on Making Enemies. 2019.
  • Faithful Presence: Seven Practices for the Church on Mission. 2016.
  • Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier. 2013.
  • The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology. 2011.
  • The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, Consumer Capitalism, and Other Modern Maladies. 2005.
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Lidia Gonzalez

Originally from Dominican Republic, Lidia received the Lord at the age of 16. Following this, she began her first church planting experience in a neighborhood bar, where she would preach to the people there. From that first moment, God directed her ministry into the church planting field. In 1980, she arrived in Manhattan, NY, where she continued serving the Lord through evangelism outreach in different parts of New York. She has a passion for cooking. She has tried many international cuisines mixed with a Caribbean flavor. Also, she enjoys decorating and organizing especially in her home. This makes her feel relaxed, and joyful.

In 1997, she married Pastor Raul Gonzalez. She has six children, and fourteen grandchildren. Together they continued to serve God planting four churches all together in the following years. They planted churches in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Most recently, in 2010, God sent her and her husband to Virginia. There they planted not one, but two churches in the Blacksburg and Floyd area.

Pastora Lidia studied four years in the Biblical Institute with the Assembly of God. With the Church of the Brethren she went through EFN, and the Christian Growth Institute. From there she has had many courses and workshops consisting of spiritual growth, spiritual warfare and counseling to battered women, abused children, and men in prison and their families.

Pastora Lidia at the present time is pastoring and planting beside her husband with the Nueva Vida congregation in Floyd, VA, and with the El Buen Pastor fellowship in Blacksburg, VA. She continues to equip the leadership there as future Timothies for when she is no longer able to serve. This year one of her main goals is to continue evangelizing as many lost souls as she can reach, and prepare the Church for the Lord’s second coming.

Raul Gonzalez

Pastor Raul Gonzalez was born and raised in Puerto Rico. At the age of 25, he received Jesus as his Savior. At age 40 he answered his call to the ministry. In 1985, he became a Pastor with the Mennonites in Harrisonburg, Pennsylvania. In 1999 he comes to the Church of the Brethren. There he began his church planting calling. During the next few years; he planted another church in North Carolina. His most recent church planting brought him to Floyd, Virginia in 2010. There, he not only began the process of planting one church (Nueva Vida), but also another church in Blacksburg, VA (El Buen Pastor). He is currently still pastoring the Nueva Vida congregation, and the El Buen Pastor fellowship.

Pastor Raul is a father of four, and has ten grandchildren. He married Pastora Lidia Gonzalez in 1997. They are about to celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary. All together they have six children, and 14 grandchildren. He enjoys playing his guitar, and singing with his family during family gatherings. He also really enjoys decorating his home with his wife during the spare time.

One of Pastor Raul’s main goals is to give nurturing to the current leadership that he is working with in Nueva Vida and El Buen Pastor. Additionally, giving formation to future pastors and church planters that the Lord may call into these areas of ministry.

Galen Hackman

Galen Hackman has served the Church of the Brethren and other churches/ministries, as a pastor, missionary, teacher, writer, and mentor. He began his ministry pastoring at the Mohler Church of the Brethren, then several fulltime pastorates in Pottstown and then Schuylkill, going over to work with the Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria—EYN) teaching at Kulp Bible College, also authoring material for use in the Theological Education by Extension Program. That material has since been translated for use in various mission settings worldwide.

After Nigeria, Galen served as pastor at Conewago and Ephrata. In 2015 he left pastoral ministry to focus on working with congregations in transition, coaching pastors, training leaders and writing.

His services extend beyond the COB to congregations and leaders throughout Southeastern PA. Galen, often along with his wife, Doris, has traveled widely, teaching in many mission locations and frequently traveling to Israel (and some surrendering countries), leading pilgrimages or for personal study and reflection.

Teaching for the Susquehanna Valley Ministry Center in the ACTS Program, Galen has served as adjunct faculty at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown and has written study guides for the Covenant Bible Study series and for the Guide for Biblical Studies. He recently finished a book (along with a Nigerian author) on Peace and Nonviolence for use by EYN in training pastors.

Galen holds bachelor and master’s degrees in biblical and theological studies and has completed several certifications in coaching, transitional leadership and consulting. He and Doris live in Akron PA and together they have three married children and twelve grandchildren.

Caleb Kragt

Caleb and his wife Allie are happy to be raising two great kids. Since graduating from Bethany Seminary, Caleb has been serving as one of two pastors at West Charleston Church of the Brethren, a multicultural (and multilingual) congregation in rural Ohio, north of Dayton. He’s grateful for a background in sociology and wise mentors like Nancy and Irv Heishman through his time of learning in intercultural ministry. As soon as it’s safer to gather in-person indoors, Caleb is looking forward to hosting friends for some board and table games, which have been dearly missed during the pandemic.

Susan Liller

Susan Liller is Associate Pastor at East Dayton Fellowship in the inner city of Dayton, Ohio. East Dayton Fellowship is a combined ministry of the Church of the Brethren and the Brethren in Christ denominations.

Don Mitchell

Don Mitchell coordinates the work of the Commission on Church Development and Evangelism, (CCD&E) for the Atlantic Northeast District of the Church of the Brethren. As such he oversees, develops and promotes the CCD&E’s church planting philosophy and strategy, casting a District-wide vision for evangelism, church growth, and congregational health. Don accepts the Acts 1:8 challenge to commit to fulfill Jesus’ challenge to bring the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth – to be witnesses-personal participants in the world-wide mission of God. Will you join him in this mission?

Rev. LaDonna Sanders Nkosi

Rev. LaDonna Sanders Nkosi is Director of Intercultural Ministries with the Church of the Brethren and founder of The Gathering Chicago and the Gathering Global Network. In 2016, when The Gathering Chicago began as a new ministry plant, the first small group the ministry hosted was The Healing Racism Brown Bag Book Discussion. In offering this, neighbors from around the community and across the city began to join. Later the ministry signed up with a community foundation that was hosting On the Table conversations on racism throughout the city and the book discussion moved outside of the church and into a local coffee shop. “Through these God-inspired partnerships and collaborations, we began to learn more about the people in our neighborhoods and the needs of the city.” This pattern of healthy collaborations began to be significant in the vitality and impact of The Gathering Chicago and what is now The Gathering Global Network.

Rev. LaDonna became an ordained minister in 2003. Prior to that, she worked at Syracuse University, DePaul University and Loyola University as a Diversity Advocacy Programs Leader. Prior to seminary, she also was a non-profit community leader in Chicago, leading program initiatives for organizations like Chicago Cares. “The world is your parish” has been a key focus of her foundation as well as the ministry of Jesus as we see in Luke 4:18-21, Mark 5 and Mark 16:15-20.

Rev. LaDonna is a published poet and is completing her doctorate as a Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. scholar in African Centered Ministries, Theology and Religion at McCormick Theological Seminary. She is also the founder of the Healing Racism Collective. She holds a Master of Divinity from McCormick Theological Seminary, a Master of Arts from DePaul University, and a Bachelor of Journalism in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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Leonor Ochoa

Leonor is a Doctor in Law of the Dominican Republic. She is Pastor and planter of the EBENEZER Project (Church of the Brethren), she is President of the Ministry of Hispanic and Latino Leaders of (ANE), she has been a mentor and coordinator for the last five years of the annual conference for Hispanic women of the Northeast Atlantic District (ANE). Her vision is to plant Churches that are ambassadors of Love and Reconciliation through Jesus Christ.

Leonor es Doctora en Leyes de la República Domnicana. Pastora y sembradora del Projecto EBENEZER (Iglesia de los Hermanos), Presidenta del Ministerio de Líderes Hispanos y Latinos del Distrito Noreste del Atlántico (ANE), ha sido mentora y coordinadora por los últimos cinco años de la conferencia anual para mujeres hispanas del Distrito Noreste del Atlántico (ANE). Su visión es plantar iglesias que sean embajadoras del amor y la reconciliación a través de Jesucristo.

Nate Polzin

Nate Polzin has been ministering in the Church of the Brethren since 1996, currently serving as pastor of The Church in Drive (Saginaw, Michigan) and the Midland Church of the Brethren.

He graduated from Bethany Theological Seminary and has served in various roles in the denomination. Nate has planted a church, served as DE, started three college campus ministries and led revitalization efforts in three congregations. He is married to Mandy, and they have two great boys – Lucas and Michael.

Dan Poole

Dan Poole is the Assistant Professor of Ministry Formation at Bethany Theological Seminary. In this role Dan teaches the core sequence of practical ministry courses for the MDiv curriculum and administers the required field education placements that all students must complete to earn the MDiv degree. In addition to the core courses, Dan also enjoys co-teaching with Josh Brockway an immersion style travel course focused on assistance ministries in the metro Atlanta area. This course, hosted by City of Refuge Ministries in Atlanta, is a wonderful collaborative educational experience sponsored by Bethany Seminary, the Church of the Brethren Office of Discipleship Ministries, and the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership. Dan also recently developed a new course for the seminary called The Shape of Ministry in a High-Tech World.

Prior to his call to serve at the seminary, Dan, an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren, served for 18 years in congregational ministry. Dan and spouse Kelli live in Richmond, Indiana, with Kevin, their adult son. In his free time, Dan enjoys walking with Kelli, playing golf and house renovation projects with Kevin.

Aaron Reyes

Pastor Aaron Reyes (B.S., Wheaton College; M.Div., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is a second-generation Mexican American and the Lead Pastor of Hope Community Church. Aaron also serves as Dean of Vida House, a theological training school in Austin for POC ministry leaders and aspiring leaders who desire to pursue vocational ministry within their community. His own research and speaking engagements focus on the story arcs of immigration, redemption, and justice throughout the Bible. Moreover, Aaron is passionate about seeing (new) churches strengthened in the gospel of God’s kingdom. A native Austinite, he lives in Manor with his wife, Michelle, and their two kids, Azariah and Ava.

Michelle Reyes

Michelle Reyes, PhD, is the Vice President of the Asian American Christian Collaborative and the Co-Executive Director of Pax. She is the co-church planter and Scholar in Residence at Hope Community Church, a minority-led multicultural church in East Austin, Texas, where her husband, Aaron, serves as lead pastor. Michelle’s work on faith and culture has been featured in Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, Missio Alliance, Faithfully Magazine, and more. Her forthcoming book on cross-cultural relationships is called Becoming All Things: How Small Changes Lead to Lasting Connections Across Cultures (Zondervan; April 27, 2021). Follow Michelle on Twitter and Instagram.

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Jody Romero

Jody Romero, Pastor, Restoration Los Angeles
Licensed Minister, Church of the Brethren
Husband to Vanessa (22 Years)
Father of 6: Jordyn, Chloe, Ezekiel, Judah, Mackenzie and Macey

Jody and his wife Vanessa set out to plant a church in East Los Angeles, CA in 2009 from a non-denominational church in So. California. In the Spring of 2010, the remaining members of Bella Vista Church of the Brethren and the 2 dozen people Jody & Vanessa were gathering with would eventually merge and become Restoration Los Angeles. Restoration Los Angeles is now a thriving, multi-cultural, multigenerational church, serving the greater community of Los Angeles through justice ministry and through the making of disciples.

Samuel Sarpiya

Samuel Sarpiya is the Executive Director at the Center for Nonviolence and Conflict Transformation in Rockford, Illinois. Previously he served as Moderator of the Church of the Brethren.

He is currently based in Dunham, Quebec, Canada. Dr. Sarpiya regularly engages in peacemaking around the globe. He trained Nigerian Security Agencies to use peaceful strategies to engage with the radical Islamist group Boko Haram, trained religious and political leaders in South Africa in nonviolent methods, and the police department in Chicagoland and Ohio on community transformation techniques to address the challenges of racial profiling within police departments. Dr. Sarpiya is available for mediation training and conflict transformation consultation services, and Nonviolence training.

www.samuelsarpiya.com

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Maria-José “Coté” Soerens

Maria-José “Coté” Soerens is a Church Planter practitioner in Seattle, where she is nurturing a faith community rooted in the South Park neighborhood. Born in Chile she came to the US at 25 and has since started a number of initiatives in the private and non profit sector, her favorite of them all being Resistencia Coffee, a neighborhood owned and operated coffee shop in the heart of South Park, where she lives with her husband Tim and their sons. Coté is also a co-founder of Cultivate South Park, a neighbor-led Asset-based Community Development group, dedicated to identifying, connecting, and celebrating the gifts of South Park residents to co-create a more equitable community. There she serves as part of the Urban Fresh Food Collective and the South Park Arts & Culture Collective.

Coté also serves in the City of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative advisory board and the Cultural Space Agency Council, both focused on increasing access to community-controlled spaces for communities of color in Seattle.

Darryl Williamson

Darryl Williamson has been the Lead Pastor of Living Faith Bible Fellowship in Tampa, FL., since January 2010. He helped transition the church from a primarily middle-aged African American membership to a multicultural, multiethnic, multigenerational congregation.

Williamson is active with three organizations whose ministries focus on seeing the Gospel advance in marginalized communities in the U.S. and abroad. He leads Arise City and on the board of The Crete Collective and the Underground Network.

He serves on the Leadership Council of the Gospel Coalition. Darryl has a gospel-centered concern for spiritual formation, racial reconciliation, restorative justice, faith-work economics, ethics and theology, and church history. He has contributed to two books, 12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Faithful Endurance in Pastoral Ministry and All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church.

He has served on the management team of a global software company, where he has engaged with business executive teams in North America, Europe, South Africa, and Australia. He earned his B.S. in Mathematics and Philosophy from Boston University and currently working on an MDiv at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando.

Darryl and his wife Julie have been married for 32 years and have an adult daughter.