NOAC Keynotes

Karen Gonzalez- Tuesday, September 9

Karen González is seeking to see and love her neighbors as God does. She is a speaker, writer, and immigrant advocate, who herself immigrated from Guatemala as a child. Karen is a former public school teacher and attended Fuller Theological Seminary, where she studied theology and missiology. For the last 11 years, she has been a non-profit professional, currently working for World Relief, an organization that serves immigrants and refugees. She wrote a book about her own immigration story and the many immigrants found in the Bible: The God Who Sees: Immigrants, The Bible, and the Journey to Belong (Herald Press, May 2019).

Karen lives in the heart of Baltimore, Maryland, where she enjoys cooking Guatemalan food, traveling, watching baseball, playing with her nieces, and writing while her cat Scully naps beside her.

Ken Medema and Ted Swartz – Friday, September 10

Ken and Ted are welcomed as “honorary Brethren.” They are popular performers at National Youth Conference, Annual Conference, and past NOACs.

Ken Medema

Ken is a singer/songwriter. He is a “sneaky theologian” who draws you into his seemingly simple songs and then catches you off guard with deep meaning and profound emotional impact. Ken and his manager, Bev VanderMolen, have traveled around the world sharing their faith and music. For four decades, Ken Medema has inspired people through storytelling and music. Though blind from birth, Ken sees and hears with heart and mind. His ability to capture spirit in word and song is unparalleled.

From the time he was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1943, Ken has been unable to see with his physical eyes. His sight is limited to distinguishing between light and darkness and seeing fuzzy outlines of major objects. After graduating from high school Medema studied music therapy at Michigan State University in Lansing, where he concentrated heavily on performance skills in piano and voice. He worked as a music therapist in Fort Wayne, Indiana, returned to Michigan State for a master’s degree (1969), then worked for four years as a music therapist at Essex County Hospital in New Jersey. It was while employed there that he began writing and performing his own songs. Ken Medema and his wife, Jane, have been married since 1965 and live in the San Francisco Bay area of California. They have two grown married children and four grandchildren.

Ted Swartz

Ted Swartz is a playwright and actor who has been mucking around in the worlds of the sacred and profane for over 20 years. Ted fell in love with acting and theater on his way to a traditional pastorate in the Mennonite church, a denomination not usually thought of as a hotbed of theatrical opportunities. Coupling theater and seminary education, Ted became a theologian of a different sort. He discovered that at the intersection of humor and biblical story we often find new or different understandings of Scripture

Ted’s love of acting, comedy, and collaboration with creative partner Lee Eshleman took him to performances in 45 states in the US, Canada, as well as shows in Kenya and Japan. Ted & Lee became known for a quirky and gently askew view of life, building a loyal following. Despite the tragic loss of Lee in 2007 Ted continued the search for the intersection of comedy and faith, grief and loss deeping that exploration. He is also the Executive Director of the Center for Art, Humor, and Soul.

Born in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, a 1989 graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and 1992 grad of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Ted now lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Along with writing and acting, his loves include his wife, Sue; three sons, and four grandchildren.

Lisa Sharon Harper- Thursday, September 9

From Ferguson to New York, and from Germany to South Africa to Australia, Lisa Sharon Harper leads trainings that increase clergy and community leaders’ capacity to organize people of faith toward a just world. A prolific speaker, writer and activist, Ms. Harper is the founder and president of, a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap in our nation by designing forums and experiences that bring common understanding, common commitment and common action.

Ms. Harper is the author of several books. She writes extensively on shalom and governance, immigration reform, health care reform, poverty, racial and gender justice, climate change, and transformational civic engagement.

Ms. Harper earned her Masters degree in Human Rights from Columbia University in New York City, and served as Sojourners Chief Church Engagement Officer. In 2015, The Huffington Post named Ms. Harper one of 50 powerful women religious leaders to celebrate on International Women’s Day.