Calvin’s January Series features historian, trekkers, religious sojourner

Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray will share their story of trekking and service to other as part of the Calvin College January Series.. (Supplied)

By K.D. Norris


Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Godwin may be the most well-known name on the program for Calvin College’s January Series, the annual series of speakers and discussions on topics great and intimate.


Doris Kearns Goodwin

But some lesser-known speakers — such as Eugene Cho,  Lisa Sharon Harper, and the joint lecture by Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray — may well provide inspiration and challenge as much as information.


“I think Eugene Cho is great to have on the series,” Kristi Potter, director of the January Series, said in supplied material. “So often we talk about how we can make a difference, but are we actually doing it? … Cho will hold us accountable to take those steps to make a difference. In his book, he asks questions like ‘Are we in love with the idea of changing the world or actually changing the world?’ and ‘Do we just write a check or do we change our lifestyle to help change the world?’”


The January Series runs noontime January 4-24 and includes 15 speakers discussing topics ranging from systemic racism in America, the gender gap in technology, healthcare delivery and the cycle of poverty. Cho’s talk will be Jan. 18.

People with stories to tell


Cho is the founder and pastor of Quest Church, an urban, multicultural, multigenerational church in Seattle known for tackling societal issues head-on. Harper is an social advocate and, quite literally, a Sojourner. Skeesuck and Gray are friends who share a bond of adventure and service to other.


Skeesuck and Gray have shared a lifelong friendship, full of many adventures, including their 500-mile trek across Spain. But their story is much more than simply friendly adventuring. Skeesuck has a progressive neuromuscular disease and travels with a wheelchair. Together, the pair trekked the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, and detailed their adventures in the film and educational project “I’ll Push You”.


The pair, according to supplied information, live by the mantra that “Life is not defined by its limitations, it is defined by what is accomplished in spite of those limitations.” Their talk will be Jan. 12.


Lisa Sharon Harper

Harper, who will talk Jan. 16, works with Sojourners, a group started in the 1970s in Washington, D.C., that has grown and transformed to now have the goal to “inspire hope and build a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.” Harper’s faith-rooted approach to advocacy and organizing has activated people across the U.S. and around the world to address structural and political injustice as an outward demonstration of their personal faith.


Other speakers include Gary Haugen, CEO and founder of International Justice Mission; Mark Desmond, co-founder of the Justice and Poverty Project and the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant”; violinist Taylor Davis, whose passion for gaming and film music has made her one of the fastest rising stars in the digital world with 1 million subscribers on her YouTube channel; and N.T. Wright, a world-renowned New Testament Scholar, who is back on the January Series stage for the fifth time.



Wright’s talk is also the Stob Lecture, an annual lecture co-sponsored by Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary in honor of philosophy professor emeritus Dr. Henry J. Stob. Wright will also be a featured speaker at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship’s Symposium on Worship in late January.



The January Series runs from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, various days, in the Covenant Fine Arts Center on Calvin’s campus. Parts of the series will also via live video in 50 cities in the United States, Canada and Europe. In 2016, 45,000 people attended between the on-campus and remote sites, according to supplied material.

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