True Change Management: Following My Heart
Daniel Hostetler, executive director, 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions
Listening is a transformative event. By listening, I can acknowledge another person’s experience and quiet myself. It’s like planting a seed inside. Many of the ideas come to mean much more to me over time. God speaks to me through others, and perhaps my journey will speak to you.
I am a Mennonite who grew up in a rural town in Ohio. After receiving a degree from a Christian university there, I became involved with several for profit businesses that did very well. For ten years, I was the managing director of a consulting company in Milan, Italy. Our team of 400 consultants taught American style change management to small business leaders all over Europe.
When I returned to the US, I continued consulting for small businesses and non-profit organizations in the Chicago area, working as the co-founder and CEO of a successful management consulting company. In 2013, Inc. Magazine featured it as #318 in the list of the 500 fastest growing privately owned businesses in the country.
But even with a platinum Rolex sitting in a drawer, I wasn’t satisfied. The more I tried to take, the less I had. Even though I had so much, my life was emptying me out. I was at the top of a mountain, and it brought me only unrest and the desire for more. There was never enough. The glorification of self was insatiable.
When I began to realize that there were gaps in my life that materialism couldn’t fill, I had many questions. I even questioned my own faith. I tried to fill in the blanks with more scripture and Bible study, but I always came away short, feeling inferior before my God.
Then, after acknowledging my brokenness, I stopped pretending to listen and started truly listening. The stories I heard from the people in the nonprofit sector intrigued me. They seemed authentic. The nonprofit organizations were built with their hearts, not just their minds. I felt drawn in that direction.
Instead of taking from society, I became involved with things that had nothing to do with my net worth. I served at the homeless shelter and hospice. I talked with the inmates at the county jail and became a pen pal to a friend on death row.
As I listened to these people and their stories, it answered questions and put things into place for me. It was life force to life force. These humble people are almost invisible. Yet, listening to them gives them dignity. The wealth of peace and serenity is something you cannot buy.
In 2013, I received a master’s degree in nonprofit management from North Park University in Chicago, Illinois. I almost feel like I was given an escape route from hell.
With new skills, I started putting feelers out for a job. The World Relief Organization gave me an offer, and I accepted the position at half salary. To everyone’s surprise, I walked away from my equity position with my own company. It didn’t feel like a sacrifice. It was an easy decision, and I couldn’t wait to begin immersing myself in the world of the ordinary people whom I had grown to love. It was a decision of joy, and I had confidence in the new direction of my life.
As the World Relief director of operations and finance, I had my hands in everything from grants to HR letters. It was wonderful! That year, we served about 600 vetted refugees who had come to the United States. We helped them establish productive lives from A to Z.
Working with 75 churches and many community agencies, we found apartments for the refugees, filled their refrigerators and brought in furniture (all donated). We taught them English, enrolled their children in school, got them jobs and involved them in faith communities. We had a concentrated group of Bhutanese refugees and began to get Syrians who had suffered a different kind of post-traumatic stress. Legal help was donated, so they had a pathway to citizenship.
Before getting my master’s degree, I responded to an ad from the Parliament of the World’s Religions. I felt moved by the interfaith mission of the organization. The opportunity seemed so fascinating to me that I applied, but then the line went dead.
Out of the blue, in September 2014, I got a call from a recruiter, “Are you interested in this?” The possibility resonated with me again. At first, I thought, “You can’t leave what you’re doing.” Then, I calmed down and tried to think more with my heart than my brain. I sensed that I should do what comes.
In April 2015, I took up the position of executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religion. Its global conference will be held this October in Salt Lake City, a faith based town with a strong interfaith community. The Parliament’s mission is to provide an open, safe, nonjudgmental forum for people of all faiths and spiritual pursuits to present themselves.
I have fallen in love with the diversity, the open conversation, the colorful dress, cultures and languages of the interfaith people. The experience has answered questions about my own faith. The gaps in my understanding are less important to me now. If I don’t know it exactly, it’s okay. I feel more love for my fellow humans, which comes more easily and without judgment. And I sleep more peacefully than ever before in my life.
In a society so busy with achieving, dominating and emoting, there isn’t much time left for reflection or serenity. Listening gives me respite from my own self and the problems of my life. Every person has some secret expression to share with me, and every one of them is valid. Each one makes me freer with my own relationship with God. The communication between us feels holy.
In preparing for the 2015 Parliament, I just want people to come and be with us. The only thing I risk losing by becoming more knowledgeable at the conference is the illusion that I have all the answers. What there is to gain is an abundance of meaningful interactions, spirituality and joy. As harmony increases, conflict dissipates — and each one of us can do something about it.
Spiritual leadership is the true solution to the problems facing the world. Politics and materialism don’t work. War, guns and prison systems don’t work either, but love can embrace us all. If spiritual leaders will come together — be more welcoming and less condemning — there is hope for humanity.