Leadership Team

Grace Dyrness

Dr. Grace Roberts Dyrness is a community development consultant and professor. She has taught at the University of Southern California, Azusa Pacific University, and Fuller Theological Seminary, as well as institutions in Philippines, Indonesia and Kenya, with a focus on public service in an urban setting, social context of planning, community and transformational development, and sustainable tourism. Her approach has been to use advocacy planning and participatory approaches to engage people in communities in order to envision their own future and chart a path towards it.

She has a graduate degree in urban anthropology from the Ateneo de Manila University and a doctorate in urban planning and development studies from the University of Southern California. Her doctoral work focused on the growth of the informal sector of the Los Angeles economy, particularly on a project with the city’s street vendors.

Grace has had many years of experience working in the nonprofit sector in developing nations and inner cities within the United States. For eight years she lived in Manila, Philippines where she lived among urban squatter women in order to better understand how they cope with life at the margins. For the past 20 years she has been engaged in participatory action research and development in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Djibouti, Argentina, Mexico and Philippines. It has been through these international and local experiences that she has gained a deeper understanding of what conditions are needed in order for communities to thrive and forge a sustainable future for the next generation.

Chris Elisara

Dr. Chris Elisara is the director of the Creation Care Task Force for the World Evangelical Alliance, the world’s third largest historic Christian organization with 600 million members and national alliances in over 129 countries. In this role Dr. Elisara represents evangelicals at the United Nations and other international bodies on a wide range of environmental issues including climate change, biodiversity, food systems, and sustainable urbanism. In 1996 Dr. Elisara founded the Creation Care Study Program (CCSP), an environmental studies program with campuses in Belize and New Zealand that serves over 25 Christian colleges and universities.

A champion of urban design and placemaking, Dr. Elisara leads the Placemaking Studio for the Ormond Center at Duke Divinity School. Dr. Elisara’s urban work includes being a long term member, and former board member of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU); co-founder of the CNU Members Christian Caucus; co-founder of the Better Cities Film Festival and UN-Habitat Better Cities Film Festival; and international work through UN-Habitat’s World Urban Campaign (WUC) where in 2020 he was elected as co-chair of WUC’s civil society partners group. Dr. Elisara’s faith-based work also includes co-founding the Urban Shalom Society and co-founding the International Council of Faiths for Urbanism (ICFU).

Growing up in New Zealand, Dr. Elisara earned his B.A. at Auckland University. His graduate work was undertaken in the US where he earned an MBA at Eastern University and a Ph.D. at Biola University. Residing in the mountains near San Diego, Dr. Elisara is a keen mountain biker who also enjoys tuna fishing and playing American roots music with his two sons. His ideal summer vacation is a road trip with his wife, Tricia, and two curious and adventurous sons.

Michael Mata

Dr. Michael A. Mata is an admitted city lover, who has conducted workshops, seminars, and courses across the globe on the positive role of the faith community in urban contexts. His experience in urban pastoral work, background in theological education, training in urban planning, and extensive engagement in community building makes him a sought-after instructor, speaker, and consultant. Currently, he is the Director of Network Engagement & Leadership Development for TogetherLA. Most recently he was the director of the graduate program in Transformational Urban Leadership at Azusa Pacific University. His prior assignments have included the Tools for Transformation Director for World Vision U.S. Programs, the Mildred M. Hutchinson Assistant Professor of Urban Ministry and Director of the Urban Leadership Institute at the Claremont School of Theology.

He serves on the pastoral team at Los Angeles First Church of the Nazarene (a multi-ethnic/multi-congregation church with a highly regarded community program). Mata has degrees in biblical literature, religion and urban planning.

Minh Ha Nguyen

Dr. Minh Ha Nguyen is co-founder and director of Radius Global Cities Network, a think tank devoted to providing resources for faith-based engagement of cities through research, resources, and networking. He is manager of Global Research at International Mission Board, SBC. Minh Ha is also president of the Southern Baptist Research Fellowship and member of various denominational and academic boards, including the V3 Movement, Convention Advancement Advisory Council, Vision 5:9, City Renewal Movement, and Bakke Graduate University.

Dr. Nguyen is the creator of the Shalom City Index™ which he designed to serve the global church in monitoring and reporting on the progress of the gospel of the kingdom in urban contexts. The city index covers 163 cities globally and is updated annually.

A native of Vietnam growing up in Switzerland, Minh Ha holds degrees from US institutions such as Columbia International University (M.Div.), University of Maryland Global Campus (graduate certificate in information systems), and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Th.M. and Ph.D.). His research focuses, among other megatrends, on globalization, urbanization, and mass migration. He lives in Richmond, Virginia with his wife, Corinne, and two adult daughters.