“Christians are purveyors of hope” – words used by Dr. Gwen Dewey, BGU’s former President, to summarize our conversation with Rev. Dr. Lauren Speeth, BGU DMin alumni and minister.
The goal of our discussion was to talk about Rev. Dr. Speeth’s initiative of collecting oral and written versions of the Lord’s Prayer. But the talk brought more, as she is not a single-institution or one-goal minister. She is involved in several organizations and missions where she is the catalyst. Her main goal is to spread hope. Lauren does it with a skilled team, through her award-winning company Elfenworks Productions, LLC and the Elfenworks Foundation, a non-profit organization.
While a student at BGU, Speeth studied eMinistry, launching what would eventually grow into Ministrants.com. It’s filled with a growing repository of resources for you, the reader, and it’s also where the “Voices Home” Lord’s Prayer project is based. That project began as a song by the same name, which was a Gospel take on the prayer. Speeth thought it would be good to open with a montage of voices saying the prayer in a few different languages. “Just by asking around the office,” she recalls, “I ended up with about a dozen languages. It was extraordinary.” The song was part of an album in which each track was dedicated to a different social entrepreneur, and she dedicated the Lord’s Prayer song to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. President Carter had been a real mentor and inspiration, and a subject of – and participant in – her BGU dissertation research. She’s honored to serve on the Carter Center Board of Councilors as a life member.
Speeth, who is also a filmmaker, then became intrigued by the concept of creating small videos for each version of the Lord’s Prayer. After all, when Jesus gives us the answer to the question, “Lord, teach us to pray,” it’s worth taking seriously. And so it was that the Voices Home Lord’s Prayer collection effort was born. Fast forward to today, with over 70 versions that range from Afrikaans to Zulu, an online podcast, and a DVD. Lauren’s goal is to eventually include spoken Aramaic, first nation speakers, regional variations, and as many languages as possible. “We’re still collecting prayers like butterflies,” she says. Often, when she meets someone who speaks a language she hasn’t gathered yet, she asks them to record both The Lord’s Prayer and a script for another app, The Elfenworks Foundation’s “Breathing Butterfly.” Speeth has built the “Breathing Butterfly” app to mitigate the damage that stress cortisol hormones can wreak on growing brains and is one answer to toxic stress. Originally meant to help children “stress-down,” the app was found to help cancer patients as well. The next version will include more adult-centric content. As with so many of Lauren’s efforts, one mission led to another.
When asked about the meaning of the name “Voices Home,” Speeth explained that every speaker is “calling home to God” in the same way. When we can look past skin-deep differences, we find our way home to a heart-truth of our shared humanity. For that reason, ministers may be interested in putting on a Voices Home Peace Event, bridging the divide between communities. The Voices Home project also offers a potential bridge to the non-Christian community. “We are building something of a Rosetta Stone here,” Speeth noted, comparing the app to the ancient stone with Greek and Egyptian that provided a key to decoding dead languages. She added,
My hope is that language buffs will find their way to the resources. Outsiders to the faith might then be captivated by the beauty of the prayer, perhaps even finding their way to faith, through this effort. That would be delightful.”
Another multilingual effort is “Pastor Fish,” an app and teacher tool geared to the young at heart. Gospel stories provide a sound theological frame, and social-emotional learning concepts are interwoven in the songs and games, with teacher resources in Spanish, English, Russian and Ukrainian. Recently, another BGU graduate has begun using the app in his work with Mumbai’s slum children. So often at a disadvantage, Speeth hopes this app can provide children with a comparative advantage by adding Spanish language skills. As with The Lord’s Prayer, Speeth hopes the app’s language skills components will attract people who would otherwise be unlikely to attend Sunday school. Bible literacy could be spread among those otherwise unlikely to obtain it. It’s all about building bridges.
Building bridges seems to come naturally to Rev. Dr. Speeth. A Baptist minister who has served as Regent at a Catholic college, Speeth lives the ecumenical values she espouses. She’s a member of a Methodist healing prayer team and maintains a membership at a Congregational church. When selecting partners, she looks for shared goals, remembering how her mentor Ray Bakke told her, “Just raise the flag for Jesus, see who salutes, and run with it.” This education by peacemakers informs Speeth’s positive approach of working for healing, hope and harmony. She notes how easy it is to be against something, but how much more worthwhile it is to build something up together. As Mother Teresa would put it, “Don’t invite me to an anti-war protest, but I’ll come to a peace rally.” As Speeth puts it, “You can’t be an angry peace activist or a hot-head for global warming. It doesn’t follow. It won’t work, and it’ll just burn you out.”
Lauren has boundless energy, and many concurrent projects. She has just published her first work of fiction, Thread for Pearls, A Story of Resilient Hope. Her film, “Exploring Hope for Better Times,” was completed in the last few months and is under submission to film festivals. Her team is working with several colleges internationally to support efforts to educate student social entrepreneurs in ways they can raise hope, and with Campus Moviefest to offer the nation’s largest student social justice filmmaker award. She calls herself a social entrepreneur and yet she harmonizes both the secular and sacred in her mission and life. When asked how she has done so much, she pointed to the terrific team she has assembled, and to God’s grace. “When God wants to do something with you or through you, there’s no point fighting it,” which is how she follows the path she’s on. Speeth is a real example of calling-based leadership, an inspiration she turns towards the students to whom she wants to pass the baton.
Lauren’s take-away message for us is as follows:
Never underestimate your ripple. Spread hope. Save a life.”
She especially focuses this message on college students in the USA, where there is a suicide problem. Their words can make a life-or-death difference. This is a tough, but gentle message for them to follow. But words can kill, or heal. So, each of us could think about what we’re doing that are hope-filled, and ways we can become more effective purveyors of hope.
We are planning a webinar where Lauren Speeth will share further messages.
So far, please check the following websites.