PSD Gradient

Keynote Speakers & MC's

Ashley Paavola

Ashley Paavola is the Youth and Family Ministry Developer at All Nations Church, a church plant in an urban community within the inner belt of metro St Louis, MO. She is passionate about helping people see Jesus through racial reconciliation, trauma-informed care, and ministry with people of all abilities. Ashley and her husband Chris have a multicultural family of seven (five kids under the age of nine) built through adoption and foster care.

Dr. John Townsend

Director of the Townsend Institute at Concordia University Irvine


Dr. John Townsend is a business consultant, leadership coach and psychologist.  He has written over 30 books, selling 10 million copies, including the New York Times best-selling Boundaries series, Leading from Your Gut, Handling Difficult People and People Fuel.

John co-founded and directed a healthcare company for ten years, with operations in 35 cities in the western U.S.  It was here that he learned the strategies for change and success, which he now employs in his coaching and consulting.


John is active on the board of  MUSTARD SEED RANCH, an equine program for disadvantaged youth.


A resident of Newport Beach, California, Dr. Townsend and his wife Barbi have two sons, Ricky and Benny. One of his passions is playing in “The Bandits”, a band with his sons, at southern California venues!

Dr. Tim Elmore

Growing Leaders founder Dr. Tim Elmore is passionate about understanding the emerging generation and helping adults teach them how to become leaders in their schools, their communities and their careers.

As a youth leadership expert and thought leader in his field, he educates adults to help them understand the challenges and experiences today's generation faces and connect with them in a way that resonates. Dr. Elmore believes, by cultivating leadership abilities in young adults and encouraging the adults who guide them, Growing Leaders can be the catalyst for emerging generations that will truly change the world.

Dr. Tim Elmore teaches leadership courses and speaks at schools, universities, business, and athletic programs. He has trained thousands of leaders in partnership with nationally renowned schools and organizations like the San Francisco Giants, Home Depot, Stanford University, Virginia Tech, University of Alabama Athletics, Duke University, University of Texas, Chick-fil-a, Cici’s Pizza, Delta, and more.


Dr. Elmore has also authored more than 30 books including: Habitudes®: Images that Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes, Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenge of Becoming Authentic Adults, Generation iY: Secrets to Connecting With Today’s Teens & Young Adults in the Digital Age, 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid, Life Giving Mentors, and Nurturing the Leader Within Your Child.

Prashan De Visser

Founder & President of Global Unites

Prashan attended Gordon College in Boston, where he received his bachelor’s degree in international relations. Prashan went on to the University of Notre Dame, where he earned his master of arts in peace studies and public policy.


In 2009, he founded Sri Lanka Unites, the largest youth movement for reconciliation in Sri Lanka. The movement, in its 11th year, has more than 25,000 members representing every district of the country. Prashan is also the founder of Global Unites, an international youth movement for transforming conflict. Global Unites is engaged in 10 countries across the world (


Recently Prashan received the Points of Light award from the queen of England for his exemplary volunteer service to his nation.


He was elected the first South Asian student body president and was selected as a TEDx speaker at the University of Notre Dame. He has been featured on NBC, BBC and Al Jazeera for his innovative peace-building approach. He is a justice of the peace in Sri Lanka and the former host of “Good Morning Sri Lanka” and many other television shows. Prashan lives in Sri Lanka with his wife, Shruthi, and their 1-year-old son, Aviv.

Bible Study Leader

Rev. Dr. R. Reed Lessing

Reed was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. He was a professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, and served as Senior Pastor at St. Michael Lutheran Church in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. He currently serves as Professor of Theology at Concordia St. Paul. Reed has authored eight books—all related to the Old Testament. His hobbies include running half-marathons, cycling and studying American history.

Event MC's

Rev. Jim Henkell

Pastor Jim has served St. Paul’s since 2003. He previously served as Senior Pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Agoura Hills, California. Before ordination, he also worked as a Preacher and Director of Outreach at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Ellisville, Missouri.

Pastor Jim earned his Master of Divinity degree (1998) from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and was a Kuhlmann Endowment Award winner for homiletics. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1994 from Concordia University, Irvine, with a Religious Studies Major and Biblical Languages Emphasis.

Pastor Jim has preached and spoken at more than 200 events across the country with a special emphasis on outreach and witnessing. He has served in numerous leadership positions, including as National Chairman of Lutheran Youth Fellowship, and as a member of the Board of Regents for Concordia University Irvine.

Pastor Jim is the proud dad of Noah (age 22) and Reagan (age 20).

Dana Peterson

Dana Peterson serves as the Director of Discipleship and Mission at Christ Lutheran Church and School in Costa Mesa, California, since the Fall of 2014. Dana is an alumna of Concordia University Irvine and was certified as a Director of Christian Education after completing an internship at Trinity Cristo Rey Lutheran Church in Santa Ana, California. Following her internship, she served as a Graduate Assistant for Concordia Irvine’s Around-the-World Semester® program and traveled to over 10 countries in 5 months. From 2012 to 2014, Dana worked in the Global Programs Office at Concordia Irvine where she assisted and led in areas of study abroad, global mission and service-learning trips. Dana’s heart has been shaped by people from all over the world and now even more in Costa Mesa.

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