A New Beginning
"I didn't want a purely Western education," shares Tyler Zabriskie (MA Missiology '88) as he describes his path to Fuller. After volunteering as a missionary in the Congo for three years, Zabriskie desired further theological training, tentatively planning for more missions work and ordination in the Episcopal Church. "I was disappointed to not find any anthropologists on staff at Episcopal Church seminaries," he recalls. However, at Fuller's School of Intercultural Studies (then School of World Mission), he found a place where he could do a significant amount of study in cultural anthropology. Further, Zabriskie had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for the late missiological anthropologist Paul Hiebert, whom he describes as "a brilliant anthropologist, deeply insightful about different worldview assumptions and respectful of other cultures." "Working with Paul was a gift," says Zabriskie, and Hiebert became one of the most powerful and lasting influences in his life and ministry.
Now, as he begins a new position as senior vice president of international programs with the American Refugee Committee (ARC), Zabriskie finds himself continuing to draw from his experience at Fuller. He is responsible for overseeing and building ARC's work with refugees and internally displaced persons in eight countries including Haiti, Sudan (Darfur), Pakistan, and Thailand. "I continue on a weekly basis," he says, "to share some framework or penetrating analysis that Paul taught me regarding people, organizational dynamics, or how we find meaning in our lives."
Complementing the tools for understanding that Zabriskie received from his mentor Paul Hiebert are the lessons he learned during his Clinical Pastoral Education internship at a drug and alcohol treatment center. "It was a very powerful experience that made me reflect on my own ways of perceiving others and the world," explains Zabriskie. "It was a crash course in self-awareness." Working at the treatment center, he discovered how crucial emotional intelligence is to the recovery process, and to navigating other challenges life brings.
In his recent work with World Vision, Zabriskie combined that insight with the cultural sensitivity that Hiebert helped him to cultivate to successfully facilitate staff development in Cambodia. There, he discarded ineffective Western methods of strategic planning, such as focus groups and formal, boardroom-style meetings, where Cambodians tend to feel intimidated or put on the spot. Instead, he opted to run workshops in a less formal and more relational style, consisting of culturally appropriate and creative exercises that allowed Cambodians to test their ideas out with peers and express their insights more naturally.
In his new position with the ARC, Zabriskie is still applying the framework he began building at Fuller. "When people are traumatized," he observes, "healing requires paying close attention to a community's identity and cultural context and how they are experiencing brokenness." As part of his role at the ARC, Zabriskie asks how the organization can bring about transformation at a profoundly personal level. "The refugees we work with are deeply traumatized," he says. "We must not only provide food and water, basic health services and safety, but treat people in such a way that they rediscover their own sense of dignity and initiative."
To take on this new job with the ARC, Zabriskie and his wife, Kristi--also a Fuller graduate, whom he met at the seminary's 50th anniversary celebration--and their children moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. "Our family experienced a lot of loss moving away from the community in Pasadena where we were rooted for many years," he shares. "In a very limited way we've experienced displacement, like the people with whom I work." As they move through their transitional time and try to get settled, Zabriskie is focusing not only on his work responsibilities but also the family's responsibility to take care of each other. "I think that being successful here will require constant learning and trying to develop greater personal and professional maturity," he says, adding that he aspires to have wisdom and humility similar to that displayed in the life of Paul Hiebert. "I am not certain if I have the skills to accomplish this, but both my wife and I felt called to make this change, and we do believe that God is faithful." Indeed, as Zabriskie has helped thousands of refugees to begin again, he trusts that God generously provides for all those who find themselves in a new beginning.