Article by Emily Gehman
Marketplace & Development Enterprises is grateful for its Board of Directors, men and women who because of their heart, experience, and vision are qualified to help guide our organization. Alan MacDonald was a friend of MDE long before the organization existed.
Alan MacDonald thought going to a Christian college would be good for him. But he confessed, “I was also repulsed at the thought of going to a Christian college.”
Alan grew up going to church and had the right answers; he knew all the rules and could play the game. But nobody but Alan knew what was going on inside. He could feel his life going off the rails, and in the middle of a college career at a private college in North Carolina, Alan thought it would be a good thing to go to a Christian college. So he chose Houghton College in upstate New York simply because there was a ski lift right on campus. That was cool.
“I only spent one year at Houghton, but it was pivotal. It changed the trajectory of my life.”
At Houghton College, he met two professors who deeply impacted him by taking him under their wings, investing in him. It was completely different than what he had experienced in North Carolina. And between those two professors and C.S. Lewis’s work, Pilgrim’s Regress, Alan underwent a transformation. It wasn’t overnight—“it was a process,” he said—but it was a transformation nonetheless.
“At the beginning of the year, I was on the outside looking in,” Alan said. “But by the end of the year, I was in.”
From Upstate to Around the World
Alan spent his childhood pouring over the maps and photos in National Geographic magazines. Global involvement was in his future. When he left for college, his goal was to make a career in foreign service.
But it was at Houghton College where he was first introduced to Wycliffe Bible Translators, and his interest was piqued. The Bible had recently come alive to Alan, and after hearing about the great need for Bible translations worldwide, he thought Wycliffe was the place for him. He began linguistics training but soon found the intense analysis work of translation and linguistics wasn’t his strong suit.
He found his lane in the international relations aspect of Wycliffe. And suddenly, all those childhood days of wonderment at National Geographic made sense.
“I didn’t go the foreign service route,” Alan said. “But I’ve had the opportunity to meet fourteen or fifteen heads of state.”
With Wycliffe Bible Translators, Alan spent time in Mexico and the Philippines before earning a graduate degree in journalism, which ushered him into becoming the director of international communications for Wycliffe. In the mid-1980s, he was sent to East Asia to explore possibilities for Wycliffe and subsequently served as the first director of the East Asia program.
After eight years in East Asia, and with his international experience, Alan returned to the US to become the director of international relations for Wycliffe. There, he served as the permanent representative to the United Nations.
(Yes, THAT United Nations.)
In Washington, D.C., the church Alan attended saw the need for more global engagement—especially in a town flooded with ambassadors and representatives engaged in international conversations. So Alan’s experience around the world and his heart for missions, the church invited Alan to be on staff as the pastor of global engagement.
For about 11 years, Alan organized conferences about faith, vocation, and culture, inviting experts and dignitaries like Madeleine Albright and Francis Collins to speak. He helped people orient their lives toward the Kingdom of God. What it boils down to is what Alan calls incarnational ministry—faith in real, Monday-through-Saturday life.
“If you want an incarnational ministry, get a job and live it out in the workplace.”
And that’s where Alan MacDonald and MDE connect.
Just One Friend
The MacDonalds and the Canadas met when they were both studying in graduate programs in California. Alan at USC, his wife, Doris, at UCLA, and Mark at UCLA as well. Doris was from Glendale, CA, but the MacDonalds had been in the Philippines for several years, so even though they were returning to her hometown, they didn’t have many friends. That’s when Doris began praying for just one.
“So at this little church that never had visitors—shortly after we arrived, this young couple showed up,” Alan said. “And it was Mark and Charlene.”
That was in 1980, and the MacDonalds and the Canadas have been friends ever since.
So when MDE was established in 2012, and it came time to build a board, it only made sense for Alan, with his global missions experience and passion for incarnational ministry, to be on it. He’s been there since the beginning.
“It’s been gratifying to see the growth and impact of MDE.”
In addition to his role on the MDE board, Alan offers consulting services and is still connected to Wycliffe. He’s involved in a significant local homeless ministry in Fairfax, VA, where he and Doris live. He also teaches an international Bible study with a wide range of scholars from around the world, including China, South America, and Iran.
“There’s no ‘Sunday school answers.’ They ask the hard, hard questions,” Alan said. “It’s something that has been a joy.”
And all of that happened because Alan chose to go to a Christian college—even if he didn’t really want to.