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Bill Leese of SPU’s Alumni Board: Engaging with the global church

Bill Leese is a commercial salmon fisherman and captain of his own boat. About six months of the year, he is either fishing or maintaining his vessel, nets, and other salmon fishing equipment. That love of fishing, handed down from father to son, allows the 1983 Seattle Pacific University Christian education major a great deal of flexibility the remainder of the year — the flexibility to feed what he likes to call “my global curiosity.”

That strong desire to know and to learn compelled him to teach the humanities for 10 years at the Hong Kong International School. It has also drawn him to India 12 times, including leading several trips for high school students to expand their world view. He and his wife, Seattle Pacific University Professor of Christian Scripture J.J. Johnson Leese, adopted two Indian children, Sanjay and Janae, as infants.

Bill and Bob with Immanuel College faculty
Bob Drovdahl (center) and Bill Leese (right) with Immanuel College faculty

Bill, who is a member of the SPU Alumni Association Board, took his latest trip to India in January to Hyderabad, capital of Telangana state, and home of Immanuel University McKenna College of Education. Heading a team of 26 church leaders, pastors, and Seattle Pacific School of Theology graduate students were Dave and Shelly Goodnight, Seattle residents and members of the Immanuel board. Rob McKenna ’90, chair of SPU’s Industrial-Organizational Psychology program brought a number of students in the master’s degree program in Christian leadership. The College of Education is named for Rob’s father and SPU’s fifth president, David McKenna.

“I went to train pastors who were there for a pastors’ conference,” says Bill, who spent 11 years discipling churches in the Midwest. “We explored future programs at Immanuel that would provide theological training through our School of Theology and theology students.”

Another team member was Bob Drovdahl ’71, professor of educational ministry, a close friend of Bill’s, one of his former SPU theology professors, and Immanuel University’s commencement speaker. Bill says it enriched his experience. “To visit India together with Bob was a great experience!”

Also there, traveling independently, was Kevin Austin ’84, Bill’s former classmate and founder of the non-profit Set Free Movement, working to end modern slavery.

Bill Leese, Kevin Austin and Bob Drovdahl
(From left to right) Bob Drovdahl, Kevin Austin, and Bill Leese

Bill had a number of memorable interviews with the faculty of Immanuel’s Bible College. “They are hungry for partnerships with us,” Bill explains. “We came up with a couple of nice models for professor mentoring, and maybe some English language training facilitated by our students.”

From Hyderabad, Bill joined his biological son Nathan, who is a photojournalist, for a trip down the coast of southern India visiting and photographing various fisheries to gain ideas for possible publishing projects. Later, Bill trekked the Himalayas and stopped off in Bhutan.

As an Alumni Board member, Bill enjoys helping host alumni events and participating in alumni awards selection. “It provides a sounding board and a reporting station,” he says. “On a personal level, we get to be ambassadors for SPU.”

Beginning to work aboard his dad’s boat by age 6, Bill absorbed a love for the open sea and the creatures in it. While Bill was in college, and at Fuller Seminary earning a master of divinity degree, summer fishing paid the bills for a quality education. And today, that education makes him a valuable asset in developing and expanding SPU’s global reach.

“It’s good to be an active spouse alongside my wife’s work at SPU,” he says. “I want to do even more.”

bob drovdahl and bill neese
Bill Leese (left) and Bob Drovdahl (right)
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