LGP Stories

Personal Stories from DLGP

Mark Petersen: On Pilgrimage

Written by: on July 9, 2018

Mark Petersen is a Canadian ministry entrepreneur with a rich background of experiences and relationships in places like Colombia, the Philippines, and across Canada. For fifteen years he led a private family foundation that jumpstarted innovation by Canadian Christian charities. It was a journey with thrilling mountaintops and desperate valleys, high impact grants and dead-end disasters. He was networked to many significant ministry efforts by Canadian parachurch groups but was ready for a change.

Facing his midlife years, with kids having left the nest and reimagining next stages of life together with his wife, he decided to embark on a pilgrimage across Spain to the cathedral town of Santiago de Compostela. Just once wasn’t enough. Walking three different Spanish caminos over three consecutive summers, he encountered and walked with a bizarre but lovable cast of characters: a young French anarchist searching for a path to fulfillment, an elderly Indian mystic who punctuated conversations with quotes by Rumi, an Australian skydiver plagued by some terrible life choices, and a jilted Italian who ached to find love again.  Yet these faithful companions showed him that we have much more in common than the differences that often divide us.

The physicality of walking a pilgrimage was paralleled in his spirit. Like Jayber Crow in Wendell Berry’s novel of the same name, he echoed:

I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order… I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led – make of that what you will.[1]

He returned home to Toronto ready to make significant shifts.

The shifts were dramatic and sudden. The family foundation he had been leading went through a succession strategy that unexpectedly reshaped Mark’s employment. Now, instead of directing one foundation, he leveraged his past work and started his own firm. Today, Stronger Philanthropy has a diverse client list representing multiple foundations and organizations seeking to give well for kingdom work.  His book, Love Giving Well: Philanthropy as Pilgrimage, was published by Wipf & Stock in 2017 and began opening doors for fruitful conversations about giving and generosity. Finally, he and his wife chose to abandon the centre of Canadian culture, leaving Toronto for the fringes at the New Brunswick-Maine border. There, where the forest and rock meet the ocean, they are discovering the simple joys of a small town where everyone knows one’s name and ministry innovations continue to be birthed organically.

Mark is convinced that those who are stewarding much have a tremendous opportunity laying before them. Donors have historically been invited to relate to charities in a transactional way, they write checks and sometimes volunteer to host fundraising events, but rarely are invited to engage in more meaningful ways. This leads to a deep sense of alienation by generous people; they feel they are treated like human ATMs, yet they also fear the vulnerability of allowing themselves to be known.

Mark claims that for such people, there is an opportunity to move toward transformational giving. He states,

“Doing philanthropy without being willing to be changed ourselves is not adequate, and really defeats the purpose of giving. Giving is not about the gift, but about the giver engaging and becoming part of the community. Giving is about being changed oneself. We need to get our eyes off the financial transaction, and onto the transformation of the heart.”[2]

Choosing to study with George Fox and pursue the DMin is a way for Mark to consolidate his thinking and to offer Christian philanthropy new pathways forward, particularly for next generations who are inheriting the responsibility of giving. As next generations step up into philanthropy, they are hungry for transformative models that require more than just writing a check.


[1] Berry, Wendell. Jayber Crow. (Berkeley CA: Counterpoint, 2000), 133.

[2] Petersen, Mark. Love Giving Well: The Pilgrimage of Philanthropy. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017), 194.



About the Author

Mark Petersen

Mark Petersen is the CEO of Stronger Philanthropy, a Canadian firm specializing in maximizing family philanthropy. He leads a diverse group of visionary individuals, foundations and organizations to collaborate in leveraging wealth for charitable impact.

Leave a Reply