Staff Spotlight: Rob Wonderling
Meet the New Executive Director of the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center
This is part of a series of staff spotlights at American Bible Society. We hope you enjoy getting to know our staff members!
Today, meet Rob Wonderling, who joined American Bible Society in July of 2022 as the new executive director of the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center in Philadelphia. In this role, Rob is eager to use his experience in for-profit, nonprofit, and public service roles to help introduce Americans to the fascinating history of the Bible’s influence on the United States.
Tell us a little about yourself!
My wife Kristin and I grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country in Lebanon County, PA. We first met when I asked her to dance at the end of a junior high dance. We dated throughout high school and then reunited while finishing college. Since 1984, our family and professional journey has occurred in the Philadelphia region. In May of this year, we celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary! We are blessed with three adult sons and one granddaughter.
Our family loves the outdoors. Our mainstay hobbies are fishing, golfing, birding, hiking, and hoops. I also love to read. One of my favorite things about my new office at American Bible Society is that there are so many books and Bibles all around me. It’s like a library and office all wrapped up into one!
Another recent hobby emerged during the very intense days of the early pandemic. To relieve the stress of the long business days, I began to illustrate birds. Although I am not very talented (my works are slightly above stick figures), drawing birds is my own version of art therapy.
What did you do before coming to the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center?
God has blessed me with many interesting roles during my career—including several leadership roles at a fairly young age. I have worked in the large corporate for-profit sector, including for a Fortune 100 company based in Allentown, PA., and for a privately held global software technology company that took me across the U.S. and Mexico.
I also had two tours of duty in Pennsylvania State Government. I served in the executive branch of the state government as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Transportation. Later, God opened an unexpected door for me to be elected to the Pennsylvania Senate for two terms. We never planned to run for office. The local party needed a candidate, and I was the seventh person they called to draft someone to run for the Senate seat. At the time, I was content in my corporate job. Kristin and I prayed about it and decided to go for it. We weren’t expecting to win. It was a miracle that we got enough petitions to even get on the ballot since we joined the campaign so late in the process.
My time as a senator was the first time in my life that I had to publicly declare my faith. As the campaign unfolded, I had so many people come up to me on the campaign trail and tell me they were praying for me. And while I was in office, I interacted with several Christian lawmakers. We prayed together and sought guidance in Scripture for certain legislation. It was an amazing opportunity!
That role resulted in my recruitment to my most recent assignment as president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for the Greater Philadelphia Region. For the past 13 years I have had the incredible opportunity to serve our region’s business and civic community, working together to create as many jobs as possible for citizens in the Greater Philadelphia area.
It is now exciting for our family to move into the faith-based world with my new role leading the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center. Kristin and I have always been very strong in our faith, and I’ve tried to be salt and light in my various work environments. This will be an exciting new adventure and I hope that I can serve God via the message, experience, and digital connectivity of this unique center.
As the new executive director, can you tell us a little more about the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center?
I’m thrilled that God opened the door for me to serve as the center’s executive director. I’m excited about the mission of the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center, and I look forward to seeing many people experience what it’s like to walk through our galleries and come face-to-face with historic and modern Changemakers.
The Faith and Liberty Discovery Center is a modern, world-class facility right on Independence Mall that tells the story of the Bible’s influence on America. The best part is that this story is rooted in scholarship and fact. Throughout our history, citizens from all walks of life felt the calling to create a more perfect union and relied heavily on Scripture to do so.
I think of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which mirrors the apostle Paul’s letters from prison. Or Cesar Chavez, who relied on Scripture related to equal justice and provision for people working in the fields of California. The Faith and Liberty Discovery Center brings our history to life. The experience begins with William Penn and carries the visitor through a thought-provoking and interactive experience all the way to our role as citizens in this modern age.
The strategic vision for Faith and Liberty is that there are Changemakers across the United States today who are applying biblical principles of hope, faith, justice, unity, and love to create stronger families, communities, and ultimately a more just United States of America. The Faith and Liberty Discovery Center blends that history with current events to inform people about how the Old and New Testaments were integral to our founding and continue to drive change in our nation today. Visitors from all faiths—or no faith at all—can learn how they can have an important role in creating a more perfect union and discover how engagement with God’s Word can inspire them too.
To me, it’s still amazing that I get to be part of this!
What are you most looking forward to as you begin this new role?
In a word, it’s growth. I say that for a few reasons. First, our stellar team is eager to grow attendance at the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center. We haven’t had the chance to realize our full potential because of the pandemic, and now is the time to really put the center “on the map.”
I’m also looking forward to seeing how our visitors grow through their experience at the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center. There’s something for everyone to learn! Visitors might come to us with a good knowledge of history, but little to no exposure to the Bible. Or they could have a lot of biblical knowledge, but don’t know how those truths have guided our government and nation. No matter their background, all our visitors will be able to explore how engaging with the Bible can help them create change in their own lives and communities.
Finally, I’m excited about how God will use this role to grow me personally and professionally. My desire is to be a servant leader who is useful to my colleagues, the city of Philadelphia, and our nation through the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center.
Do you have a favorite part of the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center?
That’s a tough question! I’ve walked through the galleries several times, but I don’t think I can say that I have a favorite. As a kid, I remember loving the Giant Heart exhibit at the Franklin Institute here in Philadelphia. That’s an exhibit that you can explore and enjoy on its own. What we have at the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center is different. It’s a connected experience.
What I love about the whole experience is that it begins with people’s reflections on biblical values like love, liberty, faith, and hope. Then, as you walk through the galleries, you’re immersed in history and challenged to interact with your own viewpoints. By the time you reach the end of the experience, you are left with a lot to reflect on. How do I fit in as a citizen? How do I view the Bible? How can I go out and be a Changemaker?
I love the idea of Changemakers. These are men and women who applied biblical values in ways that shaped our history forever. For example, William Penn is remembered as the only colonial leader who did not use force to build a colony in America. This was largely because he sought to faithfully follow the Bible’s teachings on love as he worked to secure religious liberty for future generations.
We want our visitors to leave feeling like they can be Changemakers too. They can change broken relationships in their family. They can change their community. And yes, they can change our country! That’s what the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center does. It intentionally sets up these connecting ideas that make you consider your own place in the story.
Would you share your favorite Bible verse with us?
It depends on the day of the week and what’s going on in my life! But I can think of two that have been meaningful to me recently.
First is Colossians 3:12-14 (GNT):
You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you. And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity.
Kristin has this passage hanging by her chair in our library at home, and I love it. If everyone tried to live by these verses, we would have far fewer problems in the world.
The second verse is Philippians 3:13 (GNT):
Of course, my friends, I really do not think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead.
This verse has been important to me as I step into my first faith-based work environment. It’s not that I’m going to forget my past. In fact, I hope God allows me to leverage my experience in this new opportunity to serve. But it is a reminder to press on. The door behind me is closed. Now I get to start this exciting new chapter of service.
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