Focusing on the Future: An Update on NBA XPLOR

By Rev. Monica Wedlock Kilpatrick, Rev. Virzola Law, Evan Stanfill, NBA XPLOR Staff

The initial XPLOR Residents gather for a moment of prayer at orientation for the program.

After placing NBA XPLOR, our faith-based residential service program on pause throughout 2020-2021 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and shifts in staffing, the NBA XPLOR team regrouped and is envisioning exciting ways to continue to support young adults across the life of the church.

At the beginning of March, Rev. Bonnie Osei-Frimpong resigned from the position of Director of NBA XPLOR. Bonnie joined NBA in 2014 and worked to bring the NBA XPLOR program to life. Her dedicated work helped create 31 house communities over 10 locations, impacting the lives of more than 100 Residents during her tenure. We wish her the best in all her future endeavors.

Since NBA XPLOR was first envisioned in 2012 and launched in 2014, our objective has been to cultivate a young adult, community-centered, social-justice-oriented, spiritual, and vocational deepening experience. In XPLOR’s original design and implementation, there was a strong consensus that “the need is great, and the time is now.” In six years of residential programming, the NBA supported young adults seeking to develop their spiritual and vocational identities along with deepening their experiences of living lives of faith and justice. The residential XPLOR program will continue impacting residents, host teams, congregations, community engagement sites, and the whole church long into the future.

Former XPLOR resident and current NBA XPLOR mission specialist for equity Evan Stanfill.

This year offers a time of new challenges and new opportunities for young adults, congregational partners, and social service partners. As a program, NBA XPLOR seeks to discern and navigate the ways in which we can create equitable, faith-rooted, young adult-focused, community-transforming, vocational deepening experiences. Therefore, we are exploring new ways to continue to live into our call to build wise and faithful leadership for the church and the world in the 21st Century. The need is great, and the time is now for new models of young adult leadership development.

NBA has engaged in conversations with young adults, clergy, and other Disciples to help determine how to engage young people in new and relevant ways that take seriously our lessons learned from the residential model of NBA XPLOR and our deep commitment to equity in NBA programming.

During 2021, we’ve centered our energy on three vision areas:

  • Nurturing an XPLOR Alumni community, with an emphasis on growing a culture of equity
  • Launching an innovative young adult peer group, in close partnership with the Central Pastoral Office for Hispanic Ministries (La Obra Hispana)
  • Visioning and designing a leadership experience by and for young adult Black women

Since 2020, the NBA XPLOR team has worked to engage and reach out to past XPLOR residents and reignite the supportive community these residents first formed when saying yes to join the XPLOR Program. This work is led by former XPLOR Residents Evan Stanfill and Angelica Santiago Gonzalez. Together, they have worked to host check-in conversations, trivia nights via Zoom, and virtual book clubs.

This summer, the NBA in collaboration with Central Pastoral Office for Hispanic Ministries (Obra Hispana) Young Adult Leadership Experience (YALE), launched a young adult Peer Learning and Wellness Group comprised of 8 Hispanic young adult leaders. This collaboration will expand leadership development programming for young adult Disciples and respond to particular leadership needs in Hispanic Disciples’ communities. Obra Hispana and NBA are excited to continue to partner in new and exciting ways.

NBA XPLOR Mission Specialist Rev. Virzola Law with 2016-17 XPLOR Resident DeShay Jackson.

In addition to NBA XPLOR’s work with Hispanic communities, the team is also designing a leadership experience for young adult Black women. Through the NBA XPLOR residential program, there have been significant discoveries and new learnings about how to best support and come alongside young adult leaders. Most notably has been the unique challenges facing young adult Black women who continue to face the reality of being a double minority in the United States. NBA XPLOR has been asking for some time what could the impact be if young adults were called together based on a lived shared experience. Rev. Virzola Law, XPLOR mission specialist, has been grappling with this idea and brought together six Black women Disciples leaders in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, area for some initial visioning of a leadership experience for young Black women.

NBA VP of Organizational Leadership Development Rev. Monica Wedlock Kilpatrick with 2016-17 XPLOR Resident Imani Williams.

This group of women spent hours in deep conversation about current issues facing this population, the need for a space to be nurtured, supported, and to grow, and naming necessary components of a model for such an experience. This wisdom is now the foundation for a research and design team inclusive of young adult women to flesh out a comprehensive program proposal. The team began meeting in August and will spend six months creating this leadership experience model. The team includes NBA staff, subject matter experts, representatives from the Black community, representatives from potential partner organizations, ministries, regions, congregations, and other appropriate leaders with passion and insight in the program area. We look forward to sharing in the future more of where this intentional time of research and conversation leads us.

The residential service year model strongly identified with XPLOR remains on pause for the time being, as our XPLOR team, stakeholders, and partners discern the challenges and opportunities of this time within the ongoing public health crisis. We look forward to the future ways that our programming can continue to build leadership for the church and the world in the 21st Century.

For more questions about NBA XPLOR or other work with young adults please email