Volume XI, Issue 6

Dallas International Alumni

Listening Across Cultural Divides

Alumni Ryan and Crystal Pennington and family

Alumni Ryan and Crystal Pennington and family

At fourteen, when Ryan began to follow Christ, he experienced God’s call to cross-cultural service. As undergraduates at Dallas Baptist University (DBU), he and his wife, Crystal, heard David Ross, Dallas International’s first president, speak about his cross-cultural experiences and met him afterward. As a result, Crystal and Ryan eventually completed a minor in Applied Linguistics at Dallas International, in partnership with DBU. Later, in 2013, Ryan graduated from Dallas International with his M.A. in Applied Linguistics with a concentration in Descriptive Linguistics. “We were captivated by the idea of using our skills to support the Bible translation movement,” Ryan shared.   

Before finishing his Dallas International studies, Ryan served for several years in Papua New Guinea (PNG), first as a fieldworker in the Morobe Province among the Ma Manda people, then as a linguistics consultant in Ukarumpa. After graduating from Dallas International, Ryan also worked for a while as a linguistic researcher among the Gadsup people in the Eastern Highlands Province of PNG.

Today, Ryan serves as the founder and director of the Refugee Language Project, based in Amarillo, Texas. “We are developing English language programs and opportunities that are sensitive to the linguistic and cultural diversity we see here,” he explained. “We study refugee languages, lead conversational English events, foster the development of relationships between refugee families and individuals in our community, and spend one-on-one time coaching refugee pastors and other leaders.”

Although the Refugee Language Project is very new, God has already used it to bring together over twenty refugees from six different language groups and Christian families in Amarillo. Praise God! “As we spend time in their homes and invite them into our homes, we develop genuine friendships where the Gospel can be shared honestly and relationally,” Ryan said.

Ryan shared that his Dallas International classes equipped him to quickly learn the refugees’ heart languages, enabling him to build a rapport with them easily. “Dallas International taught me how to listen,” he shared. “In a world that is drowning in competing voices, the ability to listen across cultural divides might as well be a super power.”

Ryan benefited from Dallas International not only academically, but also relationally. “Many of my closest friendships were formed while at Dallas International as we studied together in the library, shared and checked each other’s newsletters, and worshiped next to one another during chapel,” he said. “Dallas International is much more than a school.”

Currently, the Penningtons are seeking potential leaders from these refugee communities to train. Also, they are continuing to develop a program called Table Talk, which provides free meals and conversation cards for volunteers and refugees to practice English together. In another part of Amarillo, they are also establishing a more formal English and citizenship program.

Ryan invites us to “Pray that we would be wise about when to say ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ Pray that the burdens of refugee service would not crush us, but only force us to rely on a powerful and life-giving Savior. Finally, pray that we would establish trusting relationships with the right leaders.”


While attending seminary, the Holy Spirit drew Aaron’s heart to overseas service through his enjoyment of biblical language studies and chapel services on cross-cultural themes. Aaron and his wife, Joanna, eventually joined Wycliffe, and Aaron started training at Dallas International. In 2012, he graduated with his M.A. in Applied Linguistics with a Translation concentration.

Now, Aaron serves as a Translation Advisor for the Lavukal people of Solomon Islands. He works in areas of training, translation, literacy, and development.

Alumni, Aaron and Joanna Choate and family

Alumni, Aaron and Joanna Choate and family

Often, the Lavukal people lack sufficient rain, and their island has no sources of potable water. Since everyday problems of life are not what the Lavukals tend to bring to God, they did not understand why the Choates prayed for rain. When rain eventually came, the Lavukals’ neighbors would say, “Those people who pray for you must be praying for rain.” Aaron shared, “Our neighbors learned in new, intimate ways that God loves them, knows their need, and responds to their cry for help.”

One time, Aaron talked with local translators about applying principles from a recent Culture Meets Scripture workshop to their bride price custom. At first, the translators spoke negatively about it. However, when Aaron shared with them the connections between their custom and teachings on marriage in Ephesians, one translator in particular—a respected village leader and family and tribal headman—became very excited. He couldn’t wait to tell others how this custom is a beautiful picture of God’s truth about marriage!

Of course, not all of cross-cultural living is rosy. Aaron shared about his first phase of living overseas: “We were truly culture stressed and shell-shocked by the basics of living . . . All the excellent training for fieldwork and language learning was in me; it was just lost in some upper level on the [Maslow’s] hierarchy [of needs] that I could not attain. At the eighteen-month mark, it was like someone flipped a switch . . . I was flooded with all the training and equipping I had received at Dallas International . . . I was well prepared by [my training at] Dallas International, and the training and instruction were even safe through the ‘lost time.’” Praise God for His strength amid troubles!

Currently, the Choates are helping their eldest two children settle into college in the U.S., planning to work remotely, and later return to the Solomon Islands. Let’s pray for God’s provision for the Choates’ shift to a remote assignment, for their children’s college transition, and for the local Lavukal translators.


As of 2017, Harvard University has an endowment of over 36 billion dollars – a number almost beyond comprehension. Dallas International has an endowment of just over one million dollars. Of course, we have been in existence less than 20 years, while Harvard has been around since 1636.

Our endowments are split over several dedicated funds: The Marvin Mayers Endowed Chair of Applied Anthropology which supports a professor in the Applied Anthropology Department and five endowed scholarship funds whose proceeds support student scholarships (General Endowment, W.W. Caruth III, Tozer, Ruth Emily Newhouse and Paul Walter Family).

Would you please consider making a gift that will keep on giving? You can add to any one of our existing endowed funds or, if you wanted to establish an endowment now, or in the future through your estate, endowed faculty chairs start at $1.5 million and endowed scholarship funds have a minimum of $25,000. If you have questions, please contact the Development department at development@diu.edu.

Thank you for your partnership in preparing harvest workers.

To give online click here.
Use the gift designation menu to select the endowment to which you want to contribute.

7500 W Camp Wisdom Road, Dallas, TX 75236 / 972-708-7340 / development@diu.edu / www.diu.edu
Dallas International University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award baccalaureate and masters degrees. Contact the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Dallas International University. All questions not related to accreditation should be directed to Dallas International.