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 through Dallas International’s cooperative program 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.”