Former Army chaplain and Sandy native Ryan Smith, 'inspired to work interculturally' through Native American ministry

Faith Christian Fellowship’s new pastor is a guy whose life and professional experience have accustomed him to a variety of different cultures.

Now a minister in one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse communities in the state, those experiences should serve him well.

One of his most influential inter-cultural experiences has been in working alongside Christian Native Americans, who seek to share their faith with other members of their tribe.

“I’ve worked a lot with Native Americans, and it’s pretty remarkable to see how a lot of their traby: TYLER FRANCKE - The Rev. Ryan Smith, new pastor of Faith Christian Fellowship in Woodburn, has a heart for intercultural ministry.ditional values are similar to the values we derive from things like the Ten Commandments,” said Ryan Smith, who began his new post at Faith Christian July 1. “It showed me how God has been working through indigenous cultures for thousands of years. It really inspired me to work interculturally.”

Smith, 27, was born and raised on a 40-acre cattle farm near Sandy. Later in life, he found he was in store for more culture shock, when he met the woman he would marry, Jen, who is of Hispanic heritage.

“It was an interesting experience, this farm boy from Sandy marrying into a Hispanic family,” he said with a laugh.

Through his wife’s family, he said he’s come to a keen awareness of the challenges faced by many immigrant families today, from dealing with prejudice to seeking legal status.

It’s also made him proficient at understanding Spanish, even though he still can’t speak it.

His formal academic training — undergrad at the Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas, and postgrad at George Fox Evangelical Seminary — have added to that list of languages.

He can also read in and translate ancient Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Ethiopic.

Though these ancient tongues will probably serve him less well than the Spanish on a day-to-day basis in Woodburn, his mastery did make him part of the first team to begin a modern translation of the Ethiopic manuscript of the Book of Jeremiah.

But, Smith said, he has always felt more drawn to a people-centric ministry than a purely intellectual one.

“I’m not an academic,” he admitted, chuckling. “I don’t like being locked in the ivory tower all day.”

While at Southwestern, he headed a street ministry that involved 70 students and hundreds of homeless men and women, working with already established shelters, soup kitchens and rehab centers in the area.

After graduating in 2008, he joined the U.S. Army, where he served as a chaplain for two years. The bulk of his brigade was stationed at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq, but he was based in Portland, where he worked with families and helped coordinate soldiers’ return to civilian life.

“I learned a lot,” he said.

Smith acknowledged that he does not believe the American church has done a great job in accommodating other cultures, often relegating them to their own services, rather than facilitating integration.

“I don’t want to separate out the cultures,” he said. “If you look at the early church, that wasn’t the case. It was, ‘We are the church, and we have to learn to work together without showing preference to any one culture.”

For more information about Faith Christian, call 503-981-7926 or visit faithchristian

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