Editor's Note: OBU alumnus Ryan Abernathy, a 1997 graduate, is a 2014 recipient of the OBU Alumni Association's Profile In Excellence Award. The award is given to a former student who has "demonstrated recognizable accomplishment in his or her profession, business, avocation, or life service in such a way as to bring pride and honor to the University." Each year, Profile In Excellence recipients are featured in OBU Magazine.
Called to Serve
Ryan Abernathy is a man with a purpose -- a purpose that was forged and shaped on Bison Hill.
"I heard about OBU late my junior year of high school," he said. "I had never heard of OBU. A friend of mine told me about it. When I went to a visit day in the fall of 1992, I was sold. It seemed like a place that was custom made for me."
Born in Dallas, Texas, he graduated from OBU in 1997. He then earned his master of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2004.
"The impact OBU had on my life has been profound," he said. "I met my wife [Amanda Reeves, '99] and three best friends there. I learned how to study scripture, how to interact and live with a diverse group of people, and how to be the man God called me to be on Bison Hill."
"Dr. [Don] Wester taught me how to think and use my mind to delve into a subject from multiple angles," he said. "Dr. [Mack] Roark taught me how to study. Dr. [Warren] McWilliams was my adviser and taught me a love of theology. Dr. [Tom] Wilkes taught me to serve. He told us over and over again that the role of a pastor was to serve God and people."
While serving in youth ministry at First Baptist Church, Bethany, Oklahoma, from 1997 to 2004, Abernathy saw the need to minister not only to the youth but also to their families. He began to pray and ultimately realized God was calling him to plant a church.
In June 2004, with three other families, they launched what was then Journey Fellowship. In 2011, the church merged with another congregation and became West Metro Community Church, where Abernathy serves as teaching pastor and oversees the elder council.
The same year, he started working at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. He began as a coordinator focused on senior adults and now serves as Community Initiatives Director, where he works with coordinators to oversee the Food for Kids program, the School Pantry Program and the Senior Feeding Program, as well as more than 360 other charitable feeding programs in a 53 county area of central and western Oklahoma. The organization serves over 300,000 individuals on a yearly basis through 1,100 partner agencies and schools.
Karen Paul, '98, serves as manager of foundations and grants at the food bank and is Abernathy's colleague. "He consistently brings a high degree of compassion and service to all that he does," she said. "He makes those individuals he helps feel respected and cared for, even in their darkest hours."
"My work with the Food Bank has allowed me to focus on serving the least of these, people caught in the cycle of poverty, the overlooked and forgotten, as well as those who are simply in need of a hand of mercy in a difficult hour," he said.
"The most rewarding part of my work is seeing someone's life change," he said. "Everything that I do is ultimately about bringing to bear God's Kingdom and mercy on someone's life. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the look on someone's face when hope has arrived in their life."
Abernathy and his wife have three children, Annalise, Mia Kate and Ella.