Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award 2008
Ronald Angelo Johnson
West Lafayette, IN
Doctoral Candidate at Purdue University
Pastor, Badger Grove Community Baptist Church
B.A. International Studies 1997
|Ronald Angelo Johnson|
Dean of the College of Liberal Arts
Ron Johnson has led a remarkable life in diplomatic service and as a pastor. He has been a political analyst in the CIA, he’s held diplomatic posts with the U.S. Department of State in Gabon and Luxembourg, he’s fluent in Italian and French, he holds three degrees, he is currently working on his Ph.D. in history, and he is an ordained Baptist minister. Faith and public policy have intersected frequently in Ron’s life, and one of those first intersections happened to him in a war zone.
After graduating from Lufkin high school in 1989, Ron joined the Air Force and was posted to Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm. He had grown up in the Baptist church and had recently been licensed to preach. So, the Air Force assigned him to serve as a chapel manager in Saudi Arabia, organizing interfaith programs for troops on American air bases. Off the base, he became involved in an underground church that provided Bibles and interfaith services for non-Muslims from other countries who wanted to worship—a dangerous activity in a country where it is illegal to worship as anything but a Muslim. Ron said that seeing people willing to risk deportation and their livelihoods for their faith opened his eyes to the way Christianity works in other parts of the world.
It was also during this time that he received God’s call to ministry in the foreign service. He says he heard the call “as clear as day.” He loved being in the military and his friends and family thought he was crazy to leave a stable job in the Air Force, but he knew he had to have a college degree in order to enter diplomatic service. While he was stationed in San Antonio, he was accepted into the international studies programs at Wright State University, Baylor University, and Texas State. He made appointments to visit Texas State and Baylor, but he found Texas State to be such a beautiful campus and its faculty and students to be so welcoming that he called Baylor and said he wouldn’t be coming to visit their campus.
Ron is the youngest of nine children and the first in his family to obtain a college degree. He said the welcome he received on the campus, particularly from Dr. Dennis Dunn, the director of the International Studies program, made him feel that he could succeed at Texas State. Ron said that Dr. Dunn has been his closest friend and supporter on the campus, helping him throughout his academic program and into his career. Ron was indeed successful at Texas State, receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies summa cum laude in 1997.
Ron’s last semester at Texas State was especially eventful. After holding an internship at the CIA, he was offered a job with the agency as a political analyst, and he was simultaneously accepted to the American Foreign Policy program at Johns Hopkins University to work on his master’s degree. And most importantly: on graduation day at Texas State, he proposed to his wife, Colette, a University of Texas graduate, and soon after they were married.
Ron received his master’s degree with distinction from Johns Hopkins, and he left the CIA to work for the U.S. Department of State. He was stationed at our embassies in Luxembourg and Gabon, experiencing again the intersection of faith and public policy. In both countries, he worked with churches on behalf of the U.S. Government in an effort to stop the trafficking of women and children.
In Gabon, Ron says he began to feel a rumbling in his spirit to go into the ministry as a fulltime vocation. So, with Colette’s agreement, he left the certainty of a comfortable life in a picturesque country to go to Boston University to earn his Master of Divinity degree. He and Colette arrived in Boston with no jobs, no money, no furniture, and Colette was pregnant. But, as Ron says, God was really watching over them because, within a year, Ron was called as pastor to a church, Colette had found a job as a banker, they bought their first home, and they had a beautiful daughter, Soleil, who is now 4. Ron obtained his divinity degree magna cum laude, and Soleil now has a little brother, R.J., who is 2 and a half.
During his exciting career with the CIA and the State Department and in his busy life as a graduate student, husband, and father, Ron has also served continuously as a church minister in his communities. He is about to begin writing his dissertation on early American religion and diplomacy, in the history department at Purdue University. He is also pastoring Badger Grove Community Baptist Church in Brookston, Indiana. Ron says that his education at Texas State has had a defining impact on both his graduate work and his ministry. Recently, when his church was looking for an outreach project, Ron recalled a Christmas at Texas State when he and his classmates in the Golden Key Honor Society took toys and hygiene products to the women living in San Marcos’ battered women’s shelter. The women’s gratitude for the gifts affected him so profoundly that he urged his Indiana church to take on a similar project this past Christmas.
When Ron finishes his Ph.D., he hopes to become a college professor and do for his students what his professors at Texas State did for him: make students feel that they can do something good with their lives.
Ron and Colette have created a scholarship at Texas State—a foreign affairs scholarship in the Center for International Studies. Ron knows firsthand that it’s stressful when you don’t know how you’re going to pay for tuition and books. If it hadn’t been for Texas State, Ron says, “There’s no way the rest of the things on my resume would have happened.”
After Ron became the first college graduate in his family, his niece became the second family member to attend Texas State, obtaining a BBA degree in finance, in 1999. If you ask her why she came to the University, she responds, “Three reasons: my uncle, my uncle, my uncle.” Ron says the tradition that he and his niece have started, of attending Texas State, has real meaning to his family. He loves our University, and, on behalf of the College of Liberal Arts, I am very honored to present Ronald Angelo Johnson with the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.