iSchool faculty brings technology help to missions in Ghana, India

spotlight on mission work of Ray Pettit and Dwayne Towell, SITC faculty

Just because Ray Pettit's name isn't followed by the word "missionary," doesn't mean he isn't one.

Instead of the Bible building, Ray can be found in the business building - behind a computer. It's not where you would expect to find a missionary, but Ray qualifies in every sense of the word.

Whether he and his wife, Amanda, are taking care of their Sanctuary Home organization right here in Abilene or traveling to India or Ghana to help people learn computer skills, the couple spends endless hours serving as "missionaries."

Ray is an adjunct instructor of computer science in the School of Information Technology and Computing. His compassion for people less fortunate and his willingness to help out doesn't get lost in the world of bits and bytes.

In fact, it is encouraged. Ray and Dwayne Towell, assistant professor of computer science, started talking a few years ago about ways to become involved in humanitarian efforts.

The question arose, "Does anyone have a need for people with computer expertise?"

Almost immediately, two opportunities came up - the Village of Hope and Heritage Christian College, both in Ghana.

Village of Hope: Lending a helping hand

Village of Hope is a Christian-based medical center, orphanage and school. Fred Asare, managing director of Village of Hope and a faculty member of Heritage Christian College, was a keynote speaker at ACU's Lectureship in 2007. He also spoke at ACU's Preacher's Day held in Dallas in February.

Because of their missions work, Ray and Dwayne were able to show students that no matter what their field of interest, with God's help, they can use it to serve people less fortunate.

Ray visited both sites for the first time in the summer of 2007 with Dwayne and his daughter, Ayrea, and ACU computer science student Robert Butts.

The entourage spent two weeks at Village of Hope and another two weeks at Heritage Christian College.

"Nobody there has a lot of expertise in computers," Ray said, so the ACU group was most welcomed.

The trip was a success on the Ghana side, but it also added an element to the men's relationship with their students back at ACU. Because of their missions work, Ray and Dwayne were able to show students that no matter what their field of interest, with God's help, they can use it to serve people less fortunate.

"At the very least the students see our faith is real and we are active," Dwayne said.

At Village of Hope, the ACU group taught teachers how to utilize technology in the classroom, helped them manage their limited Internet access, fixed old computers and made the computer network more reliable.

Before leaving, the computer crew trained a couple of people to clean and maintain the computers themselves.

Now, the people that run Village of Hope want to establish a high school for technology studies. Ray and Dwayne may be right there working with them.

"We're definitely looking at longer term ways we could lend them expertise and help them out," Ray said.

Heritage Christian College: Using technology as a teaching tool

That same summer, the group lent their expertise to Heritage Christian College, which is a school for undergraduates to study the Bible.

The two ACU professors taught the instructors at the college how to use technology as a teaching tool. The trip wasn’t a one-way exchange. They also taught the students directly. Dwayne posted a blog from the trip and talked about what the experience meant to the ACU group.

We got to experience their lifestyle, so we better understand the people in Ghana. We worshipped alongside fellow believers halfway around the world. They put their all into worship; it was such a blessing to worship with them.

"We got to experience their lifestyle, so we better understand the people in Ghana," Dwayne wrote. "We worshipped alongside fellow believers halfway around the world. They put their all into worship; it was such a blessing to worship with them."

Ray's "missionary" experience actually began long before the Ghana connections. In 1996, Ray and his wife were living in Hondo and met a man at their church who was involved in short-term missions in India.

He told them of an Indian who had lost status because he had converted from Hinduism to Christianity.

"We really got interested in that," Ray recalled.

Sanctuary Home: Persistence and prayer

The interest turned into a 10-year commitment to send money every month to support a minister in India.

"Our relationship just kind of grew from there," Ray said.

The contact in India, Isaac Palaparthi, started telling Ray of a need for an orphanage in India, but Ray and his wife decided that wasn't their thing.

Little did they know. Ray had decided he wanted to teacher computer science, and he enrolled at Texas Tech University's graduate computer science school in Abilene to get a master's degree.

But Palaparthi wouldn't give up. The Pettits insisted they had no money and didn't know anything about operating an orphanage. They agreed to pray about it, however. That's when the miracle took place.

"People just started popping up," he said, with offers of financial support and expertise.

In June 2006, Sanctuary Home was born in Tenali, India, and now houses about 80 children, ranging in age from 5 to 17. Each child has a sponsor who donates $35 a month to cover expenses.

In December of that year Ray got his first look at the orphanage that was made possible by his Sanctuary Home, headquartered in Abilene. He made a return trip in 2007.

In the short time since the orphanage opened, one resident has gone on to college and three others have obtained apprenticeships in order to learn a skill.

"God is just constantly opening doors and touching the lives of those kids," Ray said.

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