Dr. Carol Minton-Ryan said when she first visited Malawi in 1998, at the time only a student herself, she had no idea of the impact a small, African country would have on her.
Minton-Ryan became a professor of sociology at California Baptist University 16 years ago after working as a nurse.
Her work has taken her to many exotic locations, including a mission to Jamaica and a sabbatical in Jordan.
However, it is Malawi, a small African country about the size of Pennsylvania, that she said caught her eye and inspired her research.
“I would say my big takeaway from all the times God has led me is it’s often not about me,” Minton-Ryan said. “God sees the big picture. He has such a love for the people of Malawi that he felt, for whatever reason, I should go there.”
Since her first trip, she has visited the country several more times. On Minton-Ryan’s most recent trip, she examined an emerging, undocumented sign language at a school for the deaf in northern Malawi.
Minton-Ryan said she wants to give a voice to people often overlooked — a sentiment that ties into Proverbs 31:8-9, Minton-Ryan’s mission statement.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice,” the proverb states.
She said this is the motivation for her work in Malawi and everything she does.
Through studying Malawi sign language, Minton-Ryan and her team concluded it is a distinct language, not simply a dialect as they first suspected.
“We were given extraordinary opportunity and a gracious access to understanding the sign language of Malawi,” Minton-Ryan said.
Minton-Ryan said her team is in the middle of a two-year process of creating a digital dictionary for a Malawi sign language pilot study.
The dictionary will include 450 words and pictures that describe how to sign them, as well as the several different ways one might sign the same thing in the same language.
Minton-Ryan said she is grateful to CBU and to her team for allowing her the opportunity to conduct her research.
“That’s one of the privileges of working at CBU, that our research is encouraged and supported, especially if there’s mission focus or especially if it will foster greater understanding of people and allow them to share the Good News,” Minton-Ryan said. “What a privilege to be here knowing they support my research mission.”
Although the team’s grant money is not enough to complete the project, Minton-Ryan’s team is currently compiling and archiving their findings for a Finnish team to build upon and continue the work.