About a year ago, our Executive Director, Susan Huxster Synek, began dating her now husband, Mr. Michael Synek. With their wonderful decision to be married also came Susan’s call to move to Nebraska and begin a new season of life. Over the past 8 months, Susan has been slowly transitioning out of her role as Executive Director, and along with our board, our new Executive Director began to transition into the role. While the Joy Ranch family will deeply miss our kind, bold, & innovative Susan, we rejoice in her beautiful marriage and the beginning of her new chapter!
Today, we are so excited to introduce you to our new Executive Director, Dan Austin! Dan is a good friend of Susan, and has been working alongside Joy Ranch for the past 3 1/2 years!
Dan smiles and listens intently as two middle school kids explain to him their system of “gifting” people with silly nicknames and he laughs at their loud demonstration of dinosaur noises. Despite the goofy nature of the subject matter, Dan never dismisses the conversation as unimportant, but instead, gives it his full attention, being sure to add his own ideas. During the week, Dan is sure to stop in at the cottages and make sure the houseparents are doing well that morning. And often, you can see him walking the campus, praying for God’s hand on Joy Ranch.
These interactions, filled with kindness, intentionality, and joy- and always rooted in a love for Christ- are a wonderful glimpse into the type of person that is Dan Austin!
A North Carolina boy.
Dan grew up in Wingate, NC, a little town that serves as the home of Wingate University. Dan’s family lived about five miles outside of town in a farming community, where their closest neighbor owned and operated a dairy farm. When he was just 9 years old, Dan started helping several of his neighbors on their farms, and by the time he was 14, he was working on the dairy farm milking roughly 40 cows, twice a day, seven days a week! Despite the intensity of this job at such a young age, Dan credits this as possibly the best job he ever had because of the important values that it instilled in him. He also credits his community with instilling in him many of the fundamental values that he still carries today:
“Because of the college, the community held a very high value for education. Because of the strong presence of the local churches, the community held a very high value for strong moral character. Because of the rural setting, the community held a very high value for hard work.”
Today, Dan’s value for education, strong moral character, and hard work translates into everything he does, as does his love for his family!
Dan met his wife, Charlene, when they were both teenagers living in different states. In high school, Dan sang with a traveling youth ensemble. It just so happened that his group was invited to sing during revival services at a church in a small South Carolina town.
Sitting out in the audience was a beautiful girl named Charlene. This group of singers from North Carolina were the first boys she had met from outside her close-knit little community.
Once Dan met her, the “pursuit was on” and the rest is history! Dan and Charlene have been married for 42 years now.
They have two daughters, Kelly and Erin. Kelly and her husband Scott have four boys of their own ranging between the ages of 11 years old to just 2 months old! They live in Marshville, NC.
Their youngest daughter, Erin lives with Dan and Charlene and also works at Joy Ranch as the Program Assistant! Erin has been blessed with 3 chronic diseases: Lupus, Crohn’s Disease, and Fibromyalgia; Dan & Erin say “blessed” because God has used her health struggles to minister to people all around the world. Erin has a ministry called Broken but Priceless Ministries which encourages others struggling with chronic diseases.
To hear Dan speak about his family, it is instantly clear that he is brimming with thankfulness and pride!
A life of ministry & the beauty of second chances
Dan felt God calling him to serve in ministry during his senior year in high school. The calling was very specific: he felt led to be a missionary
in what was formerly the Soviet Union. He attended Wingate University to prepare for his call to ministry. While in college, he and Charlene were married, and they moved to Charleston, SC to attend Baptist College at Charleston. They both got jobs working on campus and went to school part-time, with the goal of graduating, going on to seminary, and then heading to the mission field.
However, things didn’t turn out as planned, due to a season of disobedience. Today, Dan reflects on that mistake as an area in which God has been overwhelmingly gracious. Not only did the Lord forgive their failure to follow Him, but He went on to use Dan and Charlene in several ministry positions, and they are now a beautiful testimony that we serve a kind, gracious God of many, many chances!
Dan served as the Pastor of Hopewell Baptist Church in Chesterfield, SC for ten years. He went on to serve as the Director of Missions for the Chesterfield Baptist Association in South Carolina, where he worked with 63 Southern Baptist churches, assisting them with many different aspects of church life. This ranged from being a legal liaison to guide them with the many laws affecting churches to planning and leading mission trips and projects.
About 3 and a half years ago, an association mission trip was planned to serve at a little place in Woodlawn, Virginia called Joy Ranch.
A love turned into a calling.
After Dan first visited, the Lord immediately put a love in his heart for Joy Ranch. With each mission trip, his love for Joy Ranch grew. About a year ago, the Lord began leading Joy Ranch’s then Executive Director, Susan Synek, on to another season of life.
As Susan began praying about transitioning out of Joy Ranch, God began to place on her heart to ask Dan to consider taking her place. Susan asked Dan to pray about serving at Joy Ranch in the role of Executive Director.
Dan agreed to pray, but he admits that it was only half-heartedly. He loved his job as the Director of Missions with the CBA. But Susan wouldn’t give up; she challenged Dan three separate times to consider working at Joy Ranch. After the third conversation with Susan, Dan decided it was time to seriously seek God’s heart in this matter.
As he began to earnestly pray about the possibility, it became clear that God was calling him to serve at Joy Ranch.
“A place where God dwells.”
Dan truly believes that Joy Ranch is a place where God dwells:
“As children are brought here to live, He heals their hurts and their hearts. He has called an amazing group of people to serve Him in this ministry. There really are some amazing stories of how God has drawn each staff member to Joy Ranch. Each story, though, points to God. He is using each of these stories to make a difference in the hearts of the kiddos He brings here.”
Dan is a self-described workaholic, and admittedly not very good with downtime! The closest thing that he claims as a hobby is putting together jigsaw puzzles. He also enjoys watching sports, especially college sports, when he feels that he does not have anything else to do.
Dan’s kindness, humble spirit, and serious work ethic exudes the love and life of Jesus Christ. According to Dan, the Lord gave him a Bible verse many years ago to make the focus of his life: Colossians 3:17.
“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Dan’s heart is rooted in the grace we have from our Father. “I fail many times in my desire to fulfill this challenge. However, God is so gracious. He keeps forgiving me. He keeps encouraging me to try again. He keeps using my failures somehow to encourage others. He is so amazing. His grace makes me want to do my very best to fulfill this Bible challenge.”
We are so thankful that the Lord has called Dan to the role of Executive Director here at Joy Ranch! We are excited for this new season, and to see where the Lord leads Joy Ranch.