Born in Chicago and raised by her mother and aunts, Lenita Riley learned how to survive—on the city streets and in school. “I came to faith at 14 through vacation Bible school at a local church where I grew up and I struggled with my faith. I wasn’t discipled; I didn’t know the Word. I wasn’t empowered by the Word, so I had no clue how to walk this thing out. But I knew Jesus and I knew to pray to Jesus when I was in trouble.”
In her family, Lenita was the first of her generation to graduate from college and earn a master’s degree (which she did with honors). “So I thought I was well on my way in pursuing my goals—but God had other plans. I had what the world valued, but not the satisfaction I thought it should bring, so I asked God ‘What else is there?’”
In the fall of 2006, a good friend invited her to hear a speaker who challenged the audience to be a “heavyweight for Christ.” Lenita walked away wondering if she was one, or even what that meant. The speaker was a DTS graduate. “I had no clue what DTS was,” Lenita explains, “but I thought, ‘Lord, I want to do more for you.’”
Lenita had taught Sunday school and ministered to youth, but taught from commentaries because she didn’t know the Bible well enough. A pastor at her church advised her, “You’ve got to go to one of the best seminaries in the world—Dallas Theological Seminary.”
Lenita took his advice to heart and “When I went to the website, I felt a peace come over me that this is what I was supposed to do.” Accepted at Dallas Seminary in November, she cashed in all her retirement savings. Then in January she moved to Dallas, beginning what she describes as “an awesome faith journey.” “The Lord has blessed me tremendously and I have been able to meet some wonderful people. During this time I have been stretched emotionally and spiritually—and I praise God for it,” Lenita says with a smile.
One of those wonderful people she met was Garland Dunlap.
“I came to saving faith at the age of 5. Someone explained to me that there was a God and I needed him. That made a lot of sense and I said ‘Sign me up!’ I was blessed that I was an early and voracious reader. And doubly blessed that my father was both a Sunday school teacher and an educator. My mother taught me the value and the methods of research. So I grew up reading the books that they read. I read their theological books and Bible commentaries.” If a book impressed Garland, he would see where its author received his education. “Consistently I saw Dallas Theological Seminary. So I said, ‘I want to go to that school!’ I thought it was the coolest thing ever that you could go to a school and learn about the Bible. I wanted to learn the Word the way those people did.”
Garland remembers, “I was exposed to a wide variety of churches, including many where the pastor had great faith and love for God but never had any formal Bible training or practical ministry training. So I experienced where that lack of training led to poor theology, incorrect teaching, and ineffectual practical application. That in turn caused undue suffering for people. And those experiences taught me the need and the value of accuracy in the Word of God and knowledge of the Word.”
Those experiences led also led Garland to his mentor, a graduate of Dallas Seminary. With his help, Garland soon recognized a gifting to teach. “I taught Sunday school and even helped to develop the curriculum for the entire church. After some time I realized I needed to be better equipped to handle the Word, so I applied to Dallas Seminary in 2007 and was accepted. I deferred for a year and finally arrived in August of 2008.”
It was during the fall of 2008 that Lenita and Garland met at the Student Center on campus where Lenita works. Garland asked her many intriguing questions. After some time and more questions, she asked Garland, “What is the Lord leading you to do?”
He said, “I haven’t ever told anyone this but if I’m really honest, I want to build schools that are strong academically but that also have a strong Bible and theological background.” Lenita smiled and said “Well, I haven’t told anyone this either but, I really want to build schools too! But I really want to focus on community-building because where I grew up you had high levels of teenage pregnancy, single parent homes, and men not attending churches. So I feel that we really need to disciple people—and education could be that catalyst.”
That conversation helped them see how closely their goals aligned, and led to many more conversations. Before long they realized that God had more planned for them than just a friendship, so in January of 2009 Lenita and Garland became engaged, and they married on June 6th. They both attend school and work as God helps them clarify their future plans.
Their desire is to advance the gospel through excellence in education. “We want to identify, train, and mobilize Christian leaders and help them create Christian schools. Those schools would build the community through strong educational curriculums, especially in math and science, but integrate each curriculum with Bible and theology. Students who leave the school would be equipped to serve in both sacred and secular arenas,” explains Garland.
Dallas Seminary is equipping them to reach this goal. Lenita is pursuing the M.A. in Christian Education with an emphasis in Educational Leadership. Garland is working on a Master of Theology with an interdisciplinary emphasis in Christian Education and Systematic Theology. They both plan to acquire doctoral degrees in education as well.
Lenita and Garland Dunlap hope to make the Bible and a quality education available to those who may not otherwise have access to them. “Christ is the ultimate answer to every question, but we believe our task is to use education to lead people to Christ. We are grateful to Dallas Seminary for the resources and the tools to be able to do that,” says Lenita.
The mission of Dallas Theological Seminary is to
glorify God by equipping godly servant-leaders
for the proclamation of His Word and the
building up of the body of Christ worldwide.