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My full name is Ryan Jon Paul Derfler (born June 16, 1981) and I'm an American writer, public speaker, and social connector who seeks to listen for Jesus' voice in my life and go wherever he leads (John 10:27).
I was raised in a middle-class family by John D. and Monique Derfler. My ancestral origins include German, Irish, French, and Lithuanian. My father operates a financial services consultancy and my mother, after rearing my two siblings and I until we were in the fourth grade, established a career in human resources for the banking industry. I have one elder sister, Danielle (deceased October 1999)
, and one younger brother, Daren.
I grew up in a converted one room school house in the outskirts of Montgomery, Pennsylvania
. The home and surrounding countryside was a formative part of my early years, and many stories about my love of rural small town culture and the great outdoors come from my upbringing in Montgomery.
2] Early Life
At the urging of my brother, I joined the Boy Scouts of America
, where I formalized my appreciation for the great outdoors and service to society. I rose to the highest rank of Eagle Scout
, capped by a service project to plan and execute a Flag Day Ceremony to properly dispose of service worn flags, which was attended by all branches of the military. I served in various leadership positions in the troop and was nominated by my peers into the prestigious Order of the Arrow
Looking back I recall being curious and creative and I was always drawing. At the age of 11, through an art contest I was invited by the White House to design a cover for a national education booklet. I made intricate mechanical drawings, painted expressive wildflowers, and carved elaborate walking sticks. My favorite subject in school was English and I received a notable Scholastic Writing Gold Key
for a poem titled "5 Senses," in which I wrote about my crush on an upperclassman.
I took to athletics from an early age as my brother and I were constantly running, climbing, and wrestling. So in second grade we both joined the wrestling team. Years later, in high school, I was captain of the wrestling team and was undefeated in dual meets during my senior year. I went on to wrestle in college for one season. I was also a member of the Cedar Crest High School track and field team, which won county and regional championships. I ran the 800 and 1600 meter races, as well as the 4X800 relay. I ran cross-country for one year during my senior year and was voted the Team Captain despite a lack of experience. I biked almost daily and took up cross-country mountain bike racing, and entered and finished several races including the Mt. Gretna Classic. I've run several adventure races, and in 2007, the Philadelphia Marathon, an experience I wrote about here.
I attended Lebanon Valley College, a private liberal arts school just five miles from home, with the intention to transfer. During my freshman year I ran for and won the race for Class President and posted a winning record on the wrestling team. I also contributed articles to the "La Vie Collegian" newspaper. I greatly enjoyed art courses, especially a figure study class led by artist Leslie Bowen, who practiced rigorous human form and skeletal studies--a course I took three times (yes, I was drawing naked people).
During my sophomore semester I studied abroad in Perugia, Italy. I made a friend Emilio Esbardo, who enlisted me to illustrate a book of short stories titled, "Stories Under the Stars," that he had written under the pen name Natalino Bardi (Morlachi Press). While in Italy, I fell in love with the pace of life and the many hills and coasts of the country including Calabria, Capri, Assisi, Sienna, Rome, Milan, Florence, and Perugia, where I had an apartment and attended the famous University per Stranieri (University for Strangers). Fresh back from Italy and with new air in my lungs, I sought to bring a taste of the ever-present Italian public art to the college campus, so I initiated a mural arts course, which was added to the curriculum in 2006 and resulted in a large public artwork that was executed in the Chapel on campus and remains there today. I was also an advocate for the college's study abroad program, speaking to freshman about the benefits of a broader worldview.
During my senior year, I moved to Key West, Florida for the summer, at the urging of my aunt and to take a job as a mate on a 70-foot sailing catamaran. I loved the laid back island vibe and found a way to extend the trip for an additional four months by taking college courses at Florida Keys Community College. While on the island, I took in copious amounts of Hemingway, hand rolled cigars, and sunshine.
An influential professor was Dr. Leon Markowicz, a business instructor known for his rigid ways and difficult grading. After a brief distaste for Dr. Markowicz, I realized that if I could satisfy his high standards it would serve him well in life and so I submitted a request to have him be my faculty advisor. We became friends, had lunch together, played tennis, and Dr. M. attended my graduation party, and we stayed in touch in the years following graduation. My eulogy of Dr. Markowicz, after his passing in the Spring of 2014, was published in the college's newspaper.
I received my Bachelors degree from Lebanon Valley College in 2004, majoring in business and philosophy, with a studio art minor.
4] Death of My Sister
During my freshman year in college my older sister, Danielle Jacqueline Derfler, was killed tragically in a drunk driving accident. The event deeply impacted my family and for me it led to a deeper exploration of the meaning of life as well as an inability to hate others or fret over trivial things. I took an interest in philosophy courses, Logic, the Nature of Good and Evil, a study of the Holocaust. In 2007, I ran the Philadelphia Marathon in her honor and I have spoken at the Compassionate Friends Annual Worldwide Candle Lighting Ceremony in remembrance of her. Her death has also created in me a compassion for the dying and for the families of those who remain.
5] Work History
I was enterprising from an early age, reselling pages of newspapers to neighbors for small change while just five years old. I cut lawns and delivered newspapers, stocked grocery shelves and served at restaurants. I sold men's clothes, shoes, fireworks, worked in a lumber mill and at a concrete factory. I helped build high-end homes and worked on a street team to promote cell phones. Some 40+ jobs over the years served to give me a well-rounded perspective and also as inspiration for writing.
My first position out of college, a "real job" with health care benefits (as his Mom put it) was as a salesperson for RMS, a broker of intellectual property rights. The company was regularly named among the best places to work in Pennsylvania, and I greatly enjoyed the work and earned recognition as a top salesperson.
My desire to move from inside to outside sales, so that I could interact with people more, led me to search for a new position. Through my volunteer efforts with a non-profit called Bridge of Hope, I was offered a position at a GE-owned transportation and logistics company as a corporate event planner. The position took me throughout the United States executing a wide variety of events such as store grand openings, trade show exhibits, salesperson recognition galas, senior leadership retreats, and a trackside hospitality program for the Penske NASCAR team. The company invested in me and I quickly learned the craft of event production and was recognized by EXHIBITOR magazine in 2008 for an Global Leadership Conference I produced. From 2010-12, I wrote a bi-monthly column in the Philadelphia Area Meeting Professionals magazine, MPItoEye. I also assembled a portfolio of one-of-a-kind experiences that pushed the envelope in terms of incorporating theme, logistical challenges, and return-on-investment (ROI) methodology. The position gave me experience working with business icon Roger Penske, an understanding of GE lean processes, collaboration with world renowned consultants such as Bain, and partnership development with organizations such as the NFL and Today Show.
At the time I was living in the City of Philadelphia, but not spending much time there due to a busy travel schedule. So, I decided to leave Penske for a post at the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, which allowed me to both live and work in the City. I moved to the Fairmont/Art Museum neighborhood and walked just four blocks to work. I was tasked with generating earned income revenue from the City's massive public art collection, which gave me a venue to build a business and manage people directly. I quickly made sweeping changes to the business by implementing quality control standards, moving sales online, adding new product to appeal to a wider demographic, and building a team to expand sales efforts. Through a focus on key markets sales grew over 350% in three years, and for the first time Philadelphia public art was featured in tour operator travel guides in Germany, Italy, and France. I advocated to the Board of Directors for a Center City point-of-sale (POS) for the organization and conceptualized, oversaw the construction of, and then managed all operations for a 5,000 sq. ft. experiential center called Mural Arts at The Gallery. I became a key spokesperson for the organization appearing regularly on television, radio, in print media profiles, as well as on panel discussions, such as the Young Involved Philadelphia State of Philadelphia talk in 2011. I lifted the Philadelphia arts and culture experience to the highest levels of education forming a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School which led C-level executives from around the world through a program he designed as part of their Advanced Management Program.
In 2011, I was contacted by a recruiter via the website LinkedIn for a position at a non-profit called Cityteam. Despite having turned down job offers a month prior, due to a prayer that I had been praying, I felt pulled to explor the position more. A series of events unfolded that led me to believe I was clearly being "called" to work for this ministry (full story here). So, in June 2012, my new bride and I drove cross-country so that I could take the position of Director of Experience for Cityteam International based in San Jose, California. Cityteam proved to be a place of heavy spiritual lifting. The organization operates in the trenches of life, unafraid to confront the dark places of poverty, homelessness, addiction, and spiritual opposition. In the midst of all the brokenness, Cityteam offers compassionate care to people for the long-term in a holistic way. Of course, the organization credits a success rate for graduates that is more than triple the national average to the transformative power of Jesus. My move to Cityteam unlocked a new chapter for me, where I once was slow to share my faith, I developed a new confidence. I've shared what I've seen on the front lines with audiences from Intel and Google and watched them respond to Jesus. So many stories have come out of my time at Cityteam I have a full category of posts in my blog.
In 2015, I started a Geneva Global, a philanthropic consultancy that was founded by two billionaire brothers. The firm is unique in that it has experience not only designing innovative social change programs, but also implementing them on the ground in 100+ countries. My role at the firm is a combination of sales and marketing, and finding new ways to help our immense collection of data and expertise help other philanthropists create programs that have outsized impact on people's lives around the world.
In July of 2017, I exited Geneva Global with the blessing of the CEO to continue a piece of work I had brought into the company on my own. The work uses data to define the many parts of the Church body so that, with prayer, leadership, and the gift of administration, we can become less siloed and territorial, and work better together. I launched the firm with a cofounder, Kent Shaffer, who founded OpenChurch.com, and we are currently serving a handful of initiatives in Christianity as we build out our data set and establish relationships. It's a walk of faith, and we've routinely asked God to close the door if He's not in it, and yet we continue to see one next step forward after another.
In 2006, while producing an event in Newport, Rhode Island, I met photographer Peter Mellekas. Peter encouraged me to pursue a career in modeling, did a test shoot in Newport, and sent the photos to the Reinhard Talent Agency in Philadelphia. This launched a modeling and acting career that led me to represent brands such as Ralph Lauren, Bank of America, Taco Bell, Cartier, and Tiffany's. I appeared on the QVC home shopping network and in Bicycling Magazine several times as well as many catalogues for companies such as the National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Baseball (MLB). He appears briefly in the motion picture City of Motherly Love, as well as in the music video "Time" by Jayy Mannon.
7] Volunteer Work
Volunteerism was introduced at an early age and was part of the Derfler family culture. Often on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day we would serve in a soup kitchen or visit with a family in the community to bless them with company and gifts. Through my church youth group and Boy Scouts, I was often involved in efforts to visit and serve the elderly with food, flowers, or services such as snow shoveling.
Upon graduation from college, I found that I had significant free time after work, and my Mom suggested I join a start-up committee for an organization called Bridge of Hope, who's mission is to help homeless single mothers. I quickly became a major contributor to the organization, launching a fundraising event called Sleep On the Street (SOS) that raised $18,000 in three days. I was promoted onto the Board of Directors to oversee the Marketing Committee, then advanced to Vice President, and President of the organization, where I served for six years. During my time at Bridge of Hope I learned much about the disparate motivations of volunteers, organizational behavior, and through my mistakes, many lessons about what not to do. I also formed great friendships that last to this day.
While dating Whitney Miller, who later become my wife, the two of us volunteered with organizations such as the Philabundance, Pegasus Riding Academy, and through Liberti Church in Fairmont.
I've been outspoken around the issues of poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, a lack of morally strong men in society, and arts and culture in the community. I have appeared or been quoted in the media often, including:
Radio: WGAL, WLBR 1270-AM, Radio Omega 93.1-FM, WQIC 100.1-FM, WXTU 92.5-FM, WMWX 95.7-FM
Television: ABC, Travel Channel: Samantha Brown's Great Weekends, CNN
Newspaper: Chicago Tribune, The Jerusalem Post, The Independent (UK), The Washington Post, Le Monde (France), "Self portrait: mixed (social) media" Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Metro & City Paper, Examiner.com
Magazines: The Economic Impact of Meetings to the U.S. Economy, Mid-Atlantic Events Magazine
8] Faith & Personal Life
I was raised Lutheran attending the St. John Lutheran Brick Church in Montgomery, PA, and later Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Lebanon, PA, where I was confirmed. A week after the death of my sister in 1999, I experienced a profound spiritual experience that gave me peace in knowing she was in heaven (I wrote about it here). I took many religious studies courses in college, although these years were one of nonchalance toward my faith. In 2000, I settled into a belief that the church was not doing enough to serve the poor in the community, and so began to live out my faith through service with the organization Bridge of Hope. Over the course of six years I dove deep into service work while largely ignoring key tenants of reading the Bible, personal prayer, and obedience to God's word. This resulted in few noticeable fruits, personal loneliness and self-destructive behavior. In 2011, I met Whitney Miller, and was immediately struck by her goodness and commitment to her faith. Keeping the relationship at an arms distance, Whitney encouraged me to pray--when I did miraculous occurrences began to unfold, about which I have written extensively. A process of being "born again" was unfolding as I sought to know the truth about spiritual matters. On July 3rd, 2012, I was baptized at Journey Church in Limerick, PA. Men with whom I was studying the Bible in Philadelphia soon challenged that my baptism was premature and that my relationships and work were prohibiting me from being "all-in" for Jesus. I began a period of prayer and fasting to seek the truth in this matter, which led me to develop an appreciation for fasting to gain spiritual clarity. In hindsight, I could see that in many ways the men were right. And yet, this trial had caused me to pray to God to show me how to bring my faith into my work, which led me to entertain an offer to interview for a position in a ministry called Cityteam. The application process and eventual career change into ministry was rich with occurrences that seemed unexplainable and even miraculous. It became clear to me and Whitney, now my fiance, that God was leading me into ministry, and so in June 2012, two weeks after we were married, the two moved to San Jose, CA, so I could take the position as Director of Experience.
After a few years in Campbell, California, in the heart south of the San Francisco Bay Area (aka Silicon Valley), we now live in the suburbs of Philadelphia. We have three sons, Boden Wiley, Lukas Elliot, and Finley Everett. We also have a Papillon pup named Archie, and a beta named Fishy Squishy.
2013 Selected to INSPIRE Young Leaders Gathering
2010 Named to "50 Young Faces of Philadelphia to Watch" List
2008 EXHIBITOR2008 Event Scholarship Winner
2006 Sertoma Service to Mankind Award
1999 Boy Scouts of America Eagle Scout
1999 Boy Scouts of America Order of the Arrow Inductee