“Live a big life.” That’s the wish Johann Matthies gave a record graduating class at Fresno Pacific University’s Spring Commencement Saturday, May 4, 2019.

Matthies’ own life did not get off to a big start. Growing up deep in the old Soviet Union, to which his mother’s family had been deported by the victorious Russians after World War II, he was twice hated: for being German, and for being a Christian. “My people were despised and oppressed,” he said of himself, his parents, grandmother and siblings.

Nothing then would suggest he would ever be in the spotlight speaking to more than 7,000 people in Selland Arena, under flowing blue banners and behind a row of orange and white roses and white gladiolus in pots covered with gold foil. “There is joy today,” he told the crowd.

Joy and more: “Every single person in this room has a challenge. A battle others don’t even know about,” he said.

Whatever those battles, Jesus has the power to put us back on our feet. That process started for Matthies was 13 and his family was allowed to emigrate to Germany, which opened up his life. “I know God as a God of invitation,” he said.

God has invited Matthies to mission around the world, to smuggle Bibles into countries where they are illegal, to study at Fresno Pacific College and Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary (now Fresno Pacific University and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, a school of the university) and today to be director of mission development in Europe and West and Central Asia for Multiply, an international mission organization.

Living a big life means continuing to learn and grow and staying close to Jesus. “Take steps of faith, of courage and of obedience,” Matthies said. “How will your life be big? I wish you a big life.”

Some 705 students were eligible to graduate in the ceremony, including 336 from bachelor’s degree completion programs, 175 traditional undergraduates, 168 master’s degree candidates and 26 from the seminary.

The ceremony is available for viewing at fresno.edu/live


Wayne Steffen
Associate Director of Publications and Media Relations