Fresno Pacific University kicked-off 2019-2020’s celebration of 75 years of God’s faithfulness to the university, the Central Valley and beyond with Gather 2019 September 5.

About 500 people took part in a worship service at 4:00 p.m. in the Special Events Center on the main campus, and at 5:00 p.m. around 850 family and friends swarmed the University Green for food trucks, music and magic. Offices were closed and many classes were cancelled so all regional campuses—Merced, North Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield—could participate.

The centerpiece of the service was a talk by FPU President Joseph Jones, Ph.D., who shared how his life led him to see that for a Christian the need of the world is the call to service. Jones’ first experience with godliness was his grandfather. “Without an elementary education, he built a little house, a small church and found work in a bakery manning the ovens,” Jones said. “Until this day, he is the image I have of a godly man. In the mist of prejudice, poverty and discrimination, he remained gentle, loving and generous with all he had: seeing others’ need was his call to action.”

Attending a black school in segregated Virginia, Jones and best friend Melvin Blocker spent elementary and middle school competing for grades before their lives split. “I went to high school; Melvin went to prison for shooting a man,” Jones said. “Our neighborhood killed dreams and laughed at hopes. If you could get to high school and play a sport, then maybe you would have the opportunity to get a low paying job with the government. Few ever sought or mentioned college.”

A teacher and tennis coach offered Jones sports as a way to college and he played on the high school varsity squad while in middle school. In high school his Spanish teacher set high expectations. With encouragement from these teachers and faith that God could do the impossible, Jones applied to prestigious colleges. Praying his way through rejection letters, he was eventually accepted, only to earn a 1.7 grade point average in his first semester. Jones kept praying, adding a promise to serve. “I can honestly say that it was doing my college years where I discovered communion and fellowship with God,” he said.

This promise to serve—to see the need as the call—drove Jones to work as a prison counselor, to earn a doctorate to have an impact on the justice system and to become involved in Christian higher education to empower change agents in education, justice, health care, social agencies and the church—all areas that address the needs of the disenfranchised.

God’s impact on Jones came home to him, literally, while he was traveling for doctoral research. He visited his old neighborhood and recognized Melvin Blocker sitting on his porch. “Melvin appeared to be a man a decade older than I,” Jones said. “There in the streets of our old neighborhood I prayed with Melvin Blocker to receive Christ as his savior.”

Back in his car, Jones was humbled God had saved him. “When we see the need, we discover the call. And in discovering the call we only begin to recognize God’s presence,” he concluded.

The next step in the 75th Anniversary was introduced by Donald Griffith, vice president of advancement and executive director of the FPU Foundation. He talked about seven weeks of prayer for select professions in which FPU alumni have made an impact in their communities, and special honored alumni in each. The professions are health care, education, nonprofit/youth, business, ministry/human services, international relations and public service. 

Ashley Swearengin, former Mayor of Fresno and president and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation, closed the service. Founded in 1966, CVCF has given $100 million over the last decade to 750 organizations in Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Kings and Tulare counties. “Not a day goes by that I don’t see a graduate, faculty member or leader from FPU having an impact, not only on Fresno but in this Valley,” she said.       

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Wayne Steffen
Associate Director of Publications and Media Relations