Experiencing trials can bring one of life’s greatest blessings—the opportunity to influence the lives of others. After 20 months of illness and an extended leave of absence from administrative duties, Dr. Stephen Jones is returning to his post as president of Bob Jones University.
The same on as off the podium, Dr. Jones is genuine and easy to talk to, smiling and laughing almost constantly.
This year’s university theme, “Know God,” came directly from the president’s personal trials. “[The Lord] was the only unchanging thing, and some days the only thing that kept me hopeful,” Dr. Jones said. He said he wants the student body to find the close, personal relationship he found with the Lord. “Not everybody has to go through something like being leveled for 20 months to learn who He is,” he said.
So what did Dr. Jones miss most during his time away from campus? The student body. “I feel like I missed out on a whole incoming freshman class,” he said. “[I] was just watching from my window. I hate that. It was the hardest thing!” he said with a laugh. Dr. Jones realized how easy it is to lose sight of what truly lasts. “One of my goals is not to get too tied down to my desk,” he said. “It was always a fight between the paperwork and the people-work. The joy of the people-work has even heightened in my understanding.”
Besides influencing the lives of its students, Bob Jones University also strives to impact those in the community. “We are still fighting with the perception that it’s a closed campus,” Dr. Jones said. Besides the popular Concert, Opera and Drama Series that welcomes locals year round, he believes intercollegiate sports will invite additional locals. Dr. Jones dispelled the myth that he and his family have reserved seating for all the home Bruins games. (Only seats for the first game were reserved.) In the future, Dr. Jones plans to mingle with those in the crowd. “I just want to sit with the student body and have fun with everybody,” he said.
Excitement for the new academic year runs high and Dr. Jones’ joyfulness is infectious, yet he knows that returning to campus life includes challenges. Re-adjusting to the rigorous daily schedule of a university president will take time. Dr. Jones wants to learn his bodily limitations and learn to say “no” when necessary. And perhaps his greatest challenge? “[I want] to hold on to the lessons that the Lord taught me,” he said. “I don’t want to be the same person.”
“I’ve always known that what I’m doing is over my head, but now I realize that even [getting out of bed] is a day-by-day gift,” he said. “Relying on the Lord breath-to-breath is something I wouldn’t be able to bring to this year were it not for that.”
Words that are spoken so often from the university pulpit became realities for Dr. Jones, as he acknowledged what he would not be able to bring to this year were it not for the hardships of the last two.
“It’s just become much sweeter,” he said. “There is a new sweetness with the family relationship, too, as a result of what the Lord’s taken us through.”
It’s evident in his face that Dr. Jones wouldn’t exchange the last two years for anything, that he doesn’t want to be “the same person.”
By encouraging more than 3,000 college students to pursue a deeper knowledge of God, Dr. Jones has claimed his trial as a privilege.