Digital media and journalism professor teaches with a higher calling
The trek of life can cause many ups and downs, heartaches and laughs. All Christians bring their own unique testimonies to the story of their personal journey. Toni Perry, a digital media and journalism professor at Liberty University, struggled through sickness and trials, but she now uses her story to reach her students.
“When God calls us somewhere, it doesn’t mean that that road is going to be easy,” Perry, affectionately known by her students as Mrs. P, said.
Before accepting Christ, Perry enjoyed success in her field as one of the top five event directors in the country.
“My head was getting bigger than I could carry,” Perry said.
From an outside perspective, Perry was a successful businesswoman, but while climbing the corporate ladder, she began to feel empty inside. As a single mother who focused on her career, she started searching for something more. She looked for a solution anywhere she could, and eventually, she began listening to a Christian evangelist on TV.
In 2001, Perry took a life- changing step and attended a Christian conference in Philadelphia. Standing among crowds of people worshiping and raising their hands, she didn’t understand what was happening.
“I knew whatever they had, I didn’t have. It frustrated me,” Perry said.
At the end of the event, she approached the stage during an altar call. People ahead of her were quickly handed pamphlets that explained the gospel. She reached out a hand to take one, but then suddenly, the man passing them out locked eyes with her. He pulled the gospel tract away, saying that they were only giving them to people that would read them. She was shocked and snatched one from him in spite. The track was titled “The Most Important Decision You Will Ever Make.” She left the conference determined to read every word.
She sat down at home and began to read. Pouring over each word, she initially read the pamphlet just to prove the man at the altar wrong. But as she flipped through the pages, she began to believe the words she saw.
“On each page, all I kept seeing was myself,” Perry said. “I finally understood Jesus’s sacrifice, right there in the privacy of my bedroom on June 9, 2001.”
Perry was saved, but that was just the beginning of her journey with Christ. A month after she accepted Christ, she entered 21 years of infirmity. She became incredibly sick, and each doctor she went to struggled to diagnose her. Soon after, she was in a wheelchair. In 2015, she was diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that begins in the lymphatic system.
While she was sick, she heard about how others had been comforted during their own suffering because of Christ. During her own treatment and chemo, she learned to rely on God.
“During that time, that’s when the call to serve the church and also the call to the move from corporate to higher education occurred,” Perry said.
Amid her infirmity, she met a godly man, George Perry, who would become her husband. In December 2021, the Perrys were called to Lynchburg, and Perry began teaching at Liberty. After her first semester, she discovered that she had bladder cancer.
“As the Lord would have it, it’s not the end of the story. I had two surgeries this past summer where they took out the cancer, then they went back in for a biopsy,” Perry said.
During the biopsy, they discovered that the cancer had inexplicably changed from what was expected to be advanced cancer to stage one.
“In 2015, I already had chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. So, when you have the motherload of chemo, they don’t allow you to do chemo again,” Perry said.
Because of the cancer’s shift to stage one, Perry has been undergoing immunotherapy treatment this semester. She is teaching in between treatments and overflows with excitement about the opportunity that she has been given to impact her students.
“I really hope that if anything comes out of my classes, that students look at how this individual has relied on God for every single thing. At this point, it’s my life. It’s not my career. My career is part of it, but I have to rely on God just to be able to live and get up every morning and drive to UVA to get my medication,” Perry said. “Teaching at Liberty’s School of Communication and the Arts is just a thrill and an honor. I’m humbled to be here. This was a dream come true for me, and it was my heart’s desire. I looked at other Christian institutions, but my heart was always here. And in the Lord’s timing, he opened the door.”
As she often shares her story in class, Perry emphasizes how much she loves her classes and students and hopes that her students will be encouraged by what she has experienced in her life. She will continue teaching, and she soon plans to pursue her Ph.D. at Liberty.
Falls is a feature reporter for the Liberty Champion