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Keeper of the Mission

June 22, 2023

Liberty shows appreciation to Jerry Prevo for his faithful leadership

When Jerry Prevo became interim president of Liberty University on Aug. 10, 2020, he had recently retired as the pastor of Anchorage Baptist Temple, a role he faithfully filled for 47 years. But he was no stranger to the university way across the continent. Joining God in His work on Liberty Mountain in Lynchburg was something he had done for decades as a close friend of Liberty’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell, and a longtime member of the Board of Trustees. Prevo had served on the board since 1996 and had been chairman since 2003.

The bush pilot and outdoorsman left his home in Alaska to take on a new role because of a single reason: telling people about Jesus and training young people to live for the Lord is his lifelong passion.

While serving as interim president, Prevo was often asked about his vision for Liberty, and he would always point back to Dr. Falwell’s vision — the vision that started it all, the vision Prevo said he was charged to protect and preserve.

“I’m not here to put my brand on this university; I’m here to keep the brand that Jerry Falwell Sr. laid out 50 years ago,” Prevo said. “I gave him my word that I would do that. And that’s why I’m standing here today. This is God’s university. It always has been, and it always will be.”

A “season of renewal” became a theme of his years as interim president. Although he had accepted the new role at a time when some were uncertain about the university’s direction, his message from the beginning was clear: Liberty would not be “rebuilding.”

“Someone asked me if we’re going to rebuild,” he said in a Fall 2020 interview with the Liberty Journal. “And I said, ‘I don’t want to use that word.’ When you rebuild, it’s because something has been destroyed, and Liberty University has not been destroyed. We don’t need to rebuild. We simply need to reveal what God is doing and has been doing from the beginning through faithful servants like (Liberty’s faculty and staff).

“Like the Church, Liberty University is not a building — it’s not even a campus full of buildings. It’s people. Our people — faculty members, staff members, students, pastors, coaches — are the heart of Liberty University, and that heart has never changed. Many have made the mistake of thinking that the loudest voice speaks for all of us, and that’s just not true. The only name that should define Liberty University is Jesus Christ.”

Pressing forward

On March 31, after three years as interim president, Prevo, along with the Board of Trustees, announced the appointment of Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Dondi E. Costin, Ph.D., as president and Pastor Jonathan Falwell as chancellor. During the press conference, Board Chairman Tim Lee thanked Prevo for his service to the university.

At the Main Commencement Ceremony, Jerry Prevo was presented with a glass bottle from the Donald Duck Bottling Plant, a building that served as the original location of Thomas Road Baptist Church, where Liberty founder Dr. Jerry Falwell began his ministry in 1956.

“Liberty University could not have asked for more competent, wise, and principled leadership over these critical transitional years than it has received from President Jerry Prevo,” Lee said. “His exceptional tenure as interim president has been marked by record enrollment, a refocusing of the university on its original mission, and its institutional reforms, which will provide effective governance of Liberty University going forward.”

Lee again honored Prevo at this year’s Main Commencement Ceremony, presenting a declaration on behalf of the Board of Trustees to give Prevo the title of President Emeritus. In announcing this, Lee described Prevo as being “a miracle” that came in a “crossroads” and “perilous time” for the university. Prevo will remain an active member of the board and has made it clear that his dedication to Liberty will not wane. 

Guided by the Word

Prevo’s time at the helm of Liberty University will be marked by his firm commitment to teaching the Word and allowing it to guide all of his work.

In his first formal address to students as interim president, Prevo shared his favorite Scripture, Romans 12:1-2: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

At every opportunity he had to address students, graduates, and the families who love them, Prevo has been intentional in presenting the Gospel, acknowledging that the university is built on a foundation of Christ’s provision and blessing. Prevo’s final formal address to the student body as interim president, during the April 28 Convocation, was characteristic of his past three years at Liberty. He focused his message entirely on seeking God’s will, on sharing the Gospel, and on students’ spiritual growth. As he has done with every message, he closed with a call to salvation. He also gave every student at Convocation a pocket-sized book, “The Bible Incorporated in Your Job, Your Life, and Your Business,” that contains Scripture references to help guide them throughout their future careers. 

At the Main Commencement Ceremony in Williams Stadium, in front of thousands of graduates, families, and friends, Prevo presented the Gospel.

“Tonight, I would be remiss if I did not tell you about our great God; a God who so loved this world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life,” he said. “Whosoever means you; regardless of what you’ve done, it means you.”

A Friendly Face

Prevo was also known for the constant spiritual encouragement he offered all members of the Liberty community, from students to faculty, staff, and parents. Every week he shared a personal devotional and prayer on Liberty’s social media platforms, and within the pages of the “Liberty Champion,” Liberty’s student-run newspaper, he wrote a weekly column that often lauded students for their academic and athletic achievements, their volunteer service, and the way they represented Liberty, and Christ, in the world.

Prevo celebrated a 2021 snowfall on campus with a snowball fight on the Academic Lawn.

Around campus, students have known Prevo as a friendly face in the crowd. Whether it was cheering alongside other Flames fans at sporting events, leading a Vines Center crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to students on their special day, or bundling up and throwing snowballs on the Academic Lawn in the winter months, he made a point to engage with students on more than just an administrative level.

Prevo’s hospitable nature was also present in the many visits to campus by the likes of leadership expert John Maxwell, former Vice President of the United States Mike Pence, pastor David Jeremiah, Governor of Virginia Glenn Youngkin, speaker and former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, and countless others, whether he knew them personally or was greeting them for the first time. 

Arriving at a time of need

The COVID-19 pandemic was at the top of minds and conversations across the campus and the world when Prevo took on the role of interim president, and he led the Liberty community through a global issue that had not been faced on such a scale for nearly a century. He had no model or playbook — no university had ever encountered this — and yet he guided the school through this turbulent time and helped it face the challenge head-on. He kept the health and wellness of the student body the top priority. His encouragement to keep faith in God’s provision, healing, and plan for Liberty proved valuable as the school adjusted schedules and met all regulations in order to continue to provide the highest level of academics and exciting campus life that Liberty has been known for.

Throughout the 2021-22 academic calendar, Prevo facilitated the university’s landmark 50th Anniversary celebration, from the adornment of campus buildings with banners to welcoming the new freshman class, the largest in school history at the time. He also welcomed Liberty alumni and their loved ones to campus for a special Homecoming, recognizing the ways that they had set a foundation and legacy for the university out in the world. 

Prevo created the ‘Liberty in Prayer’ initiative last year.

Prayer has been a hallmark of Prevo’s service to Liberty. In 2022, he created the “Liberty in Prayer” initiative in which students could write down personal prayer requests anonymously and place them into boxes around campus or submit them through an online portal. The initiative was built off of Philippians 4:6: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, let your request be made known to God.” The boxes allowed students to read others’ requests and pray for each other individually.

When students gathered in Washington, D.C., to pray for the country, Prevo joined them. Answering the invitation from Franklin Graham in September 2020 to walk the National Mall and pray for the upcoming election, Prevo and his wife, Carol, joined the crowd of over 2,200 Liberty students and tens of thousands of others to ask God to watch over America. Jerry Prevo also joined students in front of the Supreme Court in December 2021 to pray as the opening arguments began in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which would later become a key victory for the pro-life movement. 

Getting started

Like Dr. Jerry Falwell, Prevo attended Baptist Bible College in Missouri and began a ministry in 1971 that far surpassed anyone’s expectations. With three years of experience as a Tennessee pastor under his belt, the Prevos moved to Anchorage in 1971 to join a small mission. That small mission became Anchorage Baptist Temple (ABT), and under his leadership it grew into one of the largest churches in Alaska.

Recognizing a need to spread the Gospel even further, Prevo purchased a television station from Alaska Southern Baptist Convention for ABT and launched Christian Broadcasting Inc., a media group that now sends the hope of Christ across the state through three radio stations. Again, much like Dr. Falwell, Prevo knew the value and effectiveness of using multiple forms of media to broadcast the Gospel.

Prevo and ABT also founded Anchorage Christian Schools, the first K-12 Christian school in Alaska. And when parents or high school students asked his advice on where to attend college, Prevo always had one answer: Liberty University.

Liberty founder Dr. Jerry Falwell greets Jerry Prevo at a 1983 Convocation.

He first encountered Liberty when attending Super Conference, Thomas Road Baptist Church’s annual gathering of pastors and ministry leaders, in the ’90s. It was there he met and became friends with Falwell and was invited to join Liberty’s Board of Trustees. Since then, Prevo has had a front row seat to Liberty University’s progress.

“I’ve been a part of this university half its life, and when I got appointed as chairman of the board, Dr. Falwell told me, ‘Now, Jerry, when I’m gone, I want you to do all you can to keep this university carrying out my goal. You keep Training Champions for Christ,’” Prevo recounted. “This is God’s university. It always has been, and it always will be. Yes, we’ll keep training students to become champions in their vocations and workplaces because the world needs gifted professionals. But more importantly, we’ll keep Training Champions for Christ. That’s been the mission of Liberty University since the beginning, and it’s not going to change.”

More work to do

Prevo has continued to honor the founder and uphold the mission by leading the efforts to establish the Jerry Falwell Center, currently under construction and expected to open in 2024. The facility will take guests through a history of Falwell’s life and enduring legacy, featuring innovative technological displays showcasing the university’s multifaceted approach to its mission of Training Champions for Christ.

“The center will show how Liberty is incorporating a Christian worldview and evangelical fervor throughout all areas, including academics, athletics, and student life,” Prevo said. “We want every faculty member, every student to go through the center to understand the vision and legacy of Liberty’s founder. It is a powerful story of God’s faithfulness that everyone needs to hear.”

“There is much to learn from our founder’s life,” Prevo said when the project was first announced in Fall 2021. “He always inspired students to be Champions for Christ wherever God was leading them. We are seeing his mighty vision fulfilled every day at Liberty University, and this center will help ensure that we do not waver from our original mission or succumb to the external pressures of leftism. Jerry Falwell always stood his ground, and he stood unapologetically on the Word of God. Looking to his life as an example, the university will remain committed to the Gospel.”   

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