President's Viewpoint

In a time of transition, the mission remains unchanged

September 24, 2020

Season of Renewal:

New president upholds his promise to carry out the original goal — Training Champions for Christ

Jerry Prevo, Liberty University Interim President

The IT tech stood quietly in the doorway, fidgeting with his mask and waiting. Jerry Prevo saw him and smiled. The tech took a small step in. “I just wanted to let you know I finished.”

“All right, thank you,” said Prevo. “I’ll probably be calling you again.” He turned back to the table and explained, “They’re trying to get me trained on a new system. I’ve got the old system.” He chuckled. “It’s hard for the old guy to give up the old things.”

This can’t be the retirement he had planned.

It was Prevo’s third week as Liberty University’s interim president, and the bush pilot, outdoorsman, and recently retired pastor of 47 years was about as far from relaxing in his home on the Alaskan frontier as he could get. But Liberty, he said, was worth it.

Because telling people about Jesus and training young people to live for the Lord is in his blood.

Jerry Prevo speaks at Convocation in Williams Stadium on Sept. 16.

Like Liberty’s founder, Jerry Falwell Sr., 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, Prevo and his wife, Carol, moved to Anchorage in ’71 to join a small mission.

That small mission became Anchorage Baptist Temple (ABT), and under his leadership grew into one of the largest churches in Alaska; services drew an average of more than 2,000 people per week with a peak attendance of over 6,300 one Sunday. 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 Jesus Christ across the state through three radio stations.

Prevo and ABT also founded Anchorage Christian Schools, the first K-12 Christian school in Alaska. Today 700+ students attend, and other churches have followed suit. But when parents or high school students asked his advice on where to attend college, Prevo always had one answer: Liberty University.

Prevo and his wife of 56 years, Carol, ride through the Alaskan landscape on an ATV.

He’d 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 Sr. and was invited by him to join Liberty’s Board of Trustees in 1996. Since then, Prevo has had a front row seat to Liberty University’s progress, serving as chairman of the board from 2003 until he stepped away from the role to assume his new one as Liberty’s interim president in early August.

“Whenever someone asked me to sign their Bible,” he said, referring to his students at Anchorage Christian Schools, “below my name I always wrote Romans 12:1-2: ‘… Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ And I always had confidence that if our graduates attended Liberty University, they’d continue to be transformed by the renewing of their minds.”

Renewal is on a lot of people’s minds today as Prevo faces what many see as an uphill battle. Recent events involving Liberty’s fourth president, Jerry Falwell Jr., have broken trust for most in Liberty University, and some question Liberty’s commitment to its nearly 50-year mission of Training Champions for Christ.
Prevo acknowledges their frustration. Then he shifts the focus.

Jerry Prevo with his grandson, Brittain, who is about to graduate from Liberty. Brittain recently received his pilot training at LU and is currently a pilot for Samaritan’s Purse. (Photo by Joel Coleman)

“Someone asked me if we’re going to rebuild,” he begins, “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.”

Right now, he said, he spends most days “listening to people here, trying to understand how things work so I can fit in and contribute by encouraging them. And as I’ve spoken to professors and met with university leaders, I’ve been so impressed by their spiritual maturity. Every one of them is here because they love the Lord, and they deeply believe in Training Champions for Christ.” A pastor’s passion grows in his voice.

“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 these. 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.”

This is his comfort zone. An evangelist at heart, Prevo has led over 40,000 people to the Lord, and John 3:16 reverberates with fervor when it rolls off his tongue — like he’s amazed by the Gospel again every time he says it.

Jerry Prevo meets students during his first week on campus.

“When I pray for Liberty University, I pray first of all that every person here would know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Secondly, I pray that our atmosphere at Liberty, from the classrooms to the football field to the basketball court, would be such that every person on this campus and studying online would see what the Christian life looks like and would be challenged to really live it.”

Some have voiced concerns that Prevo had worked too closely with Jerry Falwell Jr. in the past to lead Liberty University well today, but it’s clear he’s his own man, and his first priority is to honor God. One of the leading forensic teams in the world has been retained by the Board of Trustees to conduct a thorough investigation into university operations during Falwell Jr.’s tenure as president. Prevo is ready for it.

“I’ve been a part of this university nearly 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 nods. “I gave him my word. 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.”

Carol and Jerry Prevo

No, after nearly 50 years of ministry, this wasn’t the retirement he had pictured. It’s not fishing or hunting or relaxing with family. It’s learning new systems and procedures, new building plans, academic plans, strategic plans. It’s getting up to speed as fast as he can so he feels equipped to lead Liberty University wisely and well.

Mostly, it’s telling people about Jesus and training young people to live for the Lord. That’s one old system he’s not willing to give up.

 


Below is an introduction and a series of letters from President Prevo to the different audiences within the Liberty family as well as the evangelical community.

Although I’ve been involved with Liberty University for 24 years, it’s always been at a high level. Now I’m privileged to dive into the day-to-day details and get to know the Liberty University so many of you know and love. I understand you may have concerns about what Liberty University stands for today, so let me share with you what I’ve discovered since taking on this new role:

TO OUR ALUMNI:

Liberty University is still in the business of changing lives. So many faculty members have shared stories with me about the work you’re doing today, and I hear pride in their voices when they talk about you. You’re fighting human trafficking. You’re innovating for the future. You’re holding positions of leadership in ministry, government, healthcare, and education.

You are the Champions for Christ we point to when students and parents want to see what Liberty University does. You’re changing lives all over the world for Jesus Christ, and I am so proud of you.

I assure you, the things you love most about your alma mater are still here. Yes, some of your beloved landmarks may be gone, but the warm Liberty community you knew is not. While the landscape of campus continually changes, its foundation — our mission of Training Champions for Christ — never will. And as we renew our focus on spiritual growth and development, it’s because Dr. Falwell’s vision of developing Christ-centered men and women is where we started. I commit to you today, it’s where we’re still going.

TO OUR FACULTY AND STAFF:

I praise the Lord for you. Whenever I get the privilege of talking with you or I think of you, 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 often comes to mind: “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I understand these last few years have not been easy — for many reasons. And if your trust in Liberty leadership has been broken, be assured I and many others will be working to restore it.

You have faithfully pressed on because you love our students, and you believe the world can be changed by Training Champions for Christ. Over and over I’ve heard how our students’ lives have been forever impacted because you prayed with them, invested in them — even shared your homes with them.

Liberty students and alumni are who they are today because you’ve been loving them like Jesus for nearly 50 years. Thank you. Your work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope is the real power driving this university and the real reason lives are changed here.
I see you and all you do, and I’m so grateful for you. Thank you for your faithfulness.

TO OUR CURRENT STUDENTS:

You are the heart and soul of this university. As I’ve spoken with many of you, I’ve been impressed by your maturity, your honesty, and the powerful potential you have to transform this world for Christ.

I know you came to Liberty University because you have a career in mind — maybe you want to become a doctor or a senator or a musician. I believe God created you for a unique purpose, and here at Liberty you’ll learn to fulfill that purpose by preparing for both your career and your calling.

As we refocus on the spiritual health of our university community, be assured that academic excellence will remain a cornerstone of this institution. We believe Christian education is vital to our society because students like you who thrive intellectually, socially, and spiritually are best equipped to make our world a better place.

You are the hope for tomorrow, and you are the ones who will pass the Gospel on to future generations. You are the reason the rest of us are here at Liberty University — and why we will keep doing whatever it takes to Train Champions for Christ for years to come.

TO OUR FUTURE STUDENTS:

Who you become matters. And whether you’re thinking about beginning your college career on campus or you’re already in a career you want to advance through online classes, let me tell you why Liberty University is different from any other school you’re considering.

We’re training leaders here at Liberty University — champions — and the most important qualities in any leader are integrity and character. Without them, it doesn’t matter if you can preach a good sermon or throw a perfect fastball or command a large organization. If you don’t have integrity and character, people will lose confidence in you. They won’t respect you.

So, no matter what you study at Liberty University, you’ll learn to lead your profession with integrity and character. The world needs pastors, missionaries, and Evangelical Christian schoolteachers. It also needs pilots, nurses, law enforcement officers, government officials, artists, and people in every career field who love the Lord Jesus Christ and honor Him wherever they work. At Liberty, it’s our privilege to prepare you to do that.

If that sounds like the kind of education you’re looking for, then I invite you to find your place here among Champions for Christ. I look forward to seeing all that you will become.

TO OUR LIBERTY SUPPORTERS:

Parents, donors, church leaders, friends — Liberty University has been a beacon of light in a dark world for many years because you’ve prayed for us and partnered with us. But today you might not be sure where you stand.

Some of you have told me you’ve been mocked for your support. That breaks my heart.

Let me say it clearly: I am not Liberty University. You are not Liberty University. No single person is Liberty University. It is bigger than one person — it always has been. Liberty is God’s university, and He is forming it out of all of us.

As we move into the future with a renewed commitment to Training Champions for Christ, let me regain your trust by assuring you of a few things. At Liberty University, we will continue to:

• Ground our courses in biblical truth and teach from a Christian worldview
• Serve our communities as the hands and feet of Christ
• Collaborate with like-minded Christians and ministries like my friend
Franklin Graham and Samaritan’s Purse

And we will continue to depend on your prayers for us. The world is getting darker, and the need for a beacon of light has never been greater. Jesus is the true Light of the world, and I hope you’ll keep partnering with us as we Train Champions for Christ who will carry that Light into the darkness.

TO THE EVANGELICAL COMMUNITY:

You might not know me. You might only know the name of Liberty University, and what you’ve seen in the news has saddened you. It’s broken any trust you may have had in a big Christian institution like ours.

It’s easy to make assumptions when you’re looking in from the outside. But what’s been in the spotlight is not who we really are.

I’ve believed in the mission and vision of this school for decades, but as I’ve gotten to know the faculty, staff, and students who are here right now, who make up the Liberty community today, I want you to know they are extraordinary. They serve one another. They pray for one another. They love the Lord Jesus Christ, and they love each other.
They are the church of today becoming the church of tomorrow. And it’s such a privilege to know them.

So please don’t let your assumptions about Liberty University expand to include them — they don’t deserve it.

As one alumna wrote, “I refuse to be ashamed or embarrassed about the place that formed me, grew me, blessed me, and changed me because of the actions of one man. That university is made up of so many incredible people who have poured their hearts and souls into their students and work. I was beyond blessed to form some of the most beautiful friendships and create some of my most cherished memories on that mountain. That is the Liberty University legacy for me.”

That is the Liberty legacy I will fight for as long as I am president of this university. Where there is damage, we will work toward healing. Where there’s been loss of focus, we will renew our vision. We will not give in, and we will not give up.

Because here, we Train Champions for Christ. And they don’t quit.

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