August 19, 2021 : By Ryan Klinker - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
For the last 10 years, 54-year-old Lewis Mathis of St. Marys, Ga., has chased his goal of earning higher education after not completing high school, utilizing Liberty University Online Programs for much of the journey and giving God all of the credit along the way.
Mathis had wanted to study theology since his junior year of high school, but he dropped out midway through his senior year due to certain life circumstances. He went on to start a landscaping business and since 2000 has served as an associate pastor at his local church. However, after his wife, Phyllis, decided to earn her bachelor’s in 2011, Mathis was inspired to return to the classroom at the age of 43.
“I decided that with my wife going back I may as well go back to school, and I had been out of school for over 20 years,” Mathis said. “I spent two months getting my GED from the College of Coastal Georgia and then started looking for where to get my bachelor’s.”
Knowing that his university-level education would need to be online due to his stage of life, Mathis took to the Internet and came across Liberty University. Unaware of Liberty’s deep Christian roots, Mathis still felt God guiding him to apply to Liberty’s top-tier online program and pursue a bachelor’s degree.
“I think it was divinely orchestrated, it was a move of God, because I was just scrolling and Liberty popped out and I just thought, ‘That’s it. That’s where I want to go,’” he said. “Back (in high school) I told people I wanted to study theology, and lo and behold, 20-something years later, I accomplished it thanks to the grace of God.”
This began Mathis’ 10-year journey through all three levels of LUO, earning his Bachelor of Science in Religion in 2015, Master of Divinity in 2017, and completing his Doctor of Ministry in 2021. Throughout each step of the process, Mathis said that his professors and classmates displayed the love of Christ and a passion for the subject matter.
“All of the professors that I’ve met throughout my academic journey were awesome, and Liberty has some of the most passionate and pious professors,” he said. “They would be there for you if you had questions or you needed prayer. It was an ultimate experience, and I would recommend anyone to go through it.”
Looking back on the last decade in which he went from earning a GED to a doctorate, Mathis thanked God and everyone in his personal life who have encouraged and motivated him to reach where he is today, including his wife, church family, and his mentor in the doctorate program, Dr. Jeffrey Cockrell.
“First and foremost, it was God and His Spirit that kept me going,” he said. “God has seen me through all of my academic endeavors to get to the pinnacle of it with a doctorate. My wife kept me motivated, and she also went back to school after being out a long time and she achieved her master’s as well. When I got into the doctoral program I felt like I was a fish out of water, like I couldn’t do it, but (Dr. Cockrell) prayed with me and he told me that yes, I can do it.”
Mathis said he hopes that his story of returning to the classroom after decades away from academics can inspire others who have goals for their education but are unsure if they can succeed, regardless of their stage in life.
“I think it is a testimony for people that are out there, for both the younger adults coming out of high school and those middle-aged adults who are contemplating getting back in the academic field to get their degrees … that it can be done,” Mathis said. “I give God all the glory and honor, and I just think it’s important for individuals to know that you can achieve this. You can do it all if you’re motivated and focused.”