Two people share the web page titled “President” on the Fresno Pacific University (FPU) website. At the top of the page is a photo of Joseph Jones, who began his role as FPU’s president July 1. But just below his biography is the photo and biography of the person who shares the FPU presidential residence with him—his wife and FPU first lady, Yvette Jones.
“In my interview here I made it clear that Yvette and I are coming as partners,” says Joseph Jones emphatically. “I’m the president, but she’s the mother—the one who builds and nurtures and encourages and actually expands the influence of the university.”
The impact of partnering in leadership
At their previous assignment, Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan, the Joneses saw clearly the impact of their partnering in leadership. Joseph served there as chief academic officer, while Yvette became the chief advancement officer.
In addition to strengthening the academic programs and financial foundation of the college, they felt called to use their position to build up the college’s faith and witness in the community.
In a country where Christians fear speaking out about their faith, the Joneses found ways to increase their colleagues’ confidence.
“We were highly regarded with local officials and had to do a lot of speaking as chief guests, Jones says. “[Muslims] recognize Jesus as a prophet so I would always say something about the teachings of Jesus, and nobody could accuse me of blasphemy.”
Yvette Jones had come to Pakistan with reservations about how she would be accepted as an African American woman. She soon discovered that her position at the college opened many doors to empowering Pakistani women. Both Christian and Muslim women would seek her out. “I just love your principles,” they would tell her.
The Joneses’ partnership is modeled after what they observed in their six years at Taylor University. Under the presidency of Jay Kessler who worked closely with his wife, Janie, “we saw the vibrancy of their relationship and how their interactions framed the way the students and faculty interacted,” Joseph Jones says. “We wanted to serve and be a model in the same way.”
The Joneses’ new home, FPU’s spacious presidential home and garden, is designed for hosting university guests and gatherings. It stands in stark contrast to the housing projects where both Joneses started life. Their desire to model a welcoming and nurturing home and a healthy marriage partnership is rooted in the pain experienced in their own dysfunctional childhoods.
Yvette Jones describes a childhood filled with violence, sexual abuse and abandonment. Raised by a single mother with seven siblings in a New York City government housing project, she didn’t even graduate from high school. But Yvette’s life took a new direction when, as a young adult, she met Christ.
“Making that conversion revolutionized my life, not 180 but 360 degrees,” she says. “I met God as my true father and then he brought me to the man I would marry.”
Joseph Jones’ early childhood was in housing projects in Norfolk, Va. Neither of his parents had completed high school. His own education was hindered because of segregated schools.
“I was in the last segregated class from Booker T. Washington high school” he says. “It was illegal, but it still happened.”
The family suffered under his father’s alcoholism. But his mother was intent on supporting her family. She received her diploma and graduated from the first African American nursing program. When his parents divorced, she raised her four children alone.
According to the Joneses, the path that has taken them from difficult childhoods to leadership in Christian higher education and community leadership has been a road filled with the guidance and blessing of their Lord.
Nudged by God
Quite unintentionally, Joseph Jones was drawn into the field of criminal justice after completing a bachelor of arts in psychology from Colby College, Waterville, Maine. A college mentor recruited him to serve a year as a prison chaplain through Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in New York City.
After completing his master’s degree in counseling, he reluctantly responded to a “nudging” he sensed from God to go back to prison work. He came across an opening in the state prison but was disappointed to find that it would require a pay cut from his current job. He didn’t want to make the move.
“I tried to blow the interview,” he recalls, telling his interviewer: “The only way to change people is through Jesus Christ our Lord.” To his surprise, the warden offered him the job. He turned it down.
A few months later the prison’s head of treatment came back to him again: “Don’t you think God would prefer you came to a place like this?”
“I was so convicted,” Jones recalls.
He accepted the prison chaplaincy job at St. Brides Correctional Facility in Chesapeake, Va., and was soon organizing Bible studies after his work hours and seeing inmates converted and baptized. His church ordained him for ministry. Eventually he left his chaplaincy position and inaugurated the Community Court Diversion Project, an alternative sentencing program in Hampton, Virginia.
From chaplaincy to academia
The move to academia came when, as a doctoral candidate, Jones’ research introduced him to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. As he studied for his doctorate in criminal justice, he began to envision how his influence could be multiplied through teaching the principles of justice to Christian students and helping Christian institutions put their resources at the disposal of their surrounding communities.
Meanwhile, Yvette Jones was pursuing her own educational goals while raising their two daughters. After completing a bachelor of arts in organizational development, she went on to lead public relations, organizational advancement and fund development efforts for several organizations including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the American Red Cross.
Since 1992 the Joneses have served five different Christian colleges including North Park University, Messiah College and Taylor University.
At Taylor University, Joseph Jones was able to test his theories about a Christian university’s unique potential to impact the city. He founded Taylor’s Department of Justice Education and became the university’s chief spokesperson in developing partnerships with denominations, the business community and other community organizations.
“They gave me total freedom to engage the city and get involved in the community,” he says. “It got to the point where even though there was the big university in town, people would call us. We were doing research that actually served the community.
“My sense of call and ministry has been extending the influence of God’s kingdom,” says Jones. He has come to see the Christian university as the best vehicle for him to fulfill that call.
Committed to extending God’s influence
When AGB Search, the agency that FPU used to conduct their presidential search, invited Jones to consider applying at FPU, he was hesitant. The Joneses were at Forman Christian College at the time. He wasn’t interested in a move to California, but agreed to look into it.
FPU’s emphasis on restorative justice and the concepts outlined in the university’s foundational document, “The Fresno Pacific University Idea,” resonated with his own calling.
“It actually has the phrase ‘to extend the kingdom of God’ in the FPU idea,” he says. And when his wife pointed out the irony of his being willing to follow God’s call to Pakistan but not be open to Fresno, he decided to submit his resume.
Jones sees many opportunities for FPU to expand its reach into Fresno and the larger Central California community. One concrete example is the proposed performing arts center.
“I’m really not all that excited if [the arts center] is going to just provide space for our students,” he says. “We want to do this for the retirement villages around us and for the elementary schools—and for families to bring their kids to programs and not be ashamed because of the language.” He envisions a facility that can serve as a center of “wholesome arts” for South Fresno.
Together the Joneses hope to see FPU expand as a resource to Fresno and the Central California region. Joseph Jones sums it up this way: “We want to use our intellectual capital to extend the influence of the kingdom of God.”
Kathy Heinrichs Wiest is a freelance writer who loves the smell of whole wheat bread in the oven, the feel of an orange being plucked from the tree and the view from her front porch in Kingsburg, California. On Sunday mornings you’ll find her in the fourth pew from the front on the left at Kingsburg MB Church, moved by the hymns and praise songs and inspired by the stories of God at work locally and around the world. She and her husband, Steve, own Dovetail Remodeling. They have two grown daughters, one son-in-law and a precious granddaughter.