The joy of the Lord

WE HAVE LOST A LOT in the almost two years since the COVID pandemic began. We lost lives. We lost time with friends and family members. Some students lost academic ground or athletic seasons, while those in the performing arts lost opportunities to engage with their creative endeavors. We need to give each other room to lament — to grieve and to mourn — and then I believe we will go from lament to finding that the “joy of the Lord is our strength.”

I have gravitated to that verse in Nehemiah 8 in my own life. When I was very young, my father was killed from a gunshot wound. My mother was busy working and providing for me and my three younger siblings in Los Angeles where we were born and later raised in the nearby city of Pico Rivera, so in the afternoons after elementary school, I hung out for hours with my great-grandfather who worked at a barbershop down the street from where we lived.

I would sweep the shop. I would shine shoes for a nickel. I would clean his brushes and combs and anything that he needed help with until it was time to lock up the shop and walk home. He would hold my hand as we walked, and what I remember to this day is how soft his hands were from the shaving creams and lotions my great-grandfather would put on his hands. He loved to be with people, to talk with people and make them laugh, and he chose a profession that fit his personality. His soft hands propelled me to think about a job where I, too, could have soft hands — a career where I could work with my mind and with people to benefit society.

When I graduated high school, I was the first in my family to attend college, and it was terrifying. I wanted to go to college, but I quickly discovered I was academically unprepared. I lacked the family and social networks to support me. I was not ready for a four-year institution, so I went to a local community college where I proceeded to fail my first year. It was so painful that I dropped out for several years. On top of the humiliation of failure,
I became an orphan at 19, when my mother passed away from cancer.

“The night has been long, but we can be so grateful for the sunlight and the joy that comes in the morning.” — Interim President
Pete Menjares

It took years for me to build up the courage to go back to community college, where several teachers took the time to mentor and tutor me and provide me with the tools I needed to succeed. From that community college, I transferred to a four-year college where the faculty had the mindset that no matter how raw or undeveloped one was, they were going to invest in these diamonds in the rough.

I earned a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree, and finally a doctorate. To this day, my transcripts from my freshman year of college bear the words, “scholastic probation,” but I was also the first Latino faculty to be hired in my academic department where I was promoted and then achieved tenure. I was the first Latino to chair the department, and eventually, I was the first Mexican American president of a college in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

Through it all, God led me through humble situations and taught me how to serve. He has helped me navigate through personal and professional challenges, so I truly believe God has called me at this hour, for this time, to lead Seattle Pacific through complex times. After this season of losses, we can once again go about the joy of teaching in person and the joy of informing young minds to advance our Christian mission. Despite any divisions among us, we are called to work together with God’s grace and in loving relationships. The night has been long, but we can be so grateful for the sunlight and the joy that comes in the morning.

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