Category: Features


Preparing for a New President

When it came time to find the seventh President of Johnson University, the Board of Trustees knew they were looking for someone who was a Johnson University alumnus, knew how to raise funds, and whose character is above reproach. They found their prime candidate in Dr Thomas Smith.

“We spent two to three hours in the interview,” Smith said. “(The Board of Trustees) had a long list of questions that they went through that were very tough questions. None of them were surprises to me which led me to feel like I had been well prepared.”

Smith has a long history with Johnson University. He graduated from Johnson Bible College with his B.A. in 1978. He then was in located ministry for six years. After receiving his M.A.R. from Emmanuel School of Religion in 1986 and his PhD from the University of Tennessee in 1990, he came back and began teaching at JU in 1989. After serving as a professor of history and theology, he served as the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences from 2012 to 2014 and as the Provost from 2014 to 2017 before beginning his tenure as President.

However, Smith is more than his academic and career accomplishments. The Chairman of the Board of Trustees L.D. Campbell says that Smith is personable, enjoys people,  is approachable, enjoys a good laugh and is an excellent preacher.

Professor Gerald Mattingly, who has known Smith for almost 30 years, described him as “a good person with a sound analytical mind and a disarming down-to-earth quality,” which he went on to say is good for someone who is assuming the role of the presidency.

Smith has some big goals for his presidency. Among them are recommitting the university to the mission of the university, improving math and science classes, and improving college athletics.

One of the key aspects he wants to refocus on is being faithful to the great commision. He feels the “Third Way”, which is a blend of a bible college approach and liberal arts college approach, can accomplish this goal by rounding out students’ education experiences.

The university has also begun studying how it can improve its math and science classes, which Smith feels will go a long way in benefiting Teacher Education and Health and Human Services majors among many others.

Smith also wants university athletics to recruit students based on what he called the “Johnson Triad”: people who are missionary committed, academically prepared, and competitive athletes. “There is all kind of benefits both for athletics and for the student body,” Smith said. “It boosts student morale, gives you stuff to do, and creates relationships. It’s kind of an overstatement, but in the past we’ve done athletics because we ‘had to’. I want to do it because we want to. 

This will be Johnson’s fifth inauguration in its history. He hopes students will come to the ceremony, but he also hopes to see them at the student event later in the evening as well. He asks that all students help make the campus look nice and that they themselves look nice as well.

“It’s important to me that students feel welcomed and included at this event,” Smith said.

Smith wants people to know that his inauguration is not a celebration of him or the office, but rather a celebration of the university. The ceremony will begin at 3 p.m. and will be followed by a reception on the White House lawn at 4:30. The student event will take place at 6:30 on the Gally Plaza and will offer games, food and a Cruze Farm ice cream truck, which Smith said, “ain’t bad to entice students with.” 


Freshman enters into new college experience with hopeful anticipation

KNOXVILLE — Alyssa Bode is excited as she begins her freshman year of college. She is pursuing a business degree at Johnson University.

On Aug. 17, 2018, Bode moves into her college dorm room. She traveled from her home in Dandridge.

Bode grew up with two twin brothers, Levi Bode and Dakota Bode. Alyssa began homeschooling in the seventh grade alongside her brothers. The rest of her middle and high school experience was spent getting her education at home.

After visiting JU the summer before her 12th-grade year, Alyssa knew JU was where she wanted to be.

“I loved being homeschooled but, the atmosphere here was really cool. I love getting to meet people from different places,” Alyssa said. “I would compare every school to Johnson. They had my major, and the people were really friendly.”

Alyssa said she fell in love with the scenic views of the campus. She said she admired the communal atmosphere of the people on campus.

“I love how much everyone here loves Jesus and each other,” she said. “I knew I wanted to play a part in that.”

Since her arrival, she has found people to grow in community with. Alyssa said she has participated in all of the activities from Genesis Weekend, the university’s freshmen welcome experience.

“Saturday night was my favorite,” she said. “I was able to get to know people. The worship was really cool too.”

Alyssa said she is looking forward to pursuing her business major at JU and hopes to continue to meet new people.





Resident Assistant feels importance of job as she impacts incoming freshmen


Knoxville — As the 2018 school year begins, senior Carli Long reflects about her time at Johnson.

Growing up in Memphis, Long heard about Johnson from her youth pastors who both attended Johnson. While sharing stories from their time as students, Long’s youth pastors encouraged the students to tour their alma mater.

“I didn’t want to be a preacher,” Long said. “I asked them why I would go to Johnson Bible College.”

After reassuring Long that the school offered a multitude of majors and that the name had been changed to Johnson University, Long’s youth pastors convinced her to tour the school.

“When I came here for Preview Day, it just felt like home,” Long said. After four years, coming back on campus still feels like home. Pursuing a degree in Education, Long hopes to complete the Holistic Education Masters after graduating in the spring.

At the beginning of every year, Long said she looks forward to meeting new people and deepening current relationships.

“I love the personal side that comes with going to Johnson,” Long said. “It is a very strong, tight-knit community.”

Long has been a Freshman Resident Assistant for three years, a job that she is passionate about, mainly because of her Freshman RA’s who invested in her.

“One of the reasons I keep coming back to being a Freshman RA is that I love being able to pour into new girls,” Long said.

In a way, walking with these freshmen is Long’s way of helping raise the next generation of Johnson students. Looking back over her four years at Johnson, Long offered advice to the new freshman, reminding them that “transition takes time.” Coming as a freshman is a drastic change, and is easy to become discouraged when the transition does not come quickly.

As graduation quickly approaches, Long has been praying how she can invest in people with her remaining time.

“My goal right now is focusing on the present, enjoying each day I get here at Johnson,” Long said. “I want to take mentor my new freshman girls and to be there for them because I know how important this season of life is for them.”

There are many stories Long said she will remember from her time at Johnson, especially memories made as an RA.

“Just a few days in as my first year being an RA, one of my girls came to my room saying she had caught her mac and cheese on fire,” Long remembered fondly. Both trying to keep calm while also reframe from la­ughing, Long remembers opening the door to see black smoke coming from the room.


JU Sophomore gearing up for new year, new singing opportunity​

Knoxville — Caleb Giffin, a Sophomore at Johnson University, is preparing for his second year of college.

“I am very excited to dig deeper into my Bible knowledge and continue building my new and current relationships,” he said.

Giffin is a Worship Ministry major and said he is excited to get back into his classes. One project in particular that he is excited about being apart of is Vox Royale.

Vox Royale is a new music performance group starting this semester that will include both a cappella and other forms of music.

Only a handful of Worship Ministry students were selected to be part of this new opportunity.

“I am looking forward to working with super talented vocalists and performing songs outside of the traditional worship music,” Giffin said.

Music is not the only activity Griffin has been involved in at JU.

Giffin said he is involved in a couple of work-study positions around campus. One position he said he also held last year is landscape assistant for Plant Services. Along with that position, Giffin said he is also going to be a teachers assistant for Mark Weedman.

He said that outside of campus life, he is looking forward to church-hunting Sundays.

“It is really interesting to see how differently churches run things,” he said.

Giffin said he found out about the university through a Johnson recruitment team when attending Camp Rudolph located in Virginia.

He said he chose Johnson because of the current students he had met and the great things he had heard about the music program.



From inner city life to inner city work

KNOXVILLE — Beginning in the fall, Thomas Davis Jr., a senior at Johnson University, majoring in Journalism and Digital Mass Media, will begin working with the Knoxville Fellows.

“We are very excited for Thomas to be coming into our program,” Rick Khulman, Director of Knoxville Fellows, said.

Davis will remain with Knoxville Fellows for one year.

Knoxville Fellows is a Christian organization located in downtown Knoxville.

There are multiple components to the program, living on site: Which includes partaking in community service, touring and visiting other Fellows from neighboring cities.

The Fellows work Monday through Thursday at the site while they are pursuing their graduate degrees.

Davis currently works with a radio station and hopes to stay with them throughout his Fellows experience, but he said he has also considered working with Emerald Youth in their communications program.

The last component is the master’s program. Davis will continue to take classes in pursuing a higher education.

“We are looking for servant leaders, and I think Thomas really brings that,” Khulman said. “He also brings a different life experience. In fact, we look at that in all our Fellows. We want very different types of people with different life experiences. He also has a willingness to be all in.”

Khulman said when they go through the interview process to choose the Fellows, they look for somebody that is going to be devoted to the program. Khulman said the reason for this is because there is a lot to do.

“There are a lot of things to attend, and studying, and service, and work,” he said. “It’s easy to start out with great motives, but then to stay the whole time. We think Thomas has that desire and passion to stay with us and to really add a lot to the program.”

The Knoxville Fellows’ main mission is to help the inner city.

Davis moved to inner city Knoxville after his seventh grade year in school. His father is African-American and his mother is Caucasian. Davis’s mother raised him after his parents separated.

Davis said he felt like he “became a statistic” of African-American fathers not being in their sons’ lives.

Davis said his mom was always there though.

“She was my angel,” Davis said.

Davis mother, Sandy Knight, is a registered nurse. They developed a very close relationship through the years.

“I’m a momma’s boy,” he said.

When Davis was accepted into the Fellows program, Knight said she was “so excited and proud of him, because it’s a big accomplishment for him to be able to graduate from school and then go on to better his education.”

Having grown up in the inner city, Davis  said he feels his experiences will help him better understand the needs of those in similar circumstances. The Fellows program should give him this chance.

“What we hope will happen, is that Thomas will go back and he will be known by the people that he grew up with and that he can go and tell them the experience that he has gone through in our program and hopefully create an excitement in that community for more people to get involved,” Khulman said.

Davis said he believes the move into inner city Knoxville helped mold who he is today.

“I am able to see what life is made for now,” he said.

Knight said she has seen the growth Davis has experienced while at Johnson.

“When he initially began school he was on the younger side,” Knight said. “As school went on, and him being at Johnson, he learned more about Christ and how to let himself go and believe and have faith that pushed him along through all these years.”

Fourteen students participate in the Knoxville Fellows each year.

Caylee Carter, a 2016 graduate of JUTN, is currently in the program.

“We are looking for someone with a proven track record of success,” Khulman said. “We look for someone that has the academic capability to take our classes. We look for someone who will be an important part of the community.”

The program also offers mentors, prayer groups and other facilities that help the Fellows reach their full spiritual abilities.

“This will be a chance to learn about myself and be around other Christian people, like here at Johnson, but more interactive,” Davis Jr. said.

This is accomplished through a series of retreats, classes, and a whole bunch of different activities and opportunities.

“While Thomas is here we hope he will develop a love for our city, we hope he will learn more about who God created him to be, and we hope that he will know more of what God’s plan for his life is,” Khulman said. “The key is Thomas’ attitude. Thomas has a very positive attitude, he’s got a willingness.”

Davis said he feels blessed to have risen above his situation by meeting difficulties with endurance.

“My biggest passion that I have, my biggest gift that I’ve been blessed with by God, is resiliency,” Davis said. “I have been able to fight through a lot of things that I have been through, throughout my life.

“God blessed me, in choosing me to be able to get out of that situation [inner city life]. To go out and get my college degree and on to a masters’ program,” he added.

Knight said she is most excited to see her son succeed and be happy in life. She believes this program will help him in that.


Internationals find community in Knoxville

It’s warm out, the sun is shining and there is a nice breeze. The sidewalks and roads are busy and people are happily going about their days. Everything is full of life and color.

But as you look around you realize that you don’t understand what anyone is saying. You can’t read the street signs and you don’t know how to ask for help. You’re an outsider, without a community. You’re alone on a city street full of people.

This is what Carol Waldo experienced when she lived in Singapore, and what many refugees and immigrants experience every day here in Knoxville.

For Waldo it was especially difficult.

“I’m an extrovert and I was isolated, even in a city-country of  four and a half million people I felt alone,” she said, “We were expats, so our company provided our housing and our work and so forth, and we had all of our needs met, except for the socialization.”


Carol Waldo welcoming students to Culture Class at West Park Baptist Church.

Living in Singapore for her was difficult, she didn’t speak the language, she didn’t know the culture and she could not socialize. But eventually she was connected with a local church that was able to teach her these things.

Singapore was not going to be her forever home and Waldo said eventually God called her family back to Knoxville.

Waldo said, “When we came back to Knoxville I really wrestled with God and asked ‘Why did you take me and show me all of this and bring me back to Knoxville?'” she said. “That made no sense to me and I had reverse culture shock.”

Waldo said her time in Singapore changed her.

“When you go overseas you expect things to be different, but when you come back you expect things to be the same,” she said. “But you’re different.”

Waldo went on to say that she had this emptiness in her heart, this need for something more.

“Then I got involved with being an encourager in an ESL class,” she said. “And God burdened my heart that He’s bringing the nations here.”

Waldo said she realized she could help refugees who are coming to Knoxville.

“How he (God) provided for me when I was adapting to the culture in Singapore, now I had the opportunity to welcome the nations to Knoxville who don’t know how to navigate the employment, who are refugees that come here with just the clothes on their back and their passport.” Waldo said, “Knowing that they don’t know how to navigate the housing system, the health care system, the language, God gave me a burden for them.”

In 2011 Waldo began to work for Knoxville International Network. KIN works to rally the body of Christ in Knoxville to welcome internationals to Knoxville. Their ultimate goal is to see the nations become one city; many nations and one family.

Waldo works with many organizations through KIN, helping to teach international people and refugees the English language, and helping them with the new culture that they’re experiencing.

“The official language of Singapore was English, but the majority spoke Chinese, and I struggled adapting.” Waldo said, “I wouldn’t answer my cellphone because I couldn’t understand the accent, and it took me several months to be able to adapt to that.”

Waldo says that because her experience, she is now able to train others to help refugees.

“I’m able to train our volunteers when they complain saying, ‘Well, I called them and they wouldn’t answer my calls.'” she said. “[I tell them] text them, because then they have a translator, or email them because it’s very challenging, especially with an East Tennessee accent.”

Waldo said she fields a variety of complaints from people who are trying to serve the refugee community.

She went on to say that she often had to explain that many refugees do not understand some sayings such as ‘a quarter till four’, therefore one must use more common terminology when talking with refugees.

Waldo said that she enjoys welcoming these foreigners into our land, but also teaching others how to welcome and interact with these people as well.

Waldo said she enjoys watching internationals come in who are afraid or won’t speak very much, change to be more sociable and comfortable enough in their environment to ask for help outside of the classroom setting.

Waldo said that this is what they are really working toward in KIN; getting internationals to interact with the community and become confident in themselves.

Waldo said that much of working with the internationals isn’t necessarily evangelizing, but just helping them survive.

“We seek to come along side as friends, that they would not only survive in this new homeland but they would thrive, and they would find hope, dignity and purpose, and really their purpose in Christ and why he brought them here,” she said. “You have to truly love your neighbor.”

“Whether or not they come to love and accept Jesus Christ as their savior, will you love them? I think that’s the mandate that God gives us. That we will love them no matter what,” she said.


Culture Class at West Park Baptist Church, with students from Germany, Jordan, Arabia, and Mali.

You walk into a church building, you still can’t speak the language fluently, and you worry constantly about how others will perceive you. But you walk into this church and are met with smiling faces, many of them not your own nationality, but it’s OK, because they are your community.

You are no longer alone in a city of one hundred eighty thousand.


JUTN student travels to Guatemala

Abigail Barron

Abigail Barron builds relationship with Minor. (Photo/Alexis Curtis)

The sun beating down at a perfect temperature, people all around playing fútbol and a country with indescribable beauty, seems like the perfect place to just visit and relax.

But for Abigail Barron, freshman at Johnson University Tennessee, going to Guatemala for a week was not a typical spring break trip.

While many of her fellow classmates were at beaches, spending time with family or finishing upcoming assignments, Barron was going to another one of her homes for the second time.

“This is my second trip to Guatemala and I was able to visit some of the same places [villages],” Barron said. “Guatemala is definitely one of my homes and I would move there tomorrow.”

After graduating high school, Barron was certain she was going to live in Guatemala as an intern, but instead decided to come to JUTN.

She said she feels like every time she goes to Guatemala she leaves a piece of her heart there with the people.

Barron spent quite a bit of time building relationships with the people she met.

She said she wants to create a bridge of friendship to share the gospel through that relationship.

Playing fútbol with people of all ages, meals and lots of shared laughter, were all a part of building those friendships.

She said language was a little bit of a barrier but not as much as people might think.

“I pick it [Spanish] up every time I go to another country, but I forget it when I come here [the United States],” she said with a little laughter, “in the inner cities of Guatemala they knew a good bit of English.”

Barron learned something new about the connection between relationships and missions through the organization she went with, For the Love of Missions.

“You don’t have to be building an orphanage, or teaching people about how to use clean water to be able to do missions,” Barron said. “You can just do life with them.”

She said she recognizes the importance of equipping local leaders in Guatemala on how to share the gospel with others instead of people from the United States going there with the expectation of converting and then leaving.

Barron has been back at JUTN for less than a month and said she is ready to go back to Guatemala already.

“It is my favorite place in the world,” Barron said.


Myanmar Hope Christian Mission founder shares purpose, vision at JUTN 

myhope_logoKNOXVILLE — This week Myanmar Hope Christian Mission founder, Dr. Palal Khongsai visited Johnson University Tennessee.

The story behind MyHope is what connects Palal and his wife Kikim Khongsai to the mission and purpose of the organization.

Palal and Kikim lived under an oppressive military dictatorship in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Khongsai said he was accustomed to his people being oppressed by poverty, hunger, fear and brutal leaders. He knew that he needed to attain more education to help his people and bring hope to Myanmar.

Palal Khongsai’s distant relative, Dr. T Lunkim, founder and president of Trulock Theological Seminary in Imphal, India, saw Palal’s potential and helped start the process to get Khongsai to America to obtain a doctoral degree.

In December 2006, Dr. Lunkim was speaking to a group of believers at West Side
Church in Springfield, Illinois. While there he moved the hearts of members Chuck and MaryAnn to sponsor Khongsai.

At the time he had a pending scholarship offer from Cincinnati Christian University, but he did not have a sponsor.

Chuck and MaryAnn agreed to help sponsor Khongsai if they could manage to set up the same scholarship at Lincoln Christian University.

“I came here [the U.S.] in 2007 for my studies at Lincoln Christian University and I went back in 2009,” Khongsai said. “I now oversee 20 churches in Myanmar and I also lead educational school for children.”

After several weeks of discussions about the needs of the Myanmar people and Khongsai’s Christian life, it was decided that a new organization was needed. This developed into the beginning stages of Myanmar Hope Christian Mission.

Khongsai said MyHope is committed to bringing the eternal hope of Jesus Christ to the people of Myanmar by addressing their spiritual, physical, educational and emotional needs.

“In Yangon we have 50 children we help by providing food, clothes and we send them to school,” Khongsai said. “Everyday we lead them in prayer and Bible study and teach them life skills.”

In addition to meeting educational needs, MyHope helps to develop the church leaders in Myanmar and also has assisted in building churches.

“For the churches, I teach the pastors and elders how to lead the church, study the Bible and prepare sermons,” he said.”We have built seven churches in Northwest Myanmar and now we are going to build two more churches.”

In 2015 Myanmar experienced a massive flood that resulted in several casualties and placed the people of Myanmar in a tough predicament. During this time MyHope provided food and water to the people.

“The flood destroyed 101 houses in my wife’s village so we provided rice, curry and we also gave them clean water,” Khongsai said.

More recently, Khongsai mentioned the financial relief from International Disaster Emergency Service.

“Recently, on March 17 a fire burned seven houses in Myanmar so we requested funds from IDES to rebuild the houses for the fire victims,” he said. “This summer we will dig 8 wells and those funds will come from IDES as well.”

To learn more about MyHope Christian Mission visit their website here.


Civil rights leader imparts wisdom on JUTN students

KNOXVILLE — Dr. John M. Perkins visited Johnson University Tennessee as the guest chapel speaker on Tuesday. Perkins later visited with 10 students in Private Dining Room three to answer questions regarding faith, mission work and racial reconciliation.


The lunch with Dr. John Perkins, pictured center, was organized by Director of Urban Alliance, Kenny Woodhull

Perkins is a Christian minister, civil rights activist and recipient of 13 Honorary Doctorate degrees.

Perkins has authored 10 books, the latest of which focuses on love conquering racial issues and conflicts.

The students gathered asked Perkins how missionaries in the inner city can minister to their environment.

Perkins said relocation to the environment is one of the first, and most critical steps.

“I think you have to do something when you relocate,” he said. “I think it opens you up for learning.”

Perkins said that humility is also important to keep in mind before beginning a ministry or mission trip.

“Lower your expectations of what you’re going to give, because you’re actually going there to learn,” he said. “I think this proverb is so powerful: go to the people, live among them, learn from them, plan with them, start from what they know.”

Perkins said that he believes interacting with children is one of the most impactful ways to influence entire families.

Perkins said simple things like taking a child to McDonald’s changes the way they might think about you because it illustrates that you are willing to do what they want to do.

Perkins said that he is encouraged by the youngest generation’s willingness to serve in different cultures and difficult environments.

“That’s what thrills me, that I’m not begging you to come with me,” he said. “I don’t have to, you want to go.

“What you don’t know doesn’t discourage me because I think you’ve got the capacity to have passion. And we’ve got the capacity to enter into other people’s pain,” he added.

When asked which Bible character he most identified with Perkins mentioned Ruth, David and Esther.

“I think friendship is the highest virtue that humans can have with each other,” he said. “I found something in David these days and I think I found it since I’ve been going through a tough time.

“David’s life was a question mark and his deep love for God was based on the fact that he did not deserve it. I really think that we need to know that we’re serving a God that deeply loves us,” he added.

JUTN student Chloe Martin asked Perkins how individuals from different cultures can best enter into an environment they are not familiar with.


Students, faculty and staff gathered around Perkins to pray for him and his ministry. 

“I think that you just have to plunge,” he said. “I don’t think you can get rid of the fear without plunging. That’s what I like about swimming, you really have to get in the water whatever chill goes with it.”

Perkins said that he feels that music is also an effective way to communicate a language of love.

“After you preach they take what you said and rearrange it right then and preach it,” he said. “This generation, they understand the power of music but they understand the power of love.

“They understand the power of embrace, and that’s the word in a world where I judge you first. We’re not judging first, we’re trying to receive each other,” he added.

To learn more about Dr. Perkins or to buy his latest book visit the website of The John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation.

View Dr. Perkins’ JUTN chapel sermon here.