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The Evangelist Professor

William H. Jeynes is an academic scholar -- and a preacher around the globe.

As an ordained Assemblies of God evangelist, William H. Jeynes preaches 125 times a year across the world. But at the same time, he is a respected scholar, an expert who speaks and writes about Christian and family values in the academic realm.

Jeynes is professor of education at California State University-Long Beach, non-resident scholar at Baylor University, and senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute. Jeynes has written scores of academic articles and 10 books on a wide range of issues, including the nation's Christian heritage, character education in public schools, and the effects of family factors on youth. He has become one of the nation's leading researchers on religiosity and education.

Yet Jeynes, 58, continues to hold missionary and evangelistic services under the banner of God's Love Ministries, which he started in 1978.

Both vocations seem improbable, given the childhood and youth Jeynes endured as the only son of atheistic parents in New York. His father left the home after his mentally unstable mother tried to kill him. Beginning at age 8, William in essence had to run the home, including shopping for groceries and preparing meals.

William grew up fast fending for himself. During much of his childhood, his mother was institutionalized. But when she lived at home, every morning before going to school William would talk her out of committing suicide. She barely missed stabbing him with a butcher knife on one occasion, and repeatedly threatened to kill him and cut him up into pieces while he slept in his bedroom, which had no lock on the door.

Living under the strain of threats and a seemingly empty life, Jeynes at age 18 began contemplating his own suicide. He saw no purpose in life. Even though he didn't believe in God, he uttered an atheistic prayer of desperation: "God, if You exist -- and I know You don't -- prove it to me."

Three days later, Jeynes says, he heard for the only time in his life a supernatural audible voice, with declarations such as: "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. I am the Great Shepherd. I am the Vine and you are the branches. I and the Father are one."

At that point, even though he had no past exposure to the gospel, Jeynes says he accepted Jesus as his Savior. One night in his bedroom, as he read Jesus' statements about His divinity, Jeynes began to weep uncontrollably. The verses turned out to be the verbatim utterances spoken to him in his suicidal prevention prayer.

Initially, Jeynes thought he would be a Christian counselor. By his junior year he felt called into ministry. He turned his apartment into a halfway house to minister to street people with conditions similar to his mother's. After earning his bachelor's degree, he obtained his master's and doctorate at seminaries, and he began evangelistic preaching campaigns. 

He met his wife, Hyelee, in a prayer line after he spoke at Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, in 1985. By then, Jeynes preached an average of 275 services a year.

"But I came to the conclusion that while ministers definitely make an impact, so do public schools," Jeynes recalls. "Public schools have our kids five days a week. Those kids are attending church, at most, three times a week. So the Lord laid it on my heart to go into a two-pronged ministry, both in churches and the academic sphere."

Even though he had earned a doctorate in seminary, Jeynes determined to return to secular schools with the best academic reputations. He knew he needed advanced non-religious degrees to gain credence as a teacher and researcher if academic people were to be open to the gospel message.

William and Hyelee prayed, and he gained admission to Harvard University by making a perfect score on the Graduate Record Examination, the graduate school equivalent of the SAT Reasoning Test. At Harvard he earned a master's and graduated first in his class. Then he received a full scholarship from the University of Chicago, where he received his doctorate.

Jeynes advocates that Christians fully engage culture. He has simultaneously been able to gain and keep credibility in a public academic setting while being a vocal Christian. 

Part of the Christian retreat from culture occurred in the wake of a trio of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the early 1960s that banned government-sponsored prayer and Bible reading in public schools.

However, Jeynes points out that Christians for decades overlooked an important aspect of one of those rulings. In 1963, Abingdon School District v. Schempp acknowledged there is nothing that prohibits the teaching of the Bible in public schools as long as it is done in an objective way and is part of a secular curriculum.

One of his primary roles these days is an effort to return the Bible to public school, in literature courses. Jeynes has been part of a grassroots movement that started out in a few school districts with parents speaking at school board meetings, talking to school principals, writing to governors, and contacting state legislators. The Bible as literature is being taught as a yearlong high school class in 450 school districts in parts of 43 states.

Even though he personally didn't benefit from a stable Christian home growing up, Jeynes says research clearly shows that two-parent families provide the best environment in which to raise children.

"Children need a sense of security and being loved, and they are much more likely to have that in a two-parent family," Jeynes says. "When kids are in a family of faith with mom and dad, there is more likely to be love and a sense of purpose."

Jeynes has ministered in 47 states and 20 foreign countries, usually alongside Hyelee, who prays with people at the altar, evangelizes, and counsels. Some of his ministry efforts continue to involve counseling suicidal people.

"There is no way I would have the compassion that God has given me for the people I minister to if not for what I went through as a child," says Jeynes, who led his mother to the Lord shortly before she regained a semblance of sanity and died in 1989.

William and Hyelee have three grown sons, Isaiah, Elisha, and Luke.


John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.