71-year-old local pastor, veteran finally finishing BUA BA degree
by Jennifer Moczygemba-Delgado
SAN ANTONIO, TX–When it comes to the dream of a college education Julian Gonzales believes time never runs out.
Gonzales, a senior at Baptist University of the Américas (BUA) is 71 years old, and is about to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies. Gonzales has become an inspiration to the students who share classes with him.
Along with being a full-time student, Gonzales is pastor of Iglesia Bautista Cristo El Rey where he preaches Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. He also manages the music, which he prepares in advance and burns CD’s for the service.
Obviously, he hasn’t taken a direct route to this educational milestone.
After graduating from East Central High School in 1961, Gonzales spent 15 years in the Army National Guard before transferring to the Air Force Reserve. “The military really instilled the value of higher education deep in my mind,” he said, “in order to always have a fresh mind.
Because of that Gonzales strongly and successfully encouraged his four children to go to college and complete their degrees. But the “do as I say and not as I do” made him uneasy because he still hadn’t completed his own bachelor’s degree.
Over the years Gonzales often reminded his wife of his goal to graduate college, but busy taking care of his family and at times working up to three jobs, he never had the opportunity.
Finally, in the late 1980’s Gonzales enrolled at BUA, then known as Hispanic Baptist Theological Seminary, and was able to complete his Associate Degree in Divinity in 1991.
Eventually, personal hardships disrupted his life.
In 1999 Gonzales’ wife Rachel got sick. “Her lungs filled with blood and she nearly suffocated. She had to be on a ventilator for several days. The doctors told us she could go at anytime. Thankfully, with her will to live and our prayers, she lived an additional 11 years,” explained Gonzales.
In 2005 her kidneys slowly failed. She eventually spent five years as a dialysis patient. During this tough time, “she never let her illness bring her spirit down,” Gonzalez recalls proudly. “Even the other teachers at Pearce and Gallardo Elementary, where she substituted, wondered how she could always be so cheerful.”
In January 2011, her potassium rose too high which caused fatal heart trouble. “The incident was heartbreaking for me because we had plans for our future, but no plans are greater than God’s,” Gonzales explains. “In a way I was also happy for Rachel because she was suffering for a while now, and now Rachel gained heaven.”
In the aftermath of his loss, Gonzales decided to go back to school. He only needed 26 hours to complete his Bachelor degree, so Fall of 2011 he was back in the classroom, eager to complete his lifelong goal. Gonzales started off with three courses to get a feel for the student life again.
In his final semester, Gonzales is taking a full 12 hours. The biggest adjustment for him has been balancing the school work along with pastoral duties and home life. “It was hard getting back into the routine of writing papers and studying, but overall I have really enjoyed it,” he shares.
His age doesn’t’ seem to be a factor at BUA. The students accept him like any other student.
“Julian is a delight in the classroom. Talk about chivalry being alive. I usually come into class with my hands full and he always pulls the chair out for me. When I missed class he shared his very organized notes with me,” fellow student Rhoda Vance explains. “I admire his steadfastness despite the much younger group around him and his loyalty to doing his work despite the challenges of being out of school for quite some time and his sweet spirit in and out of the classroom. He will always be a dear friend and I felt privileged in sharing a class with him.”
Due to his organization and drive to learn, Gonzales does get asked for help with homework more than most students, but this is one of his most rewarding aspects of going back to school. “I enjoy having the opportunity to pray for others and advise students. Some students confine in me in detail, which allows me to counsel with them. I love to help,” he says.
“Hermano Julian has been an inspiration to many of us who have had the privilege to know him,” adds Claudia Bustamente, another classmate. “He is always willing to give a word of encouragement as well as helping in the courses we struggle with. He is a true servant of God and motivated to learn every day.”
One would think he wouldn’t have any energy left to participate in any of BUA’s extra activities, but Gonzales does. “He is always up for anything,” according to classmate Daniel Bello. “When asked to participate, he is more than willing: helping during new student orientation, participating in the Eagle Run (a fund-raiser for Communities In Schools-SA where he annually wins his age division) and mentoring for Communities in Schools. He even played softball with us in the school picnic.”
In September, following the adage that if you want something done get a busy person to do it, BUA President René Maciel asked Gonzalez to join the Office of University Relations staff as a volunteer to represent the university at public events because, “Everywhere I went to speak about BUA it seemed like he was there. He is a great addition to our team.”
One thing Gonzales would like for people to know about BUA is it has a wonderful atmosphere. “BUA is friendly, affordable, peaceful and calm. It is a place where you can concentrate on your studies and have fellowship with students,” he said.
One thing Gonzalez would like for people to know about him is God is the one who made it possible for him to go back to school. God has kept him in good health; he takes no pain medication, has no conditions, has all his teeth and is pretty much in perfect health. “I would just like to give God all the credit for this. God will always fulfill His promises, we may not, but He will. We just have to have faith and obey Him,” stated Gonzales.