When Cliff Jones (’99) began his college career in Wisconsin, he wanted to work toward becoming a firefighter. As his time in college progressed, that desire changed. He felt the Lord calling him to missions. “Growing up, I always wanted to be a firefighter and, particularly, wanted to serve in the U.S. Air Force as a firefighter,” said Cliff. “I got saved when I was a senior in high school. My parents really wanted me to go to a Christian school for a year to get some grounding before I joined the military.”
Although he had started his college career with an idea of where the Lord would lead him, Cliff found himself being nudged toward a narrowed-down path through his circumstances. “I couldn’t afford to stay where I started. Once I arrived at PCC, I was blown away by the facilities, professors, and friendships that were made,” Cliff said. He was especially thankful for meeting Wendi Barth (Early Childhood Ed. ’00) while at PCC, who he married in 2000. “I have no regrets on my transfer.”
While Cliff chose to pursue a pastoral ministries degree at PCC, it wasn’t until a chapel service that he discovered where his calling and circumstances were leading him. Guest speaker Steve Siefkes, a U.S. Air Force Chaplain, presented a message to the student body while in uniform. “I immediately felt God leading me to the Chaplaincy. I rushed up to the stage to talk to him. Little did I know, a lifelong friend and mentorship was born,” he said. “After contacting the recruiters and learning about the Chaplaincy, I learned I needed to complete the Master of Divinity.”
In 1999, Cliff was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force. Once he completed his M.Div. degree in 2003, Cliff went on active duty. He served in the United States Air Force until 2011 before crossing over to the Army to a Field Artillery Unit. His time in the service provided several opportunities for ministry. “[Some highlights included] riding in the back of an F-15, deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, door-to-door outreach during the days following Hurricane Katrina while working with FEMA teams in Louisiana and Mississippi. On a day-to-day basis, simply getting to work with young troops and their families,” he said. “It was refreshing and rewarding getting to be around them all day, every day and to get to help build and invest in their lives and that of their family.”
As a chaplain, he worked intentionally with those in his unit. “We did everything together, from PT (physical training) to staff meetings to field training for weeks on end and deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “On Sundays, I was always privileged to lead or share leadership responsibilities in worship services on post and in off-post housing. These provided great opportunities to connect with more troops and their families, away from the workplace, in a sacred environment.”
In 2014, Cliff transferred to the Army Reserves, and began serving as a Federal Prison Chaplain in the largest federal prison in the Bureau of Prisons. “I loved the military and the prison chaplaincy because I was able to work with individuals and families of all walks of life,” he said.
Over his time in the service, Cliff had his share of highs and lows while sharing God’s truths to others before he retired from the Army in 2017. He earned several awards for his service, including the Combat Action Badge while he was deployed to Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division. In 2020, Cliff was medically retired from the Bureau of Prisons due to complications related to PTSD. “I’ve experienced some pretty tremendous blessings in my work and ministry,” he said. “I’ve also experienced some heavy hardships. I’ve learned more from the hard times than I ever could have learned from the good times.”
“Wendi and I have experienced a lot as a couple as well,” Cliff continued. “Through those difficulties, God has opened many doors for us to minister to others. He has blessed us with two children via the miracle of adoption. We’ve even started a non-profit called MIA2Hope Ministry in order to help those who feel ‘Missing-in-Action’ because of miscarriage, infertility, and/or those in the adoption/foster care process.”
Cliff is taking the next step forward toward God’s calling to minister to others. Currently, he’s finishing a degree in interdisciplinary studies with plans to begin a Master of Social Work in the fall to become a social worker in adoption and foster care, an area he has a great burden for. “Our non-profit, MIA2Hope Ministry is something I feel is a great accomplishment, particularly as we turn our heartache into helpful ministry in serving others who are experiencing some of what we have,” he said. He and Wendi extend that welcomed hand of support and encouragement at their church in New Jersey. “We’re both engaged in several ministries there, including a small group for adoptive and foster families that kicked-off last fall.”
Although Cliff didn’t begin at PCC, he’s thankful for how God has used those years to point, guide, and teach him. “The most valuable were the practical sessions in chapel or Ministerial Seminar paired with the self-discipline that is required to be a college student in an academically challenging school. I was encouraged often by interaction with my professors and the friendships that were built—many that still remain. All that, paired with working a lot of hours on the Grounds crew, really helped me learn a healthy balance of work, study, and fun,” he said. “This is something I still need to utilize today.”
From firefighter to social worker, Cliff’s vocations and dreams may have changed, developed, and shifted over the years, but he continues to further the same work he was called to do—sharing God’s peace with those who need it the most.