It’s 2 a.m. and 21-year-old Joanirie Font is walking toward a local subway in Rome, Italy, after finishing a street show with her missions team. Her phone vibrates in her pocket, and as she pulls it out, the glow from the phone lights up the tears in her eyes.
“I didn’t get in,” she remembered, as she stared at the flowers on her white bedsheets. “I’m still pretty shocked about it. But I thank the Lord I didn’t get into that school, because then I wouldn’t be at ORU.” Little did she know.
At eight years old, Joanirie and her family uprooted from Orlando, Florida, and planted themselves in Carolina, Puerto Rico. Joanirie’s father, a second-generation pastor, assumed leadership of Iglesia Fuente de Agua Viva (The Fountain of Living Waters) after his father passed away.
A church with over 50,000 Facebook followers, Joanirie’s father gained popularity through writing several books, appearing on broadcast TV and preaching at conferences around the world. Joanirie was involved in the church running social media, serving in the youth ministry and helping her dad around the church wherever she was needed.
After graduating high school, Joanirie began applying to schools. Her father had never been to Tulsa but had heard of ORU through friends in ministry. However, Joanirie wanted to study closer to home in order to stay with her family and young siblings for as long as she could.
“I’ve never been fixed on a school. I just want a good education,” said Joanirie.
She studied general biology at the University of Puerto Rico for a year, which happened to be the most practical choice being only 15 minutes away from her home.
But after a new Puerto Rican governor was elected in 2016, economic changes to the public university resulted in protests and violence throughout the campus, which prevented Joanirie from attending school for a trimester. Looking for an escape from the chaos, she and her parents decided it would be best for her to continue her studies elsewhere.
“[My dad] was like, ‘Just pick ORU already!’” recalled Joanirie.
She remained stubborn in wanting to stay close to home, despite her father’s input. Joanirie applied to Universidad Iberoamericana, or UNIBE, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, which was about an hour flight from her home. When in Rome for a mission trip in July 2016, she received the news that she was not accepted into UNIBE.
“I had all the requirements. That just meant that someone higher than me kicked me off the list, and it’s that simple,” said Joanirie.
Joanirie didn’t know where to go next. The day after receiving news of her rejection, she received a call from her dad urging her to apply to ORU once again, and she finally gave in. ORU admissions told Joanirie that once they received her transcript and paperwork, they would decide within three days if she was accepted.
Still on her mission trip in Italy, Joanirie, with the help of friends, had just a few short days to get all her paperwork from Puerto Rico to Tulsa.
“I was like, ‘God, if you want me to go to ORU, I just want a physical confirmation,’” she said.
After her mission trip, she met her family in Guatamala for a conference called “Ensancha,” where her father was a guest speaker. She was riding the elevator with her dad when a tall, American man walked in and opened a conversation.
“He’s like ‘Hi, how are you? Where do you study?’ [I told him] I applied to ORU,” said Joanirie. “I don’t know who this man is.”
As they stepped out of the elevator, the man asked her to spell out her name, and he typed it into his phone.
“He [said], ‘I just texted the head of admissions. I’m the president of that school. I’ll see you there next week,’” Joanirie remembered, with a still-frivolous excitement in her eyes. “I was like, I guess this is my physical confirmation!”
ORU President Dr. William Wilson was also a guest speaker at Ensancha, but they hadn’t recognized him. Less than a week later, with three black bags in hand, Joanirie was ready for her 2,000 mile journey overseas.
The fall of 2018 marked the beginning of the 22-year-old’s second and final year at ORU. Joanirie hopes to graduate in the spring with a degree in medical molecular biology and a minor in psychology. She has planned her wedding for May 2019, whereafter she and her husband will move to Mexico.
“I like to plan ahead, but my life has changed a lot this year,” said Joanirie. “I always told God, ‘Whatever you want me to do, I’ll drop anything and just do it.’”