At a school known for its focus on missions, Spring Break at Liberty University provides several opportunities for students to do the Lord’s work around the globe. This week about 90 students are on Liberty-sponsored missions trips around the world, and there are countless others who have joined outside organizations in missions work.
Johnnie Moore, a campus pastor and vice president for executive projects and media relations, is leading 50 students on a trip through Africa this week. Liberty.edu is featuring their travels, providing updates with photographs and stories that tell of the work Liberty is doing to mend broken lives in Africa.
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA, MARCH 20, 2010:
-- by Johnnie Moore
I am now in Ethiopia, and this morning I began my day worshipping together with another team of LU students in another nation. I decided to delay my return to the United States by one day in order to check in on the group of 19 LU students who have spent Spring Break hosting a soccer camp in a rural village four hours south of Addis Ababa.
The village they worked in was in an idyllic spot within Ethiopia’s portion of the Great Rift Valley. It was very rural. Like many of Africa’s villages, electricity and water were a commodity, the children wore tattered clothes, and poverty was an ever-present part of life.
The LU team welcomed 41 neighboring village children, between the ages of 11 and 17, to their sports camp. These were primarily children from Muslim villages, and all of them were interested in practicing and refining their soccer skills.
The invitation to the camp had come only after each of these children had been a part of a yearlong program with an African, Christian leader in their community. This week of fun and training was a reward for these children. The seeds of the Gospel had been planted well in these kids’ lives, for at the end of the week 27 of the 41 kids had made deliberate professions of faith in Jesus Christ.
One of the converts was the son of the local Community Leader. According to the locals, and the LU students, this child knew exactly what he was doing and spoke openly about the potential repercussions of his conversion.
Each day the students prepared a program focusing on the development of the students’ soccer skills. Meanwhile, they emphasized sportsmanship and Biblical values. Specifically, they integrated into the program lessons related to trust, honesty, and unity.
The last day focused on service. So, the students decided to radically demonstrate to the local children an act of service. One LU leader read the passage of Scripture where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Then he asked the eight Ethiopian leaders and the camp staff to sit down. Then, one by one, LU students began to wash and dry the feet of these Ethiopian leaders.
One of the LU students, Katie, told me that as soon as they touched the feet of one of the leaders, the leader began to weep.
The sight of American students washing the feet of these regular, village leaders was incredibly moving for everyone. The LU students wept with the pastors and leaders. The children sat in awe as they watched students from the world’s wealthiest nation demonstrate Christ-like service through washing the feet of these Ethiopian leaders.
Literally, every student was deeply touched by this moment. Soon, the leaders and the Americans were singing together, in their respective languages, the old hymn “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” It was a multi-cultural worship service, emblematic of Heaven, where two cultures were united in Christ more than divided by culture.
I’m told that that young, Christian son of that local Community Leader was singing as well, “The cross before me, the world behind me. Though none go with me, I still will follow. No turning back. No turning back.”
Earlier in the week, the team had met with a Christian pastor who had once been a Muslim cleric in charge of 147 mosques. Who knows? Maybe one day, this 12-year-old Christian will lead his father to Christ.
Liberty students pose with the children at the dedication service for Liberty's Home of Hope in Uganda.
|A Liberty student prays with residents at LU's Home of Hope.|
KAMPALA, UGANDA, MARCH 19, 2010:
-- by Johnnie Moore
Uganda and these Liberty University students are now soul mates, and I am sure that neither will be the same.
Liberty’s time in Uganda could not have ended in a more apropos way. In route to the airport we all stopped by the Destiny Village of Hope one more time to officially dedicate a World Help “Home of Hope” that was built by the generosity of Liberty University students through Campus Church.
When we arrived, the residents of this impeccable boarding school were waiting for us. The more than 1,000 students were dressed brilliantly in their bright yellow or blue uniforms. The kids were lined up on each side of the road creating a welcoming tunnel for the LU students to walk through. The whole affair was accompanied by the school band, which played skillfully for more than 20 minutes. The band was a gaggle of students from all different ages, but it seemed like the 7-year-old trumpet was as skilled as the oldest band member. The mood was more than festive.
They asked me to give greetings after the school’s 13-year-old campus pastor prayed a passionate, powerful, articulate and Biblical prayer. Apparently this kid is quite the preacher as well! I’ve never been so intimidated to speak after a child!
I felt compelled to read a few simple verses to these deeply impoverished and, sometimes, orphaned children. I read, “His name is the Lord — and rejoice before him. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families; he leads forth the prisoners with singing. (Psalm 68:4b-6b)”
I told the children that I recognized many of them have had a difficult life, and that many of them may not have a single parent left in the world, but today they can know that God will be their father and that they have 50 brothers and sisters in the United States who will be praying for them.
|Liberty students visit with children at the Destiny Village of Hope.|
I said, “If someone asks you if you have a family. Tell them ‘yes.’ Tell them, ‘God is my father and I have brothers and sisters in the USA.’”
Then, I prayed as hard as I knew how to pray for those kids. I prayed for their health and their safety, for their education, and that they might be powerful, future leaders of Uganda and of Africa. When I said, “amen,” I looked to my left and I saw a Liberty girl weeping. At that moment, I knew that my promise of our prayers for these kids would be kept.
Following the welcome service, and my remarks, the whole team proceeded in a long line to the home LU built for some of these children. The kids were waiting there for us, singing English worship songs. Within a few minutes we had dedicated the building for the sake of the Gospel and the future of Uganda. Then, our team of students fanned out into the group of children who were welcoming us, into the rooms where their bunk beds were placed, and around the building. Some LU students laid their hands on a small group of children, others grabbed onto the rails of bunk beds, and some of our students even placed their open palms on the exterior and interior walls of our Home of Hope. You could hear the murmur of their passionate prayers all around as LU interceded for this home and for their Ugandan brothers and sisters.
|An LU student prays with children at the Destiny Village of Hope.|
Ian Macintyre is a recent LU graduate who now works with my colleague, Dwayne Carson (Liberty’s director of the Office of Student Leadership). Uganda was Ian’s fourth missions trip with Liberty University. Reflecting on our trip to Africa, Ian told me, “I just really love what Liberty does with missions trips. I love how Liberty takes students who have lived in a bit of a bubble and exposes them firsthand to the needs of the world. To a lot of these students it is shocking at first, and they don’t really know what to do … then Liberty helps the students pick up the pieces of their broken heart … and puts them back together again.”
Ian summed it up well: “[Liberty] then says, ‘You’ve seen the need, now here’s what you should do.’ It has been very eye-opening here in Africa … what if more of these kids were sponsored?”
What if they were?
We didn’t know Gladys, Shaliwa, Sharon, Rachel or Joan until today. They are a few of the 23 girls who are now living in the Home of Hope provided by Liberty University.
Gladys, Sharon and Joan each lost their parents to AIDS. Shaliwa lost her father only. Joan became an ad-hoc mother to her brother and sister after her parents passed away. Several of these girls ended up caring for their siblings as child mothers, a couple lived on the streets, and each of them came from abject poverty.
They tell me that Joan is now a great student who especially loves to read and to sing. Rachel wants to be a nurse to help AIDS victims like her late father. Sharon is now a dorm leader who is known as an outgoing and friendly girl. Shaliwa wants to be a doctor and especially loves learning English. Gladys loves helping lead worship in the student services, and she plans on being an accountant one day.
Liberty University literally helped changed the destiny of these girls.
|Johnnie Moore meets with recent Liberty alumnus Kevin Kalibala, who now cares for orphans in Uganda.|
As we left the dedication service “our kids” walked us all the way to the gate of the complex, wishing us goodbye. Then in a beautiful surprise, we found a LU alumnus from Uganda waiting for us at the gate. Kevin Kalibala took a few minutes to tell us about how much he loved studying at Liberty from 2006-09. Kalibala was on a track scholarship to Liberty, but while at Liberty he was supporting his siblings and a number of orphans he had taken into his home. Today, Kevin is caring for 66 orphans in Kampala. He’s passionate about caring for orphans because when he was a child he became an orphan and was forced to care for his own, young siblings. Today, Kevin is back in Uganda ensuring that as few kids as possible have to have the childhood he endured. He went on and on about the impact Liberty made on his life, and his gratitude toward the other guys who lived on Dorm 18-1 because his dorm mates helped him care for his small orphanage while he was studying at Liberty!
The other day World Help founder Vernon Brewer and I were reminiscing about missions at Liberty University. During his tenure as LU’s Vice President for Spiritual Life and Campus Pastor, he led thousands of students on many dozens of trips around the world.
Vernon believes that LU is as committed to the great commission as ever: “As a Liberty alumnus, and someone involved in Liberty missions early on, it has been a powerful experience to see how another generation is carrying the torch of missions so zealously and so effectively. Liberty is still changing lives all over the globe.”
More than once, he said he felt like a proud father watching the LU students minister in Africa this week.
I don’t think Vernon Brewer was the only father who felt this way. I think these LU students made their Heavenly Father awfully proud this week, for Proverbs 19:17 says, “those who give to the poor, lend to the LORD.”
GULLU, UGANDA, MARCH 17, 2010:
-- by Johnnie Moore
|LU students pray with former child soldiers and "child mothers" who graduated from the Good Samaritan Vocational School in Uganda.|
When Mary Aloyo arrived at the Good Samaritan Vocational Training Center in Gullu, Uganda, she was like many of the thousands of refugees upended from the guerilla war that had been waged against the Ugandan government by the Lord’s Resistance Army for 20 years.
Pastor Alex Mitala remembers Mary’s first day in classes. He told me when she arrived, “She was literally in rags.”
Today, she was standing in front of this year’s graduating class one year after her own graduation, wearing anything but rags. She was in a beautiful white dress with blue flowers, all accented with gold earrings and a sparkling gold necklace. She had the kind of ear-to-ear grin that is only a by-product of pure joy, and she stood with her head held high. She shared her testimony as a woman transformed by Christ and given a second chance through education.
I was invited to be the speaker for this year’s Commencement, and our team of 50 Liberty University students were the guests of honor. We were there to celebrate the accomplishments of these former child soldiers and child mothers, many of whom had been abducted and abused by the LRA. The audience was nearly void of parents and family members, as most of the graduates had no surviving family, or no family members who cared about their big day. I overheard one of our LU students say, “They can consider us their family.”
You could feel the energy and the hope pulsating through the room as these young men and women were turning a new page in their lives.
This graduation service was the culmination of our time in war-torn Gullu, Uganda. Just a few years earlier, thousands of children slept within Gullu each night in order to escape abduction and forced service in the LRA. If kidnapped, the girls would be forced into sexual slavery and the boys would be forced to fight as child soldiers. At the height of the conflict, more than 15,000 “night commuters” would gather every evening in the train station, on the sidewalks and in the buildings of Gullu in the hopes that they would be safer there than in their villages. Most of these kids would walk for miles in order to sleep a little more securely.
|A Liberty student makes a gospel bracelet with a child in Gullu, Uganda.|
Yesterday, Liberty students enjoyed some private time with the students from the vocational school. One young man showed us his bullet wounds and the scars from his years as a child soldier. He might have been 20 years old. A girl explained to us how she was abducted and forced to mother a child with an LRA soldier. We learned about another abducted girl who was raped, gave birth to a child, and then her child was murdered by the LRA because caring for the newborn was taking too much of their captive’s time. Every student had a heart-wrenching story.
These testimonies led to an impromptu prayer meeting with our team of Liberty students laying their hands on these former abductees, praying that God would help them be successful after graduation, and that God would give them grace and healing.
After prayer, the Ugandan students started worshiping, singing and dancing in praise of Jesus Christ. Soon Liberty students were dancing and singing, too, with so much energy that I thought the tent would fly away.
Somehow, through this time of prayer and worship this group of American and Ugandan students looked like family.
It was surreal for the team. They had heard about Uganda’s child soldiers, but in this moment they felt connected to them. Jordan Sorber has had a heart for Ugandans for a long time. He and his fiancée are on the team. “We came thinking we’re going to be an encouragement to these people, and to just love on them. We’ve done that, but they have totally changed our hearts.”
Also in Gullu, the students spent time praying for and playing with the impoverished, war-affected children who are being educated through World Help’s child sponsorship program. They were invited to walk through the Internally Displaced Person Camp from which many of the vocational school students had come. The students also participated in the dedication of a new building for the school and a well that will provide fresh water to the surrounding community.
Cassie Laminack (in top photo, right) is a Liberty sophomore from Georgia who really has a heart for the world. She came to Uganda this spring break because she believed it was a mandate from God. “I knew I was supposed to be here this week, at this time for these kids and for these people,” she told me.
There was one particular child that touched Cassie’s heart. This little girl could not have been much older than 5. She was a “child mother,” probably an orphan, and she was caring for her two sisters and her brother. “She was so limp,” Cassie said. “I could tell she hadn’t eaten or drank anything for a while. She just laid there with me … she had tears in her eyes.”
Cassie’s new friend was not part of World Help’s child sponsorship program. In fact, she was hanging around a group of sponsored kids in the hopes that she and her siblings would one day don the same school uniforms and have food and good shelter like they did.
Cassie told me all she wanted was to see that little “child mother” smile. She even prayed that God would help this joyless girl find a smile somewhere. After praying for her new friend, Cassie had to board the bus with the rest of the team. She had tears welling up in her eyes.
She looked through the bus window and found the little girl in the crowd.
The little mother waved back.
Then, the little girl grinned.
It was only a passing grin, but it was as bright as the sun to Cassie.
Cassie cried, “That was the first time I saw her teeth! I thank God for it … I’ll never forget her. She will always be my girl. I have a picture of her and I will pray for her daily. I will not forget her.”
Back in Rwanda, I remember Bishop Kollinni telling me that it took him three years to get some of his orphans to smile.
I wonder if Cassie really understood the power of that passing smile.
RWANDA, MARCH 14, 2010:
-- by Johnnie Moore
The embattled nations of Uganda and Rwanda seem to be awakening to a new dawn, and this weekend Liberty University is right in the heart of their transformation.
In Uganda, 50 LU students woke up this morning to spend a day ministering to Kampala’s poor and to hundreds of children who have been victims of war, poverty and AIDS. They began their day by dividing themselves among more than 1,000 kids for a time of education and fun. They ended their day with a community-wide worship service that was largely attended by residents of a neighboring slum. These poor Ugandans came at the request of LU students who had gone from dwelling to dwelling to extend a personal invitation to the evening service.
Today was just the beginning of their week of ministry. By Friday, the students will have spent much of their time working directly with the “Invisible Children” of Uganda. Most of these children have been orphaned by AIDS or were forced to serve as child soldiers in the so-called “Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA].” Liberty’s partner in the region, World Help, has been saving children in Uganda since 2007. Many of the girls in World Help’s homes were once kidnapped and made sex slaves by the LRA. The abducted boys were armed and forced to fight in their guerilla war.
|Campus pastor Johnnie Moore discusses Liberty University with the Bishop of Rwanda, John Rucyahana.|
Tomorrow, I will join the group’s work in Uganda. Later in the week we will dedicate a “Home of Hope” that was funded by Liberty’s Campus Church and is now caring for orphans of AIDS.
Tonight, I’m sitting downtown Kigali, Rwanda. I traveled here yesterday at the dual invitation of World Help and certain influential leaders of the evangelical church here. The first graduate of Liberty University, Vernon Brewer, is with me. He is the president of World Help.
Only 16 years ago this nation was the epicenter of one of the greatest human atrocities in world history. During 100 days of genocide more than 1 million Rwandans were murdered, most of them at the hands of their neighbors whose weapon of choice was a simple machete. The victims’ bodies were piled in mass graves, some churches became slaughterhouses with their pastors as co-conspirators, and nearly no one believed that Rwanda would ever recover from its gruesome moment in history. It had literally become a nation of the dead and their killers.
Today, I preached the Sunday sermon at Bishop John Rucyahana’s church in Ruhengeri, Rwanda. I watched hundreds of Rwandans pile into the cathedral. Some of those worshipping were perpetrators of the genocide and others were their surviving victims. Yet, they all sang at the top of their lungs, they clapped and raised their hands in praise, and many of them were wearing huge smiles on their faces! I could literally sense the power of reconciliation, redemption and new life in Christ. In a moment of irony fit for an epic, the Christians concluded the Sunday service by singing, “It Is Well With My Soul.”
While Rwanda remains deeply scarred, it seems that for more and more people Jesus is making their souls well. Yet, there is plenty of soul work remaining to be done. Everyone lost someone in the genocide, and everyone bears its wounds. There are remorseful perpetrators who bear scars on their conscience; there are the widows and the orphans; and there are the thousands of surviving victims who remain haunted by horrific memories and physical pain. Leaders such as Bishop John Rucyahana are being used by God to “bind up the brokenhearted and heal their wounds.” (Isaiah 61:1)
|Members of Liberty’s team met with the U.S. ambassador to Rwanda, W. Stuart Symington. From left: Josh Brewer (current LU student and son of Vernon Brewer); ambassador W. Stuart Symington; Vernon Brewer (LU alumnus and president, World Help); Johnnie Moore; and Cyrus Mad-Bondo (Africa Director, World Help and an LU alumnus).|
Next year, Liberty University’s Center for Global Ministries plans to make its own contribution to Rwanda’s recovery by sending a group of counseling students to assist untrained trauma counselors who are still helping Rwanda’s victims learn to live again.
Vernon Brewer and I also had private meetings with the United States ambassador to Rwanda and the archbishop of the Anglican Church. We toured a Christian elementary and high school where 80 percent of its 1,300 students are orphans; we visited a Village of Hope that is providing new life to those nearly killed by the genocide’ and we personally observed the good policies instituted by President Paul Kagame that have miraculously reshaped this war-worn nation.
God is doing something in Uganda and Rwanda and we don’t intend on sitting on the sidelines.
We want our part in the miracle.