Liberty Journal

Champions for Christ

Winter/Spring 2014 : Liberty University News Service

Graduate wins seat in Virginia General Assembly

Les AdamsLiberty University alumnus Les Adams won Virginia’s 16th District delegate position in a landslide against Democrat Elizabeth Jones. Adams, who received 63 percent of the vote, is the first Liberty alumnus to hold office in Virginia’s General Assembly.

“I am tremendously honored to have that distinction,” Adams said. “I am committed to representing Liberty and, of course, my district with honor.”

Adams’ election platform focused mainly on job creation and growing the economy. He believes that creating a business-friendly environment will attract and retain new industry to the Southside.

Adams graduated Magna Cum Laude from Liberty in 1996 with a degree in social sciences with teacher certification and a minor in government. Adams’ four younger siblings also attended Liberty.

“The time I spent here at Liberty was a time that my faith was deepened. I look back with a lot of fondness on my years here,” he said.

Adams also served for a few years as an adjunct professor at Liberty’s Helms School of Government beginning in 2006.

“I always enjoyed teaching, especially at Liberty,” the new delegate said. “As an alumnus, I always enjoyed coming back onto campus, and when I taught it gave me the opportunity to do that more often.”

Adams still enjoys attending Liberty athletics games with his 8-year-old son, he said.

The new Virginia delegate resides in Chatham and is the sixth generation of his family to make his home in Pittsylvania County. He also serves as an attorney and partner at Adams Elmore and Fisk PLC in Chatham and has doubled the size of the firm, hiring several new employees.

He and his wife, Melanie,  welcomed their second son into the world in January.


Alumna shares her story to encourage other stroke survivors

The Stephenson familyLiberty graduate Delanie Stephenson (’01) will always remember June 6, 2012, as “the day my world changed.” When the mother of two finally got home after teaching high school history in Hopewell, Va., she felt the left side of her body grow numb. By the time Stephenson’s husband took her to the hospital she knew that she was having a stroke.

In her book, “The Calm before the Storm: A Stroke Survivor’s Story,” Stephenson shares her powerful journey of emotional and physical trial. Delanie’s younger sister and fellow Liberty graduate, Karen, had suffered a stroke one year before when one of her arteries was nicked during minor surgery. Delanie had watched her sister overcome the struggles that she would now face and found the strength to fight.

“I saw that (Karen) had gone from not being able to walk or swallow or eat solid food,” said Stephenson. “She came from nothing and then she was able to regain much of it back. I knew through hard work, dedication, and all of those things that I would be able, if I did work hard, to gain it back as well.”

Stephenson’s story is a testament to both her endurance and her faith. She mentions that she was often labeled a “worrier,” but sees God working as He asks her to focus only on Him.

“I still worry about certain things; I don’t think we’d be human if we didn’t. But I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson has not yet returned to teaching, but instead uses her time to advocate for stroke awareness, hoping that her book will have a positive effect on anyone going through a struggle of their own.

“You can sit there and cry for yourself and feel sorry for yourself but after you do that for a little while it doesn’t get you anything. I knew you either had to laugh or cry. So I chose to laugh and because of it, I think I had a better experience through the whole ordeal.”


Alumni among first to aid victims of earthquake, typhoon in Philippines

Les and Saralee TilkaWhen Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) unleashed its fury across the Philippines on Nov. 8, leaving more than 6,000 people dead and millions more homeless, Liberty University graduates Les (’88) and Saralee (’91) Tilka were right in the eye of the storm.

Located in Cebu City in the Central Visayas region, the Tilkas’ home, as well as Quest Fellowship, the church Les has pastored since 2005, were both spared the wrath of the most powerful storm ever to make landfall. Yolanda packed winds of 195 mph with gusts up to 230 mph across the Philippines’ 7,000 islands.

“We were right in the middle of where the destruction occurred, but we had no damage whatsoever at our house or church,” Les Tilka said. “I believe God spared us because He wanted us to be a part of responding to this.”

The typhoon, which spanned the 1,200-mile width of the islands, flooded coastal villages, caused landslides, uprooted trees, knocked down power lines, and destroyed entire communities as it quickly moved across the Philippines.

“We’ve been on the mission field for 20 years and it’s definitely an unprecedented time for us,” Tilka said. His wife and their three children — 19-year-old son Bradley and 18- and 16-year-old daughters, Nikki and Patricia — minister with him.

Just two weeks earlier, the Tilkas had mobilized a team from their church to aid victims of the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that had shaken the neighboring island of Bohol on Oct. 15, providing food and temporary shelter for more than 400 displaced families. Quest Fellowship was making plans to rebuild a church flattened by the earthquake when the typhoon swept across the Indonesian islands.

“Having back-to-back calamities has definitely rocked our world,” Les Tilka said. “We hadn’t even fulfilled all of the earthquake relief efforts when the typhoon hit. It’s just devastating. It looks like a 200-mile-wide tornado came through and leveled everything in its path.”

Serving as World Help’s partner in the Philippines, Tilka shot and narrated a video of the immediate aftermath from the storm (World Help was founded by Liberty’s first graduate, Vernon Brewer). Tilka has also worked extensively alongside volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse, which sent a 747 cargo jet full of emergency supplies — including 1,000 rolls of plastic for temporary shelters, water filtration systems, blankets, medical supplies, and hygiene kits — from Charlotte, N.C., to Cebu City.

Tilka is hopeful that the two natural disasters will spark a spiritual revival.

“We’re sure praying for that,” he said. “There’s always a window of opportunity after a calamity such as this, with people having an openness (to God). A lot of people are asking ‘Why us?’ We need to respond as quickly as possible, not only to meet their physical needs, but to leverage the opportunities to share the Gospel.”

People interested in contributing to relief efforts can do so through


Alumna uses expertise to encourage healthy relationships

The Fileta familyDebra Fileta (’05), a graduate of Liberty University’s psychology program, operates her own counseling practice in Hershey, Pa., where her Christian worldview and professional expertise influence lives every day.

While Fileta’s relationship with God and her family has inspired her to improve the lives of her patients, she attributes her career success to lessons learned at Liberty.

Fileta earned both her undergraduate degree and master’s degree in professional counseling from Liberty, and credits her former professor and mentor, Sundi Donovan, as a key influence in her professional growth.

“One thing I love about Liberty is that the relationships between professor and student go so much beyond teaching — they are a ministry. They pour into our lives and impact us in very significant ways. I will always be grateful for the role (Donovan) played in my life,” Fileta said.

Fileta has written articles on relationships for Today’s Christian Woman, Converge,, and she is a frequent contributor to Relevant magazine. Although her practice treats patients with a variety of issues, young relationships hold a special place in her heart.

Her recently published book, “True Love Dates,” discusses issues young people may face while dating. She instructs those searching for love to date inward, outward, and upward to find true happiness.

Fileta’s goals are to illustrate the consequences of “casual dating” in today’s secular society and correct the assumptions many people have about dating that unintentionally cause apprehension within the church.

“Singles everywhere are looking for some sort of direction when it comes to finding a life partner,” Fileta said. “This can be really difficult considering the starkly different perspectives we’re offered. On one hand, the message from the church has been to kiss dating goodbye — seeing dating as the disease and courtship as the cure. There’s a lot of pressure with that approach.”

While Fileta practices Christ-centered counseling, her approach is not solely spiritual. “True Love Dates” offers answers to young singles and couples regardless of their worldview.

“At the end of the day, we’re all just people looking for love. Although the book is primarily geared toward believers in that it’s written from the perspective of a Christian, my hope is that it can also be used for people outside of the faith who are looking to find true love.”


Brothers share another bond: Flames Hockey

Brad, Chad, and Devon Docksteader
Liberty junior Chad Docksteader (left) plays forward on the Flames DIII team while brother Devon (center), a freshman, joins brother Brad (right), a senior on the DII squad.

Flames hockey players and brothers Brad, Chad, and Devon Docksteader, along with oldest brother Adam (’11), grew up bonding as brothers and crafting their skills as players through pickup games in the unfinished basement of their home in Ottawa, Ontario.

Since Adam graduated off the Division I team, the three younger brothers have been busy building on his legacy at Liberty while juggling heavy academic loads.

“With all my brothers coming in, we get to encourage each other in hockey and in life,” said Brad, the second oldest brother who is a first-year M.B.A. graduate student.

The youngest brother, Devon, a freshman, joined Brad on the Division II team this year.

“Hockey is a big part of our lives, but it’s just for fun,” added Devon. “Our faith is what matters, and glorifying God.”

Chad, the third oldest in the Docksteader lineup, is a junior industrial engineering major and plays on the Flames’ Division III team. His coach, Tristan Chambers, said all the brothers are positive role models for their teammates, showcasing excellent sportsmanship that reflects their Christian faith.

“They’re definitely the type of players you want to see come to Liberty and make an impact on and off the ice,” he said.

Kirk Handy, head coach of the Division I team, coached Adam for four years.

“You couldn’t probably find a better family than the Docksteaders,” he said. “All the guys are respected by their teammates and coaches on each of their teams. They’re all solid student-athletes — solid in the classroom and solid on the ice.”


Alumnus completes world's first Triple Deca Ironman competition

Jaime Azuaje swims in the Triple Deca Ironman.Only certain individuals have the stamina to run a marathon. Fewer still can run a marathon after completing a 2.36-mile swim and a 111.84-mile bike ride in one day — a race called an Ironman.

But last fall, alumnus Jaime Azuaje (’12), a former member of Liberty University’s triathlon team, made history as one of seven triathletes from around the world to complete a Triple Deca Ironman: 30 Ironman races in 30 days.

The event took place in Lonato, Italy, Sept. 8-Oct. 8, and was so difficult that only eight of the original 31 competitors went on to finish the challenge. At age 26, Azuaje was the youngest competitor.

Prior to the Triple Deca, no one had ever completed more than 11 consecutive Ironmans, making each daily finish after 11 a new world record.

Azuaje said the most rewarding aspect of the race was gaining the respect of his fellow competitors, many of whom told him they were encouraged by his positive attitude even in the most adverse situations.

“I went to meet these international athletes, and make new friends, and eventually share my life with them and share Christ with them,” Azuaje said.

Though he felt discouraged inside, his competitors said they saw Azuaje display courage and joy, something he credits to God alone.

“God put this light outside, even though I was hurting and tired, God was putting himself out in front,” he said. “It was God’s strength, there was no way I should have been able to finish it.”

Azuaje and his wife, Heather (’10), who played on Liberty’s soccer team, live in Colorado Springs, Colo., where they enjoy traversing the rugged terrain. The couple have a taste for adventure and are avid runners. They also have a passion for missions, international sports, and youth ministry. In a few years, they plan to become full-time missionaries.


Distinguished professor lectures on his faith in Sweden

Dr. Gary Habermas lectures in Sweden.Dr. Gary Habermas, distinguished research professor of apologetics and philosophy at Liberty University and co-chair of the Department of Philosophy, recently traveled to Sweden to lecture on two of his research topics. The internationally respected scholar also had the opportunity to mention Liberty several times during his lectures.

Habermas toured Sweden in October, speaking a total of 42 times at 15 different locations including the University of Stockholm, the University of Lund, numerous churches and schools, and before the Swedish Parliament.

Habermas’ focus was twofold: the historic evidence for the resurrection and the inherent problems of a naturalistic worldview.

According to Habermas, naturalism is the primary worldview of the western world, insisting that the natural world is all there is and that whatever we learn, we learn from science.

“Naturalism is the philosophical parent from which atheism, agnosticism, and a lot of secular views come,” Habermas said. “And so I gave that lecture where I argued that naturalism is being disproven. Christianity needs to step up to the plate and be a worldview that can assert itself as able to fill the gap left by the fall of naturalism.”

According to Habermas, the field of apologetics is experiencing a revival in Sweden. In fact, some of the scholar’s lectures were translated and published in Swedish, and one of his articles was published in a major Swedish journal.

“My number one goal was to witness about the truth of Christianity and about personal salvation, and to tell people that it is not just a good message, but it is a true message,” Habermas said. “I was conscious the entire time of trying to represent Christianity and the truth of Christianity and the truth of the Gospel message in particular and who Jesus is.”

Many Swedish Christians told Habermas that they had never heard the evidence that he presented before.

“We all know you can bowl someone over with evidence but that will not usually change their lives,” Habermas said. “Coming to the Lord is still about a decision of commitment and surrender. I continually prayed that this would not be something where I plowed people over with evidence. I wanted to leave them with answers. I wanted the Holy Spirit to take this message and change people’s lives and grow people.”

Habermas is the author or editor of nearly 40 books, half of which are on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. He has also contributed more than 60 chapters or articles to additional books, and has published well over 100 articles or reviews in various academic journals.


Alumni brothers minister in contrasting contexts

Andy and John Zivojinovic
John (left) and Andy Zivojinovic

Brothers Andy and John Zivojinovic are both graduates of Liberty University. They were each also personally impacted by Liberty founder Dr. Jerry Falwell and went on to serve God in full-time ministry. Both have had great success. But there the similarities of their stories end. While their obedience to faithfully follow God’s call is the same, the cultures in which they have chosen to serve over the last quarter century are drastically different.

Andy, the elder brother, runs an inner-city ministry in Chicago, near the heart of one of its most dangerous neighborhoods. John pastors a church of about 1,000 regular attendees in the suburbs of Denver.

“I look up to my brother,” John Zivojinovic said. “He does inner-city ministry … I’m a suburban guy. What he’s doing in an urban context is incredible and amazing. He’s my hero, and I think the world of him.”

Andy started New Hope Bible Church in Chicago 24 years ago and has since seen countless lives transformed by the church.

“I’ve seen the most wicked people totally transformed by the Gospel of grace,” he said. “In the worst parts of society, we’ve seen God change and transform people’s lives in a miraculous way.”

New Hope Bible Church has recently changed its name to “The Hope” in order to reflect Colossians 1:27, which describes the riches of  “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

About 80 percent of The Hope’s attendees are jobless and in extreme poverty.

The church feeds 150-200 people every Saturday and provides them food and clothing as well as counseling and prayer. It has also started a scholarship fund to help inner-city youth attend college. Every Sunday the church is filled to capacity, and is in desperate need of more space. In everything they do, the church focuses on preaching the Gospel.

Andy attended Liberty from 1979-89 where he received a B.S. in Pastoral Studies and an M.Div. from Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary. He originally intended to study business until Dr. Falwell’s example, and God’s call, changed his heart.

“My time at Liberty was absolutely transformational,” Andy said. “It enabled me to see Christianity from a whole new perspective. Dr. Falwell was a phenomenal example to me. I had never seen a pastor who was a strong man and loved God. He totally transformed my view of a pastor. He was as bold as a lion. He was consistent — he lived what he preached and that was eye-opening to me.”

Like his brother Andy, John also had a life-changing experience at Liberty. He attended from 1980-84 and earned a B.A. in Philosophical Thought.

“I look back at my years at Liberty as some of the biggest highlights in my life,” he said. “The theological and philosophical training has been a reservoir for me throughout my 28 years in ministry.”

After serving as youth pastor from 1999-2007, John is now the senior pastor at Grace Chapel in Englewood, Colo. The church has cast a seven-year vision to make an impact in Denver through a missional focus.

“We anchor the very notion of ‘missionality’ in the life and ministry of Jesus found in the Gospels. Service projects and cross-cultural trips are a part of that but it goes much deeper. We want to see people come to Christ and grow in their faith,” he said.

Drawing people from a variety of backgrounds to Christ is a focus of both Andy and John’s ministries.

“Seeing people grow in their faith and step into who they are meant to be with a new identity in God as His new creation is unbelievable,” John said.

The brothers’ involvement in ministry is an answer to prayers prayed long before they finished high school, or even came to Christ.

“That legacy was birthed in our mom’s prayers,” John said. “My mom prayed that her boys would not only come to know and follow Jesus, but that we would serve him in full-time ministries.”

While at Liberty, Andy and John were each heavily involved in ministry and went on several inner-city outreach trips. In fact, John was President Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s prayer leader for two years when they were in school together. The brothers keep in contact with President Falwell to this day.

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