Faith & Service

A Day of Service

By Tobi Walsh, June 1, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Serving others is one of Liberty’s longest-standing traditions. This story is part of a “Love Thy Neighbor” series about the many projects through which students display selfless service as they strive to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and obey His greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

First ‘Serve Lynchburg’ day brings Liberty and the community together

Heavy rain didn’t stop more than 1,500 Liberty University students, faculty, and staff from coming together to give back to the City of Lynchburg during the first Serve Lynchburg event on April 22.

The one-day service blitz sent teams to 54 sites around the city, ranging from day care centers to nursing homes and nonprofit organizations. Service projects varied by location — students joined LU Athletics Director Ian McCaw in making meals for the homeless at Lynchburg Daily Bread while members of the Flames Football team picked spinach at Lynchburg Grows (a farm that partners with nonprofits to provide community members with fresh produce). Other students collected trash and cleaned public sitting areas along the James River in cooperation with the James River Association.

Liberty’s Provost and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Ron Hawkins, along with Senior Vice President for Spiritual Development David Nasser, visited students throughout the day.

“I will remember Serve Lynchburg day as one of the high points for me this year,” Hawkins said. “I thoroughly enjoyed seeing our students’ passion for service. I am confident the goodwill and bridge building that resulted from the work our students accomplished will far outweigh our fondest expectations.”

Despite an early-morning start, students were in high spirits as the sea of red shirts and umbrellas started to fill the Liberty University Barnes & Noble Bookstore parking lot at 7 a.m. After they received their assignments, the students loaded onto buses.

Recent graduates Caitlyn Parr and Rebekah Hargett were excited to take part in the event, especially since it was one of their last chances to give back to the community before graduating and leaving Lynchburg. The Family & Consumer Sciences students helped to create a new butterfly garden at the historic Old City Cemetery near Downtown Lynchburg. When the heavy rain started, they weren’t fazed. They simply unpacked their rain jackets, zipped up, and continued to plant flowers.

“Today is important,” Parr said. “This is another chance for us to get outside of campus and learn more about Lynchburg at the same time.”

“Lynchburg isn’t just Liberty and college students,” Hargett added. “There is a whole community here.”

Across town at the Lynchburg Humane Society, about 100 students walked and bathed dogs, cleaned cages and windows, and played with animals.

Freshman nursing student Olivia Eshleman said she thought a lot of students would want to sleep in on a Saturday — especially a rainy one — but was surprised to see so many of her peers coming out to help.

“It makes me proud to be part of Liberty,” Eshleman said. “It was great to see so many people ready to represent our campus in a positive way.”

Leaders of the organizations expressed their gratitude for Liberty’s support. Lynchburg Humane Society volunteer and education coordinator Taylor Reinson said she was “blown away” by how many students showed up to help.

“The students did everything I asked them to do, even in the rain,” she said.

Lynchburg Grows Executive Director Shelley Blades had a similar feeling when over 45 volunteers stepped off the bus.

“We were so grateful to have Liberty come out and serve with us,” Blades said. “We’re a small nonprofit, so having all those extra hands really helped us out a lot.”

  • One Body In Christ Ministries
  • Parkview United Methodist Church
  • Lynchburg Humane Society
  • Lynchburg Daily Bread
  • RiverWalk Trail, near the James River
  • Lynchburg Grows

More “Love Thy Neighbor” stories:

Massive Shoe Drive Aims to Save Lives in the Congo
LUCOM, School of Nursing Hold Community Clinics in Guatemala
Reaching Out to the Local Community
Disaster Relief Teams Make National and Global Impact
Student-Athletes Put Service Projects in Motion

Former Virginia governor, mayor help kick off Serve Lynchburg day

City of Lynchburg Mayor Joan Foster and former  Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell shared the stage at Convocation on the eve of Serve Lynchburg day and encouraged students to impact the world through Christian service.

“(Liberty University) is an intricate, important piece of our community,” Foster began. “From all of us as citizens, we appreciate who you are, and we try to love you and court you the four years you’re here.”

Before she became mayor, Foster was an educator in Amherst County, Va., where she said she saw social issues that needed to be addressed.

“I quit teaching and went into community service,” Foster said. “So many families were hurting in our community, and I wanted to make a difference.”

She served on Lynchburg City Council and eventually became the city’s first female mayor in 2006. Foster said prayer was an important part of that decision.

“I had prayed the Prayer of Jabez for two weeks,” she said. “If you pray that prayer, beware. You might get called. And literally, God called. That led to my 15 years of service on Lynchburg City Council.”

McDonnell spoke to the students about suffering and service. His most compelling advice was to view life through an “eternal lens.” The things we might focus on today, he said, might not be what God focuses on when He asks us to account for our lives.

“God’s not going to ask me what I did as governor or attorney general,” he said. “Because the Kingdom isn’t about the works; it’s about the heart. Jesus didn’t come in order to overthrow the Romans and establish a Christian empire. He came to talk to people about what’s in their hearts.”

He said Jesus showed true service. Even in the time leading up to His crucifixion, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples.

“Greatness is service,” McDonnell said. “Those ideas of service and humility are what Jesus says define greatness in this world. … That’s what’s beautiful about the Christian faith and what we’re called to do.”

Watch the Convocation at

Lynchburg ranked No. 8 for communities with the highest well-being, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index for 2016. The report measured a community’s social, financial, and physical well-being. More than 250,000 people live in and around the Lynchburg area, making it a thriving city with a small-town feel. Lynchburg hosts diverse industries, an active arts community, and several historical sites.

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