Fifty Years of Outreach: Reflecting on Liberty’s Local and Global Service
“Serve one another in love,” Paul instructs believers in Galatians 5:13. For the past 50 years, Liberty University has devoted countless time and resources to putting this verse into practice.
Despite changes in leadership, organization and size, Liberty has worked together with students throughout its history to impact the local community and the world for Christ. The university upholds its mission of training champions for Christ not only in the workforce, but also in ministry through an abundance of departments, programs and events dedicated to outreach.
Several departments in particular have the responsibility of coordinating the university’s outreach efforts.
One of these is LU Send, which organizes overseas travel, study abroad programs and international internships for Liberty students. Trips through LU Send include educational, spiritual and service components to provide students a chance to learn as well as to give back to their new communities. Students display the gospel of Christ around the world as they pursue their educational goals in a variety of cultural settings.
LU Send was born of the Center for Global Engagement and the Office of International Education and Internships in 2015. Since its inception, the department now boasts 370 programs and 6,272 travelers to 113 countries, according to LU Send Executive Director David Welch.
Welch noted that Israel is the most popular destination among students. The department sends several trips there each year and maintains a subsidized study abroad and internship program with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
As students travel to other countries, they experience the impact of sharing their faith with people from different cultures and religions.
“I had to pursue faith independently in a place where most people were not Christian and where instruction was not from a Christian worldview,” Jacob White, who traveled to Israel, told LU Send. “I had opportunities to share and develop in my faith and support from a Bible study group and local church.”
Another initiative, G5, focuses outreach efforts on a selected country. Launched in 2017, G5 references the characteristics of Christ described in Galatians 5. Liberty students have served in Rwanda, Spain and Columbia as part of the G5 initiative.
“The G5 campaigns in Rwanda, Spain and Colombia have proven to be successful,” Welch said in an email. “Liberty University students continue to serve in all three locations each year, putting their arm around those nations.”
LU Serve also coordinates a majority of the university’s outreach efforts. Overseeing programs like Global Focus Week, Serve Lynchburg and CSER, the department exists to develop champions for Christ through local, domestic and international engagement opportunities, according to its website.
While Liberty has been serving the community for 50 years, LU Serve as an organization has only existed for five years. Three campus organizations – Center for Global Engagement, Center for Christian Community Service and Center for Ministry Training – combined under former campus pastor David Nasser to create LU Serve.
LU Serve coordinates Serve Lynchburg, an annual day of service in the Lynchburg community. The department also hosts workshops and trainings focused on cultural engagement, helping those impacted by poverty, refugee crises and sex trafficking.
LU Serve also coordinates the annual Global Focus Week, which brings guests, events and simulations to campus to promote global awareness. Formerly called Missions Emphasis Week, the event educates students and presents opportunities to take their skills and faith to the international stage.
A major outreach avenue for LU Serve is CSER, Liberty’s community service graduation requirement. According to LU Serve Executive Director Lew Weider, CSER exists to help students develop the knowledge, values and skills necessary to impact tomorrow’s world.
The Christian service requirement at Liberty has been around since the 1970s. Even before it was a formalized program, students served at Thomas Road Baptist Church. Up until 1985 – the year Weider graduated from Liberty and began working at LU Serve – Christian service was limited to serving at a local church. It was then that Weider sought permission to expand CSER to include nonprofits in the Lynchburg area.
“How can we be salt and light if we’re not rubbing shoulders with our community?” Weider said.
When the CSER program first started, students were required to complete a minimum of 40 hours per semester. As Liberty grew in size, academic rigor and number of extracurricular opportunities, the number of required hours was lowered to 20 hours per semester.
Students over the years have developed skills through CSER to help them find and keep a career, including interpersonal communication skills, respect for authority and understanding how a nonprofit organization works. Some even change their major because of their CSER experiences, while others see their life callings affirmed by their CSER experiences.
“What we do isn’t to make Liberty University look Christian to the world,” Weider said. “What we do is intended to help provide a student with a liberal arts evangelical Christian education.”
Student outreach through CSER has grown up with Liberty. According to Weider, students now serve around 3,000 different organizations around the community and the world each year.
Weider recognizes that the impact of service is life-changing for everyone involved – students, faculty, staff and community partners.
“Only in eternity will we know the true impact,” Weider said.
Farmer is the web and social media manager. Follow her on Twitter at @reneefarmerr.