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Faith & Service

A Glimpse of Heaven

By Karen Kingsbury, February 10, 2017
Best-selling author Karen Kingsbury speaks in Convocation on Nov. 9, 2016.

Best-selling author Karen Kingsbury speaks in Convocation on Nov. 9, 2016.

From all sides of the Vines Center they streamed into the building, throngs of students, smiling and chatting and excited to be there. A buzz hung in the air. Energy and anticipation. The big event was about to begin.

No, this wasn’t a playoff basketball game or a Switchfoot concert or a political rally. This wasn’t a holiday festival or a New Year’s Eve party.

This was Convocation at Liberty University.

I remember the first time I attended Convo. It was 2011, and our son, Tyler, was a Liberty freshman. My husband, Don, and I were dropping him off at the Lynchburg campus, ready to let our boy go.

Part of the experience was a chance to share in Convocation. So that day my husband and I arrived at the Vines Center early. We already loved everything else about this incredible school. Now we wanted to check out Liberty’s spiritual life.

Some background first. At that point, we had had prior experience with a school that was supposed to be “Christian.” But during our visit to that school we could tell something was terribly wrong. Chapel there had become a time for students to pull out their cell phones, a time for texting and playing Candy Crush. At that West Coast school, the students openly chatted during worship and didn’t seem to care about the speaker.
How would Liberty be different, we wondered?

As my husband and I settled into our seats, I uttered a quiet prayer. Lord, show us. Is Liberty University really stronger? Can Liberty lead students closer to You? Is this a place where Tyler can grow in his faith?

My prayer ended as the doors of the Vines Center opened. Suddenly students began making their way down the stairs. A lot of students. Thousands of them. As if there was a prize for being first to their seats.

“They must’ve been waiting to get in,” my husband said to me. He was in awe.

I agreed. “Absolutely.”

Still, we assumed the flood of students was just the initial rush. But that rush never stopped. The Liberty campus band took the stage and filled the building with beautiful instrumental music as the flood of students continued, as the seats quickly began to fill.

Tears stung at my eyes as I watched.

None of these students looked bored or forced or like they were merely fulfilling an obligation. Instead, the Liberty guys and girls still making their way down the stairs looked like they actually wanted to be there.

I was about to see why.

Right at 10*, the worship team broke into its first song, and immediately students were on their feet.

Throughout the arena, something was happening. Students closed their eyes and raised their hands. The Spirit of God was moving in and over the place. I could feel it.

There was a sense that here in the Vines Center — for these fortunate students and for this hour — all worries ceased. Whatever homework assignments were due or papers had to be written, however many tests loomed in the coming hours or days, all of that was a distant concern compared to the matter at hand: Simply drawing close to Jesus.

My husband put his arm around my shoulders. “It’s like a glimpse of heaven,” he whispered. “All these students worshipping the Lord.”

I nodded, too choked up to speak. Indeed, the glimpse of heaven continued while a former NFL football player took the stage. I don’t remember the man’s name. That wasn’t the point. But all these years later I can still hear his message:

Fame is fleeting. Faith is forever.

For me, a parent about to say goodbye to my oldest son, the message had a more personal impact. Childhood is fleeting, too, I told myself. Tyler’s days at home, the years of elementary school and kickball games, middle school and choir concerts, high school and graduation plans.

All of it was behind us.

But Faith …. Faith was forever. It would always be forever. Which was why Liberty University had clearly made such a priority out of Convocation.
In that moment, I could feel the comfort of God. I could hear Him telling me that everything was going to be okay with Tyler. Having him at Liberty University would mean seeing his faith fanned into a fire great enough to last into eternity.

My heart overflowed with gratitude for Liberty and all that was ahead for our son. That glimpse of heaven would belong to God and to Liberty University. Tyler would have this joyous occasion three times a week, as often as the Vines Center burst into praise for Almighty God.

As we said goodbye to Tyler the next day, again I felt the assurance of the Lord. Our son was in His hands because Tyler was at Liberty. I went home consumed by a peace that passed all understanding.

Today, six years later, Tyler is still on fire for Jesus. And Liberty is still giving students that glimpse of heaven. Three times a week, when students meet at the Vines Center, they become the largest Christian gathering of young people anywhere on the planet. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday! I’ve had the chance to attend several of those Convocations over the years.

First as a parent, and also as a speaker.

Always Convo includes a worship time that takes my breath. And always it seems the administration at Liberty University raises the bar on the experience. In the years since Tyler was a freshman, Liberty has added seats to the Vines Center and now sets up the stage in the center of the floor for many Convocations.

“So that we can be more connected to the students,” David Nasser tells me. “It’s better for everyone that way.”

Nasser has one of the greatest hearts for Jesus I’ve ever seen. He is the senior vice president for spiritual development at Liberty, and his beautiful love for the Lord is accompanied by a deep devotion to LU students. Under his watch, Liberty’s campus church service (called Campus Community) has tripled in size, with many thousands of students in attendance every Wednesday night — also at the Vines Center.

Under Nasser’s leadership, Liberty continues to host a variety of speakers. Some carry a direct message from Scripture. Others help students wrestle with issues of the day. But always Nasser is there, bringing the issue back to Jesus, adding context to the text of the message.

Making it about the Lord.

And it’s not just the message that speaks to the students at Convo. Sometimes it’s a mission, a project, a way for Liberty University to change lives. The students rallied for a blood drive to benefit the people of Orlando, Fla. — a way to extend sympathy after the mass shooting there. They’ve collected food and toys and dollars for people in the community. People in need.

All to the glory of God.

Currently, our four youngest boys are students at Liberty. Nearly every week, I get a text from Sean or Josh or EJ or Austin telling me how wonderful Convo is and how powerfully the message spoke to them. Austin will sometimes take a quick video during worship and send it to me.

I can’t believe I get to go to this school, he’ll text me. This is like heaven, Mom.

Indeed. That same glimpse of heaven we saw back when Tyler was a freshman.

One reason is that Nasser holds to a popular Liberty University belief first stated by Liberty’s founder, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. — If it’s Christian, it ought to be better.

And so it is.

Actually, at Liberty, it’s simply the very best. Not only for students but for speakers. The last time I spoke at Convo, Nasser staged a lunch for me and my boys and some of the staff at Liberty. We met upstairs at the Vines Center in a dining room with a tangible warmth and the longest table I’ve ever seen.

A dozen Liberty guys and girls served us and tended to our every need. They gave me gifts and shared kind anecdotes of students who had been touched by my message. Instantly this Liberty team felt like family and friends — because there is a beautiful Christlike character common to Liberty students.

They really are Champions for Christ.

“Our behind-the-scenes time with speakers should be an extension of the experience at Convocation,” Nasser told me. “We love serving the students at Convo, and when it’s over, we love serving the speakers.”

The entire experience was more than I could take in. Another glimpse of heaven.

A few weeks later, I spoke to a local Nashville pastor who had also recently given a message at Liberty’s Convocation. “I’ve never had a speaking engagement like that one,” he told me. “Leading Convo at Liberty was one of the greatest moments ever.”

Rev. Falwell’s words came back to me: If it’s Christian, it ought to be better.

I smiled. Of course the students behind the scenes were wonderful. Of course they showed the love of Jesus.

All those hours at Convocation are life-changing, after all.

My boys still tell me Convo is a highlight of their week. The worship time, the speakers, the chance to focus on what really matters.

“It never seems like something we have to go to,” Sean told me last fall. “It’s something we get to do. How many students out there would love to be in the Vines Center having that amazing time at Convo?”

I’ve heard the same message from all my kids. Sometimes Tyler thinks about going back to Liberty for his master’s degree. One of the reasons?


The thing is, I still find myself arriving early to Convo — whether I’m speaking or just sharing in the beautiful hour with my Liberty students. I still watch the guys and girls streaming down the stairs, anxious to be there.

The excitement and energy still get to me.

The Holy Spirit’s presence still brings tears to my eyes.

Because I know that Convocation at Liberty will always be a time to worship and learn and grow. But it will also be something I can only get at Liberty University.

A glimpse of heaven.

#1 New York Times Best-selling Author Karen Kingsbury is also an adjunct professor at Liberty University, where she teaches master classes on English, writing, publishing, and research. There are more than 25 million copies of her award-winning books in print. She draws strength from being close to Jesus and close to her family — and from times when she’s at Liberty and has the chance to attend Convocation.

*Convocation now starts at 10:30 a.m.

Convocation is held in the Vines Center at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Watch it live at Liberty.edu/Watch.
Past events can be viewed at Liberty.edu/Streaming or at YouTube.com/LibertyUniversity.

Visit Liberty.edu/Convo for the most up-to-date schedule.

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