Champions for Christ

February 17, 2016

The legacy of Macel Falwell

Macel Pate Falwell — the wife of Liberty University’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell — will always be remembered as a mother, grandmother, wife, and friend, as well as an author and an artist. She passed away on Oct. 15, 2015, at the age of 82 after a long illness.

Macel was born Oct. 4, 1933, to the late Samuel and Lucile Pate. She grew up in Lynchburg, Va., and she wed Jerry Falwell Sr. in 1958.

Macel is remembered as a woman of poise and grace who quietly blessed those around her.

She was a gifted artist, both in music and in art, painting landscapes, nature stills, architectural drawings, and portraits. A collection of her works — from high school to her later years — was displayed at Liberty’s art gallery in 2008. On Sundays, she played piano during the worship services at Thomas Road Baptist Church.

Macel and Dr. Falwell were opposites — his charismatic personality and vision attracted the national spotlight and helped build two instrumental faith-based organizations while she preferred to remain in the wings — but they complemented one another in many ways. Macel was an invaluable support to her husband throughout his lifetime.

The Falwells had three children — Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr.; the Rev. Jonathan Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church; and Dr. Jeannie Rivers, chief of surgery at the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center in Richmond. All of their children graduated from Liberty University and went on to earn advanced degrees.

After raising her children, Macel decided to earn a college degree for herself and graduated from Liberty at the age of 50 with a 4.0 GPA. She received a bachelor’s degree in English and psychology and went on to teach classes at Liberty.

Though not one to seek recognition, Macel was a dedicated public servant, volunteering with the Fort Early Corporation, the Vista Suburban Women’s Club, the Liberty Christian Academy school board, and the Liberty Godparent Home. The Godparent Home in particular was a passion of hers, even as her health deteriorated. Because of her support, the facility has housed and cared for more than 1,200 young women dealing with unexpected pregnancies since it opened in 1982.

Liberty pays tribute to popular pastor and former LU dean

Stories of how alumni, students, and faculty are advancing Liberty's mission. “I cannot speak, but I need your thoughts and prayers. I am grateful to be alive.”

Those words, recorded with Tobii eye-tracking software, were delivered by President Jerry Falwell on behalf of Dr. Ed Dobson to the over 32,000 attendees at Liberty’s 2015 Commencement on May 9.

They were the last words Dobson — a prominent pastor, author, and former Liberty staff member — would share with his Liberty family. On Dec. 26, Dobson died after a more than 15-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“Ed provided pastoral and academic leadership to thousands of Liberty students decades ago, making his parting wisdom to the Class of 2015 so meaningful and appreciated,” Falwell said.

The Commencement message was captured by tracking Dobson’s blinks because the effects of the disease had rendered him immobile. Five years earlier, however, Dobson had spoken directly to students at Liberty’s Convocation.

“Ed Dobson brought a lot of life to our campus,” Falwell said. “He was one of the pioneers, one of the leaders who helped make Liberty what it is today.”

Dobson served at Liberty for 15 years and was one of its most popular founding deans. He came from Ireland in 1972 as dean of students and served until 1987 in a variety of roles, including men’s soccer coach, editor of the Fundamentalist Journal, and vice president for student life. Dobson also worked as an aide to Liberty’s founder Dr. Jerry Falwell. Before being diagnosed with the disease, Dobson served as senior pastor of Calvary Chapel in Grand Rapids, Mich., for 18 years.

Dobson continued to impact people’s lives even as he battled the disease. He wrote books and created videos, some of which raised awareness about ALS.

President Falwell, along with his wife, Becki, took the Ice Bucket Challenge in support of the ALS Association in 2014 in honor of Dobson and others in the Liberty family who have battled the disease, challenging students to support the association as well.

Visit for a film series about Dobson’s life. 

Former student remembered for act of kindness before he died

MattJackson1_20151125214357_000GUL726DM.2-0_r900x493Performing a random act of kindness was nothing out of the ordinary for former Liberty University student Matthew Jackson — his friends and loved ones say that was just his nature. But one good deed in a grocery store made an impact far beyond the woman Jackson helped that day.

National news outlets reported that the day after 28-year-old Jackson paid a $200 grocery bill for a stranger, he died in a car crash.

On Nov. 10, Jamie Lynne-Knighten, a mother from Carlsbad, Calif., was weary from a recent overseas trip and was holding her crying 5-month-old while waiting to check out at Trader Joe’s in Oceanside, Calif. According to news reports, when her credit card was declined with a long line of customers behind her, Jackson, who worked as a personal trainer at a nearby LA Fitness, insisted on paying her bill. In return, all he asked was that she pay it forward, she told news reporters. She asked for his name and place of work, hoping to send a gift and tell his boss about his kindness. A week later, she called LA Fitness only to find out that Jackson had died in a collision on Nov. 11.

Lynne-Knighten celebrated Jackson’s legacy by sharing the story with local news outlets, and the story spread to major networks, appearing in the Los Angeles Times and on “Good Morning America.”

Jackson attended Liberty from 2007 to Fall 2012. He began his studies online and came to campus in 2008, pursuing a degree in health promotion.

“Matt Jackson was a student who was always cheerful and always looked for ways to encourage others,” said Darlene Martin, Liberty’s director of Health Promotion. “He was focused on making a difference, using both his faith and his training in health promotion. As a student, he challenged other men to take control of their health with preventative screenings and a commitment to a healthy lifestyle. He led by example.”

Professor, graduate develop curriculum in Vietnam

Stories of how alumni, students, and faculty are advancing Liberty's mission. Dr. Jaeshil Kim, an associate professor in Liberty University’s Department of Modern Languages, spent the Fall 2015 semester in Vietnam serving with Bridge Builders Global (BBG).

BBG has been working in seven Southeast Asian countries for the past 20 years and recently formed a project team that focuses on developing education initiatives and curriculum. Kim was assigned to develop English as a second language (ESL) educational programs and curriculum in Vietnam, but first had to learn the various linguistic challenges that Vietnamese speakers often encounter when learning English. She did this by studying the current state of ESL education in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Kim sees this work as an investment — she hopes that by doing what she can to help the Vietnamese people that God will compound the impact.

“I trusted and still trust that the Lord will meet the people’s needs in Vietnam through my little offering,” she said. “We all know how Jesus fed the crowd of over 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish that a little boy offered. I know that my five-loaves-and-two-fish offering, so to speak, made a difference.”

Kim has taught at Liberty since 2007 and says that her greatest joy has been interacting with her students, who she strives to help grow both academically and spiritually. After hearing about this opportunity last spring, Kim immediately shared it with her students. Alumna Stephanie Person (’15), who earned her Bachelor of Arts in Teaching English as a Second Language with a teacher licensure, decided to join Kim in Vietnam and assisted her former professor in developing the new ESL program.

“My Liberty education was invaluable in preparing me for this,” Person said. “In the classroom, I received excellent training that provided me with the knowledge and skills I needed. Outside of the classroom, I was given many opportunities to put it all into practice.

“My experience at Liberty has been so much more than receiving training for a degree. I developed close relationships with my professors and was encouraged to take my degree across the world, which has led to this opportunity to work with Dr. Kim.”

Kim returned to teaching residential classes this spring and plans to continue rotating semesters, one abroad and one in Lynchburg, for the foreseeable future.

Successful bone marrow registry drives inspired by staff member

Stories of how alumni, students, and faculty are advancing Liberty's mission. Nearly 900 Liberty University students, faculty, and staff participated in a bone marrow registry at two drives held on campus last year. Liberty drew more participants than any other college in Virginia.

According to Dan Gariepy, community engagement representative for Be The Match Bone Marrow Registry in Virginia, a typical college drive normally attracts about 50-75 registrants. Liberty drew almost 10 times that number.

The results were record-breaking, too. Out of Liberty’s February 2015 drive — which drew 600 participants — six preliminary matches were found; the national average for a single drive is one match in 540. At press time, one of those matches had already donated, and two more were preparing for additional tests.

The drives were inspired by one of Liberty’s own. Debbie Kelly, a former Math Emporium tutor, was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) while battling cancer. It was her story that spurred so many to sign up for the first drive. She died on Aug. 25.

“There was such an outpouring from the Liberty family — it really touched her husband (and) brother, and her children and grandchildren,” said Dr. Kathy Spradlin, coordinator of the Math Emporium. “Our students really care about other people. It just warms your heart.”

Spradlin said Kelly had a passion for teaching and for her students.

“She would pray with them,” Spradlin said, “give them study tips, give them a few minutes to talk about their life struggles, (and) then get them doing the math that they needed to do. She was very supportive, very patient, and kind.”

As Kelly’s battle with the disease took a physical toll on her body, her spirit remained strong. Spradlin recalls that Kelly worked through her treatments, only cutting back her hours during the last month of her life.

“Everyone who worked with her — faculty, staff, students — admired her so much for how she handled the last six months that she was ill, as she still kept working and kept up her positive attitude.”

Kelly’s legacy was remembered during the second bone marrow registry drive in November. Coordinated by Liberty seniors Emily Ridge and Grant McClure, the drive was personal for Ridge, a leukemia survivor.

“They were able to use my own bone marrow (for treatment),” she said, “but most people don’t have that option. Many people with leukemia don’t have a match right now … so it’s important to me to get more people on the registry so more people can get matched.”

Another drive is tentatively planned this year. To learn more, go to

Dreams come true

Stories of how alumni, students, and faculty are advancing Liberty's mission. Darin Kidd, a Liberty parent who studied business management at Liberty in the 1990s, went from being bankrupt and living on government assistance to making $900,000 a year.

“At the lowest point in my life, my car was repossessed, my house was in foreclosure, and I could not afford to feed my family,” he said.

Then Kidd met some people like him who had turned their lives around.

“I started to believe that I could have success and a better life for me and my family,” he said. “This started me on a journey of personal development, and I learned that I do not make what I want, I make what I am.”

One of Kidd’s mentors was Jeff Olson, founder and CEO of Nerium International, a $400 million skin care company. What Olson taught Kidd about sales and development complemented what Kidd had learned at Liberty, and he soon began selling Nerium products.

“I was fortunate enough to be blessed with some amazing friends and mentors who didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, but what I needed to hear,” he said. “They looked at me not as I was, but how I could be using my God-given potential.”

At this point in his life, Kidd began to dream again. He created a dream board, which helped him chart where he wanted to be in five years. He also developed a personal growth plan, and he started working on fixing his life.

“If we wait until we feel like we are ready, we most likely will never feel ready. Act the way you want to feel, and soon you will feel the way you act,”he advised.

Kidd is now a five-star national marketing director with Nerium International. His success story has been featured in business magazines such as Success From Home and Defyeneurs. 

Bringing ‘Living Bread’ to those in need

Stories of how alumni, students, and faculty are advancing Liberty's mission. A burden to help Brazil’s needy has flourished into a global ministry, thanks to God’s work in the lives of Patrick and Barbara Hubbard.

Today, Living Bread Ministries, started by the Hubbards, supports 10 church plants in Brazil, one in Thailand, and a church-planting training program of 35 pastors in Cambodia.

Though the ministry was founded in 2004, God’s work began long before that, even prior to the couple’s commitment to Christ in 1999. They met in the early 1990s when Barbara, a foreign exchange student from Brazil, met Patrick, a native of Bedford County, Va., at Jefferson Forest High School. Shortly after high school, the couple wed in Brazil in 1992.

Patrick Hubbard recalls his initial visits to Brazil when first he witnessed its extreme poverty. He was especially struck by “the callousness” of society to the plight of the poor.

“I didn’t understand why nobody seemed to be doing anything,” he said. “It became a burden in my heart to do something.”

One particular sight — that of a blind, roadside beggar – remained with him. In hindsight, Hubbard  believes that moment was his call to missions, but as someone who did not grow up going to church, he didn’t understand what it meant to have a calling.

For the next few years, Hubbard worked in hotel management, hoping to “get on with his life.” But after he and his wife became Christ-followers, they realized that God was asking them to get involved on a deeper level. In the early 2000s, they left their corporate jobs to work with disadvantaged children.

Continuing to follow God’s leading, the couple moved into a 35-year-old mobile home, sold their furniture, and cashed in their retirement benefits in order to start Living Bread Ministries. In the meantime, the couple, then in their early forties, started a family.

“For five years, we lived on less than $20,000 a year,” Hubbard said.

Living Bread Ministries focuses on planting and supporting indigenous-led churches in the poorest communities. While many nonprofits support existing churches, Hubbard says, church planting among the poor is uncommon. The first church in Brazil was planted in 2005, and the first church in Thailand was planted in 2013. Living Bread equips churches to meet the needs in the local community — including providing food, medicine, educational resources, and care for widows and orphans. In 2013, the ministry’s churches served 4,700 meals as well as distributed over 14 tons of food.

As the ministry grew, the couple decided to further their education with Liberty. Barbara earned a master’s degree in intercultural studies from the Rawlings School of Divinity (then called Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary), while Patrick earned a Bible Institute certificate from Liberty in 2006, followed by a bachelor’s degree in 2010 and a Master of Arts in Global Studies in 2014.

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