Faith & Service

In Time of Need

By Tobi Walsh Laukaitis, October 11, 2017

Each story in this special feature section demonstrates a tenet of the “We The Champions” Declaration, part of a university-wide project that aims to tell the world how Liberty is fulfilling its mission of Training Champions for Christ.

We The Champions: Follow God’s Calling Wherever It May Lead

Disaster relief teams aid hurricane victims

Though the new school year just started a couple of months ago, LU Send Now, Liberty’s quick response program for urgent disaster relief and humanitarian needs, has already been hard at work dispatching teams to the U.S. and the Caribbean during a deadly hurricane season.

The LU Send Now team meets Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, in Barbuda. (Photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse)

A team of eight students and three staff members traveled to Antigua and Barbuda on Sept. 23 to assist Samaritan’s Purse with relief efforts after the Category 5 Hurricane Irma destroyed much of the region. Irma is considered one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic.

Jonathan Falwell, senior pastor of nearby Thomas Road Baptist Church, happened to be in St. Martin when Irma hit. He and his wife were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary there and were preparing to return home on Sept. 5 when the airports on the island closed. After riding out the deadly storm in a shelter, the couple safely returned to Lynchburg a few days later. Falwell was scheduled to speak to students in Convocation on Sept. 11, but said he felt called instead to return to the island to help those in need — including the people who had helped save their lives. He Facetimed from St. Martin with the entire student body during Convocation and updated them on relief efforts there.

Only a week before Irma hit the Caribbean islands, classes had just started at LU when a team of 10 Liberty students and two staff members were dispatched to flood-ridden southeast Texas to help with cleanup efforts following Hurricane Harvey. The Category 4 hurricane devastated 50 counties on the Texas coast, leaving at least 60 people dead and displacing more than 32,000 residents.

Liberty students pray at a worksite in Texas.

Liberty’s team was stationed in Victoria, Texas, for a week, helping Samaritan’s Purse to clear homes and yards of debris. The area did not see major flooding like Houston, but thousands were left without power.

For Liberty senior and LU Send Now team member Jana Hicks, the trip was personal. Hicks hails from the Dallas area, and her brother and sister-in-law live in Houston. She said her family did not have to evacuate, but the water had come up to their front door.

“My heart is truly in (this trip),” Hicks said. “Even though the people we were helping aren’t my real family members, by the end of the trip, they felt like family because Texas is my home.”

Hicks said it hurts to see people from her home state suffering. Her hope was for the team to be a light in this dark time, to take care of her fellow Texans’ physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

“My goal was for people to see Christ through our actions, attitudes, and acts of love.”

Senior Seth Lunger, who transferred to Liberty last year specifically because of Liberty’s outreach opportunities through LU Send Now, was glad to be part of the Houston trip, where he used his skills to help others.

“I wanted people to see that we were there to help other people, not for ourselves,” he said. “When I saw the news about Harvey, I thought it would only be a tropical storm. Then it was upgraded to a Category 4 — we thought it was going to be moving along, but it stayed. Texas got hit after hit. My heart goes out to them.”

Hurricane Harvey reminded another team member, senior Kelsey Ellis, of the time leading up to Hurricane Matthew last year, when she left school to help her family evacuate from their Florida home. She saw the community rally around her family and help them clean up debris around their house. On the LU Send Now trip to Victoria, she wanted to do the same thing for the people of Texas.

“(Hurricane Matthew) didn’t compare to Harvey, but experiencing it taught me so much about how I can turn around and serve others,” Ellis said.
While she was in Victoria, she learned Hurricane Irma was nearing Florida, and she worried again for her family. She was relieved to hear that they were safe, but dozens of trees fell around their home.

Ellis said the team grew closer through the experience, and God opened the doors for them to minister to the community. At a McDonald’s, she had the opportunity to pray with a woman whose mobile home was hit by a falling tree.

“She said that her husband had moved to the other side of the house just as the tree fell,” Ellis said. “He had been standing on that side of the house only minutes before.”

The team was encouraged to spend time with local residents and, as they worked on more than 17 houses throughout the week, they heard story after story.

“God has shown me the best thing you can do sometimes is slow down and listen,” Ellis said. “That is something I want to carry back with me to Lynchburg, especially since this is my last semester at Liberty. I can pray with a woman in a Texas McDonald’s, but I struggle with reaching out to people at the Wards Road Walmart. I want to be more intentional now about loving people well. Whether it’s just listening or helping an elderly person clear their yard, I don’t have to go on a trip like this to help people.”

Students, faculty, and staff have raised over $11,000 for the university’s hurricane relief fund. Donations are still being collected. If you would like to give or make a general donation to support LU Send Now teams, visit and click on the donation tab or call (800) 368-3801.

To be involved in the “We The Champions” project and read more inspiring stories from the Liberty community, visit and follow #WeTheChampions on social media.

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