Faith & Service

Moving Mountains

By Melissa Skinner, September 28, 2015

Dr. Richard Lane, director of Liberty University’s Master of Public Health program, has been one of the most influential people in Moses Harris’ life since he arrived in the U.S. last summer.

Dr. Richard Lane, director of Liberty University’s Master of Public Health program, has been one of the most influential people in Moses Harris’ life since he arrived in the U.S. last summer.

In June 2014, Moses Harris landed in the U.S. for the first time, not knowing that his life would change completely.

Harris grew up in Liberia, a country on the coast of West Africa devastated by civil war from 1989-2003. During the war, Harris lost his father, uncle, and many friends.

In 2010, after earning a B.A. in Sociology from a Christian university in Liberia, Harris began working at a church in his village, providing medical assistance, teaching health courses, and connecting people to American medical aid groups. He eventually established his own company, Reward Group Inc., designed to restore and rebuild his country from the inside out. The company hosted U.S. doctors working in the remote mountains and villages of Liberia.

“On the first day we were open, we had a sea of people who had never received medical care before, standing in line at the clinic,” Harris said. “We had so many that we could not help them. They barricaded the entrance and demanded to be seen. We told them the team would be back the next day, and I could see tears in my people’s eyes. On that day, I saw the needs of my people. I knew I needed to find a way to help them.”

When he stepped off the plane onto U.S. soil last year, Harris’ only plans were to attend an international health conference in Washington, D.C., and to visit friends in New York. At the conference, Harris met Dr. Richard Lane, director of Liberty University’s Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) program.

“When I first arrived in the U.S., I was afraid because I had never been in such a big society before,” Harris said. “I was able to interact with Dr. Lane about his people and his country, and tell him about my story back home. He asked me about academics, and he told me about Liberty. He said if I was interested, I should read the brochure about (Liberty’s) public health (program).”

Lane recalls that meeting as well.

“I was able to explain to Moses that public health is designed to help entire communities understand health and help people gain meaningful employment by creating working projects, thus helping people raise their own standard of living,” he said. “I told Moses that Liberia is a country with those needs.”

After the conference, Harris and Lane exchanged contact information, and Harris went to New York.

Harris had only planned on staying in the U.S. for two months. Just before he left Liberia, however, rumors of the deadly Ebola virus had begun to circulate.

“I was afraid when I left because of the medical needs already there in my country,” he said. “The medical infrastructure in Liberia had not been built up enough to deal with a major health crisis, and I knew many people would die.”

While staying in New York, Harris learned that the Ebola rumors were true — and that he would not be able to return home for an indefinite period of time.

Harris said he went running one morning and recalls praying about the situation back home in Liberia.

“I told God that I wanted to go back home because it was difficult to adapt to the American society,” Harris said. “I had made it out of Liberia safely. However, back home, friends were dying, and I could not do anything to help.”

When he returned from his run, Harris received a call informing him that Ebola had claimed his sister’s life.

“When I received the news about my sister, I was devastated, and I was lonely, but in that moment, I remembered I had met Dr. Lane,” Harris said.  “I knew if I had to stay a longer time in the U.S., then I wanted to do something with my time here. This is when I began to desire to attend Liberty.”

Harris contacted Lane, sharing the news about his sister and inquiring about enrolling in the Master of Public Health program.

“I emailed Dr. Lane, and I told him that I was applying to Liberty. He responded to me and said, ‘If God has designed this for you, Moses, He will surely bring it to pass,’” Harris said. “I remember praying that night to God saying, ‘My goal to attend Liberty is possible, but it is a long, difficult road. If I can accept it, You will bring me through it.’ I told God that I agreed to suffer and accepted the long road, knowing He would provide for me.”

Harris visited Liberty’s campus a month later and met with Lane, whom he said provided much comfort while he grieved the loss of his sister.

“I remember Dr. Lane praying over me,” Harris said. “He prayed that God would specifically move in my favor in order for my visa status to be changed as well as for my finances.”

The next day, Harris received an email from immigration services explaining that they were going to allow him to stay in the U.S. on a student visa because it was still unsafe to return to Liberia.

“When I heard this, I knew God was paving a way for me to go to school, and I wanted to go to Liberty because I found it to be like a family away from family,” Harris said.

But part of that “long, difficult road” was finding a way to fund his education. While he waited to see how God would provide, he went to stay with Liberian friends in Philadelphia, Pa.

“The day I arrived in Philadelphia, I remember taking a walk to buy a calling card so I could call home. As I was walking back to where I was staying, I turned around and saw a car. In that car was a woman I knew from 15 years ago in Liberia,” Harris said. “I began shouting her name, ‘Sis Madeline!’ as loud as I could. I remember she got out of her car, and she started shouting, ‘Moses, Moses, is that you Moses?’ She ran to me, and we hugged for a long time.”

Sis Madeline was his mother’s best friend and had lived in the same neighborhood as Harris when he was a child. As is the custom in many African villages, she, along with other mothers in the village, had helped care for all the children.

“Sis Madeline immediately asked me where I was staying, what I was doing, and how long I had been in the U.S.,” Harris said. “She did not know that my entire family, except my brother, had passed away. (His mother died in 2011.) I began to tell her about meeting Dr. Lane and about Liberty, but that I could not attend because I did not have any money. She immediately looked at me and said, ‘Moses, consider it done. You are my son, and I will help you with this. If there is anything I can do to move mountains, I will do that.’”

He learned that Sis Madeline had just moved to Philadelphia three days before. She was the answer to his prayers, giving him the exact amount he needed to start at Liberty.

“I did not even know that Sis Madeline was still alive,” Harris said. “I do not talk about this as a coincidence, but as a ‘God-incident.’ She gave me something to help me with what (I thought) was a mountain before me, and she was giving me just what I needed as a financial gift.”

Harris wrote to Lane right away, saying, “Here is my amazing grace, my own amazing grace.”

Harris enrolled in Liberty’s residential M.P.H. global health track and began taking courses in January.

I wish I could have many Liberians at Liberty. It is the place to be; it is like a family. They not only give you academics, they give you Christ,” he said. “You have that peace of mind that you are in a place where you learn to not only be like Christ, but also how to integrate Him into your chosen career. I am so grateful that we have this place as Christians to study and to be in a Christian environment. I am enjoying my time here.”

After he graduates, Harris plans to return to Liberia and continue his efforts to improve health care in his native country. He will take with him not only the knowledge he gained in the classroom, but also the spiritual fervor to make an even deeper impact in the lives of his African neighbors.

“I have experienced God at Liberty in a way that I have never experienced Him before in my life back home,” Harris said. “I want to take my education back to my people and help others in need and save somebody from losing their sister or their relatives like I have lost all of mine.”

Launched in January 2012, Liberty’s M.P.H. degree, under the School of Health Sciences, offers online and residential specializations in nutrition, health promotion, and global health. Classes are held in the Center for Medical and Health Sciences, which opened in 2014 and also houses Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Students in the M.P.H. program have worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, South Sudan, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Peru, Korea, Syria, Croatia, Japan, and Haiti.

Lane said that his goal for the program is to raise awareness about public health needs in as many nations as possible.

“Public health is not about treating individuals but about dealing with populations,” he said. “I hope that as they meet the perceived needs of the population, our graduates will be able to share the love of Christ — because in the end, that’s all that matters.”

The program currently has 70 residential students and 795 students enrolled online.

Lane said the program teaches students about “being faithful to the Word of God, being faithful to the scientific facts, and taking those skills and using them to reach a population that is dealing with ailments and social disparities.”

Public health is a field that needs more Christians in leadership roles, Lane said.

“Moses is a great example of this because it is clear where God worked in his life; even in the tragedy, Moses gave thanks to Him. God used the ashes of his despair to bring him to a whole new level of miracles so that Moses could be in a position to reach out and help other people,” Lane said.

Lane believes that in the future, Harris will play an important role in changing the public health community in Liberia.

“If I went to Liberia, I would not be as effective,” Lane said. “Moses knows the people, he knows the culture, and he has connections. He is in a position now where he can bridge the Liberian and U.S. communities. He is an example of what we want to see other Liberty graduates follow.”

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