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Faith & Service

Shepherding the Flock

By Mitzi Bible, February 10, 2017

At Liberty, students find a community of care

Even if you’ve never met Dr. David Wheeler, a popular Liberty University professor, you may recognize him from a video that went viral on social media last semester. Wheeler recorded a light-hearted message by phone to a student who had missed his class, panning an auditorium full of students who were waving to their absent classmate. Wheeler wished the student a great weekend, reminding him that he had better be in class on Monday.

Although the video was done in fun, the culture of community that Wheeler and other faculty, staff, and student leaders have created at Liberty is evident in the way that students care for each other. It isn’t unusual to be sitting in one of Wheeler’s classes — with over 600 students — and learn that one of them needs extra prayer or support that day. It also isn’t unusual to witness a crowd of classmates gathering around the student when class is over, wrapping him or her in hugs and praying with them.

Countless examples occur outside the classroom as well. During a Campus Community service in November, an offering was taken for a fellow student who needed an airplane ticket so she could visit her terminally ill father before he died. The college students gave far more than expected — about $5,000 — which turned out to be an even bigger blessing, as the family was in need of funds to cover funeral expenses.

Junior Avery Bowman with Kyle Seeger, a staff member with LU Shepherd.

Junior Avery Bowman with Kyle Seeger, a staff member with LU Shepherd.

Liberty’s Office of Spiritual Development oversees many departments that work together to ensure that every student receives the special care they need during trying times. Liberty’s commitment to the well-being of its students is demonstrated through the dedicated people students can turn to for help, especially when their family may be many miles, states, or even countries away.

One of those programs is LU Shepherd, which has been specially designed to provide ample opportunities for peer-to-peer counseling and continuous support. Wheeler is the executive director, along with Director Tim Griffin. Eight full-time shepherds oversee 261 resident shepherds (students assigned to residence halls), who in turn oversee 1,400 student community group leaders (students gather in their community groups following each Campus Community service on Wednesday night to discuss how the message can be applied in their lives). The LU Shepherd teams serve alongside resident assistants and resident directors from Liberty’s Office of Residence Life. A 24-hour prayer ministry ensures that students are prayed for daily.

Junior Avery Bowman has experienced this support firsthand, from the LU Shepherd leaders in his residence hall to the entire student body. Last spring, when Avery’s 17-year-old brother, Trevor, was diagnosed with cancer and facing an 11-hour surgery, the student body united in prayer for him during Convocation.

“To see the school come together to pray for us was a really special moment for me,” Avery said, “to have that many people touched by Trevor’s story.”

When students learned that his family was selling “#BowmanStrong” T-shirts to honor his brother, they asked to purchase one. First, it was Avery’s close friends, then his girlfriend’s intramural soccer team, then scores of students he had never met.

Last April, Trevor — who would have been a freshman at Liberty this year — went home to be with the Lord. Avery said he continued to be overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for him and his family.

“People were always checking on me, taking me out to eat, helping me. Professors prayed for me and my family before class… That’s what makes Liberty, Liberty — you don’t see that at other places.”
Avery Bowman

Recently, Avery saw someone running on campus wearing a #BowmanStrong T-shirt. “I didn’t know them at all,” he said, “but they have no idea how it made my day to see that. That’s what makes Liberty, Liberty — you don’t see that at other places.”
The encouragement he received from his peers and Liberty’s faculty and staff touched him so much that by the time he returned from summer break, he signed up to be a resident shepherd himself, or, as he put it, “to be ‘that guy’” to others, showing the same care that he had been shown.
“Going through this, I know I am definitely where I am supposed to be, at Liberty,” Avery said. “God knew what I was going to go through and what I needed.”

  • Learn more about how students are cared for at Liberty and ways they can grow in their faith and service on the Office of Spiritual Development website: Liberty.edu/OSD.
  • Do you have a “community of care” story to share? Email News@localhost.

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