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Faith & Service

Work of Heart

November 28, 2023

Disaster relief teams travel to Hawaii, Florida

Wildfires, hurricanes, floods. All of these disasters have the power to destroy whole neighborhoods and towns, leaving families in dire need. Several Liberty University students have seen the destruction these disasters can cause firsthand this school year, traveling with the university’s Serve Now disaster response program to bring comfort and relief to homeowners who never thought they’d see all their belongings wiped away in a single day. These students left Lynchburg with hearts to serve those who are starting to rebuild their homes and their lives.

When junior Grace Weaver arrived in Lahaina, on Maui, Hawaii, in late September, she was not expecting to see complete devastation. She described rows of houses that had been leveled from the wildfires, displacing thousands of Hawaiian residents, and streets that had been shut down and abandoned.

Students building homes in Lahaina in Maui, Hawaii

“Seeing that side of the devastation with people who don’t know if they will be able to recover from what’s happened was sobering,” she said. “It was so amazing to be a part of the construction work and lay a new foundation, even if it’s a temporary 8-by-12 home, for these people to restart their lives.”

The Maui wildfire has been deemed the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century, causing 97 deaths. In the historic town of Lahaina, the fire is estimated to have affected more than 3.4 square miles, destroying or otherwise damaging over 2,200 structures.

Weaver was part of a 12-person team from Liberty that partnered with Samaritan’s Purse and Hui Homes to construct temporary housing units. They also sifted through ashes for personal possessions.

In addition to the physical labor, the team members used their time to share the Gospel. They distributed Bibles provided by Samaritan’s Purse and wrote encouraging notes inside.

“It’s great to be able to serve people and provide some type of relief, assistance, and physical and emotional care to them, but when you add the Gospel to it, it provides the real reason into why you’re doing all of that,” said junior James Gengaro, who was on his third trip with Serve Now after assisting with hurricane cleanup in Englewood, Fla., in January and tornado cleanup in Mayfield, Ky., last fall.

Serve Now conducts several trips each semester to serve the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of individuals and communities, working alongside world-class organizations and leaders. The trip to Lahaina marked Serve Now’s first trip this school year. A week later, another team of 12 headed to Perry, Fla., to help with cleanup from Hurricane Idalia. A third team deployed Oct. 8-13 (over Fall Break) to Jackson, Ky., to help residents rebuild after historic flooding last fall.

In Florida, the team was excited to see more volunteers show up one day to move brush and logs, tarp roofs, and repair damage to a woman’s home. Among the familiar faces were Liberty President Dondi Costin and his wife, Vickey; Chancellor Jonathan Falwell and his wife, Shari; Vice President of Spiritual Development Josh Rutledge; and Executive Director of LU Serve Lew Weider. Also lending a hand were Samaritan’s Purse COO Edward Graham and his brother, William Graham, executive vice president and evangelist with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and vice chairman of Liberty’s Board of Trustees.

(From left) Will Graham (’97), executive vice president and evangelist with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; Jonathan Falwell; Samaritan’s Purse COO Edward Graham; and President Dondi Costin

“Liberty University has done what God has called us to do, to go to the ends of the earth and every sphere of influence and be a witness for Jesus Christ as Champions for Christ,” Costin said.

“Samaritan’s Purse and Liberty University go way back — and they’re all about creating Champions for Christ,” Edward Graham said in a Samaritan’s Purse news release. “LU Serve gives them the opportunity to serve communities in need and to strengthen the local church.”

Falwell said the group’s goal was to let the homeowners know that “Liberty loves Florida, but far better said, God loves them.”

Sophomore Phil Zettlemoyer said he was proud to serve alongside Liberty and Samaritan’s Purse leaders.

Liberty President Dondi Costin uses a chainsaw to clear debris from a rooftop in Perry, Fla.

“You see those people on stage talking about Jesus and what it’s like to be a Christian, but to see them come down here and live that out … it showed how much they genuinely care about not only LU Serve Now but also the homeowner who had their life impacted by this hurricane. It was cool to see that they’re not just talking and are really trying to make an impact.”

He said the trip gave the students a true perspective on serving others.

“It’s really made me consider my calling in life and what it means to be a Christian and to have that joy to evangelize. I’m not a chaplain, but I can move sticks and minister to these people.”

Nursing students deliver care packages to nursing home residents

A nursing student spends time with a resident at Runk & Pratt Senior Living Communities on Sept. 11.

Students from the community care nursing course in the School of Nursing brought care packages filled with lotion, coloring books, blankets, and other basic items to residents at Runk & Pratt Senior Living Communities in Lynchburg, Va., in September. The project was organized by the URLUved Campaign, started last year by nursing professor Dr. Dana Woody as a way to show love to the local community. Junior nursing student Josie Camiola conceived the idea after visiting her great-aunt in a nursing home and learning how some residents can feel isolated. The boxes were funded through an ILLUMINATE grant from Liberty’s Center for Academic Development. (Read more at Liberty.edu/News)

Public health team serves remote and poor communities on trip to Central America

A group from the Department of Public & Community Health traveled to Guatemala and Honduras in July, part of an ongoing project to screen and treat those in Hispanic communities affected by poor nutrition, water quality, and sanitation. Department Chair Dr. Oswald Attin and online Master of Public Health (MPH) Program Director Dr. Gineska Castillo led the trip with MPH student Nicole Durham and junior Grace Sibert. The trip was supported by Liberty’s Center for Research & Scholarship. Sibert and Attin wrote an article about the project for the Virginia Journal of Public Health. (Read more at Liberty.edu/News)


DID YOU KNOW? Falling in line with Liberty’s longstanding dedication to serving the community, students at LU provided the Greater Lynchburg community with 466,303 hours of volunteer service in 2021-22, which translates to more than $5.1 million worth of volunteer service hours to the Lynchburg MSA.

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