February 26, 2016 : By Drew Menard
In the wake of destruction and the resulting heartbreak of lost homes from Wednesday’s tornado strike near Appomattox, Va. (about 30 minutes from campus), Liberty University dispatched a team of 23 students on Friday to the nearby community through its LU Send Now disaster relief program. Liberty partnered with the Southern Baptist Conservatives (SBC) of Virginia in helping to distribute food, nail tarps over stripped roofs, and assist residents as they sorted and salvaged belongings. Liberty will continue to send teams as long as volunteers are needed.
“The help has just been overwhelming,” said Alice Wolff, whose home received extensive damage and is uninhabitable. “To see a community come together … bad stuff happened here, and everybody just pulls together. We don’t know each other from Adam, but everyone here is just pitching in and (Liberty’s) team is absolutely phenomenal. They get along so well, they’re organized, they have a team leader, and he’s great. It’s just people pouring in here and providing food, and it’s amazing. God is good.”
A group of Liberty students helped Wolff sort through her belongings and load a moving truck. A portion of her roof was ripped off and is hanging. A red X was taped over her front door, which was removed from its frame and now leans against the house. Though her home is destroyed, Wolff said that she is more fortunate than some of her neighbors whose homes can no longer be recognized.
“You see your neighborhood gone,” she said, holding back tears. “Everyone else’s possessions are scattered all over the place. They have to look for their pictures, those memories. They’re having a harder time than me.”
Wolff retains a positive outlook, however: “God has been here. He provided this house … so He will provide me with another home.”
“Everything has a purpose,” she added, noting that she has joined the SBC disaster relief team. “God gave me this experience to help somebody else. He always gives us experiences to help someone else, and now I can empathize.”
Senior Kristina Ehrich, who is studying exercise science, said that LU Send Now is an opportunity for students to serve around the world, but also in their own backyard. As brick and pillars stand firm on Liberty’s campus, Ehrich said it was shocking to drive a half hour up the road and see the devastation.
“We are all excited that we get to help,” she said. “Just driving down the road and seeing trees down and houses damaged. … I just remember the bus getting completely silent.”
Ehrich appreciates the opportunity to reflect Christ to everyday people who are in a time of need.
“To get out there ASAP is a huge thing in building the Kingdom of God,” she said. “It’s definitely devastating (out here) but it is awesome to be a light in these dark times and to be alongside them and help them through this.”
Kegan Shoemaker, a sophomore studying pastoral leadership, added, “We want everyone to know that is what Liberty University is — a Gospel-centered university that cares about people.”
For Shoemaker, and many of the other volunteers, lending a helping hand is not a chore, it is a privilege.
“When they asked me to come out, I thought, 'What a great opportunity.' What more could I ask to do than to go help people with broken hopes in the hardest moment of their lives, and be able to really assist in ways that could be visible to their lives. … To really just help people who have had a hard week to pick back up and to work back and start their lives again. … When things go bad, as Christians we want to be the first to run in and help out because (others) get to see what Jesus is all about, what the Gospel is all about.”
Liberty launched LU Send Now at the beginning of the Fall 2015 semester as part of LU Send, the university’s new central office for all Liberty student group travel, including local, domestic, and international trips. Through the program, students have provided relief aid in South Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Joaquin and during the aftermath of tornadoes in Mississippi last year. LU Send Now deployed its first international outreach team to Greece to assist with the refugee crisis Feb. 13-20. Additionally, a team will be traveling to Flint, Mich., Feb. 28-March 5 to assist with the water crisis.