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Liberty sends group to Poland to serve Ukrainian refugees

The LU Serve Now Poland team

In May, in partnership with Operation Blessing, Liberty University sent a group of two team leaders and 10 students to Przemysl, Poland, to be the hands and feet of Christ to those who have fled areas devastated by the war in Ukraine. The trip was facilitated by LU Serve Now, the university’s disaster relief program.

The group was in Poland from May 9-14. Every morning, the group would divide into three teams to compile care packages at the Operation Blessing main office and warehouse in Przemysl, spend time with children at a refugee housing center in nearby Korczowa, or serve at a hospitality truck and tent set up for Ukrainian refugees entering or exiting the country near the border. The students rotated to different service sites each day.

Operation Blessing, a nonprofit humanitarian organization, has provided hunger relief, medical care, clean water, and disaster relief to millions around the world for more than 40 years.

Senior business administration student Reilly Riddle was amazed at the perseverance he saw in the refugees they served.

“One of my own expectations was that the people of Ukraine would be, rightfully so, very somber, angry, tired, distraught, and want nothing to do with us,” Riddle said. “While we saw moments of this, I ultimately saw gratitude, strength, and hope. It didn’t matter if we were handing out water, granola bars, hygiene items, or any small tangible item that we could offer them. They always seemed grateful and would do their best to smile and thank us.”

Daniel Smith, an LU Serve staff member who led the trip along with fellow staff member Pam Trowbridge, spent much of his time near the border and heard that, while many people were still leaving Ukraine, a large number were seeking to go back in to find their loved ones.

While serving at an Operation Blessing food truck near the border, Smith encountered a young man who was preparing to leave Ukraine to study in Europe. He was burdened at the thought of having to leave his family behind to pursue his education.

Pam Trowbridge (left) and some of her team members pack boxes of supplies for Ukrainian refugees at the Operation Blessing warehouse in Przemysl, Poland.

“Our interaction was brief, but it left me reflecting on the young men from Liberty I was leading who were similar in age to this Ukrainian student,” Smith said. “In a few short days, we would all be able to return to a country mostly at peace and go back to normal lives with summer vacation plans. This young man was seeking to develop himself in life by returning to college, yet had a heavy burden to carry as his thoughts were focused on his family left behind in Ukraine.”

“It was a blessing to play a small part in relieving his burden,” he added. “I pray that organizations, churches, and individuals who are helping in countries neighboring Ukraine may continue to play those small parts in showing the love and care of Christ.”

Although Trowbridge was primarily in the warehouse and did not have the opportunity to interact with many refugees, she said she was able to truly see students’ hearts for serving others.

“Students who join Serve Now have a special passion; they want to be in disaster relief and humanitarian aid,” Trowbridge said. “It was such a blessing to me that Liberty University is able and willing to give (students) the opportunity to see the reality of what it takes to set up a humanitarian aid crisis response.”

Smith said as the students return to campus and resume their coursework this fall, they will now live it out through a more mature lens.

“It will change you,” he said. “The opportunities that you have on the ground and the different culture that you are interacting in give students a completely different view of life. It may not change their path at Liberty and what they are going to do afterwards, but it does change how they are going to approach that. I think it develops their passion for people and helps them understand the world better.”

Sophomore interdisciplinary studies student Nehemiah Auble said that while there was a language barrier, drawing and playing games with children whose parents are still in Ukraine was an impactful experience.

“This trip really helped me realize that the world is bigger than just myself and that God has put me here for a purpose, and that’s to love others and to love Him,” he said.

To be a part of a university that prioritizes these types of service opportunities has meant the world to students like Auble.

“This is what makes Liberty so unique,” he said. “If you put yourself out there, there are just so many opportunities that you can take advantage of. It’s amazing.”

Last school year, on Saturdays from September to November, LU Serve Now volunteers aided thousands of Afghanistan refugees at Fort Pickett Army Base in Blackstone, Va. Students unloaded, sorted, and distributed donated items. Liberty also sent a semi-trailer full of supplies to the base; students and members of Thomas Road Baptist Church donated baby and personal hygiene items as well as toys and clothing.

LU Serve Now seeks to build the best culture of preparedness, equip students with the knowledge and skills to capably assist in catastrophic disasters and community development, and create multiple pathways for student engagement. For more information, email luservenow@liberty.edu.

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