December 22, 2022 : By Ted Allen - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
For Liberty University’s 31 ACHA Division I women’s hockey players and coaches and Club Sports support staff traveling to Hämeenlinna, Finland, from Dec. 27-Jan. 6, the trip promises to be more than just exhilaratingly cold. The experience, coordinated by LU Send in conjunction with Operation Mobilization (OM), has the potential to be life-changing — both for those that are going and those they will encounter.
“This will be our first mission trip, so it is a privilege, and to represent Liberty University, where we have the resources to be able to do that, is really special,” said Club Sports Spiritual Development Coordinator and DIII men’s hockey Head Coach Josh Graham, who previously served as an Assistant Coach for the Lady Flames and currently works with their goalies. “By sharing the Gospel, we will be able to hopefully change lives, but also I think it’s going to change a lot of lives on our end, too, so that’s really powerful.”
“I’m excited to see what God does not only through them, but in them,” Club Sports Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Medicine and Senior Women’s Administrator Angie Witt added.
Junior forward and alternate captain Brityn Fussy said though the trip — with flights departing from Dulles (Va.) International Airport on Dec. 27 and Frankfort, Germany, on Dec. 28 before arriving in Helsinki, Finland — will be costly and requires sacrifices of both time and rest, it will be worth the investment and effort if the team can maintain unity and stay mission-minded and Kingdom-focused.
“It’s a good opportunity to keep our hearts in check because I know that it cuts into our time of break, but we’re doing something that has bigger purpose — blessing other people’s lives with the things that we have to say about Jesus,” she said. “There are a few girls traveling on Christmas Day to make it back (to Lynchburg, Va.), but it’s all worth it because it’s an amazing time to serve others and this is the best way to do it, especially around the holidays, which will make it that much more special.”
Twice delayed by COVID-19, this will be the first mission trip for Liberty’s DI women’s team, after the DI men’s squad previously traveled to Helsinki in early January 2020. That was the Flames’ fifth trip overseas after previously serving and playing in Sweden over Christmas break in 2007 and on spring break journeys to Southern Russia in 2009, Latvia in 2013, and East Asia in 2016.
Club Sports Athletic Director and DI men’s hockey Head Coach Kirk Handy will be making his second trip to Finland in order to offer his insight to the women’s team while continuing to develop relationships to set the stage for the DI men to return there over the 2023-24 Christmas break. Witt and Club Sports Assistant Athletic Director for Spiritual Development Reese Braband will also embark on their second journeys to the Nordic country.
“It’s great having those relationships built, and having Kirk and Angie and Reese go, who have already been there and have met these people,” Head Coach Chris Lowes said, referring in particular to International Christian Fellowship (ICF) Hämeenlinna Pastor Dave Pike, a church planter who works with OM. “We’re actually the benefactors of the fact that it’s a repeat trip. It makes it a whole lot more seamless.”
Fussy and her teammates, some of whom have helped raised funds for the past two to three years, are eager to immerse themselves in the Finnish culture during the 10-day stay and to form relationships through the sport of hockey that will open doors to share their faith with players from the Hämeenlinna community.
“Our focus isn’t necessarily about the hockey games, but about being able to spread the Gospel,” senior forward and alternate captain Yannick Truter said. “For us, it’s just about being able to go and make a real connection with those girls and ultimately be able to tell them about the Lord and make an impact in their lives. For our team personally, as well, the girls’ lives will be transformed by this trip, and we will hopefully have great testimonies to share.”
>> Follow the Lady Flames throughout the season on their Club Sports team page.