January 4, 2023 : By Christian Shields - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
As Liberty University prepares to welcome students back for the Spring 2023 semester, its disaster relief initiative LU Serve Now prepares to send a group of 15 students and two leaders to Englewood, Fla., on Jan. 8-14 to help those affected by Hurricane Ian.
LU Serve, in coordination with longtime partner Samaritan’s Purse, will return to Englewood for the third time since Hurricane Ian rocked the Southeast on Sept. 28, resulting in the deaths of more than 100 people.
Two teams were dispatched to Englewood on separate weeks in November, and like those trips, the upcoming one will include a large amount of cleaning up debris. Once the debris is removed, the residents will be able to start rebuilding their neighborhood.
LU Serve Director Chad Nelson emphasized the importance of aiding Samaritan’s Purse in any areas where the organization needs further assistance.
“One of the big goals for trips like this is we want to serve our partner in bringing relief and healing to the homeowners. We just want to serve them well, we want to be a blessing to Samaritan’s Purse and what they’re doing,” Nelson said.
He said the ultimate goal is to help heal those affected both physically through manual labor and spiritually through sharing the Gospel.
“We want this holistic component to our service where it is a physical act but it’s also more of those spiritual acts of listening and speaking well with that homeowner in light of the trauma that they just went through,” Nelson said.
He said workers often have the opportunity to pray with disaster victims and can sometimes even provide them with Bibles.
This will be the second LU Serve Now trip for Liberty sophomore pre-law student James Gengaro, who traveled to Mayfield, Ky., in October, where the team cleaned up tornado damage. He said he realized that believers do not always do a great job serving as Christ called them to do and that it is necessary to take time to share the Gospel.
“As Christians, going and helping out isn’t enough if you’re not mentioning Jesus Christ and the Gospel,” he said. “I feel like you’re missing out by just helping out for the good cause. I think it’s important to be able to share the Gospel with them and explain why you’re doing it, why you’re motivated to help people like this because if it wasn’t for the Gospel, there really is no point in doing this.”
Another student attending the trip, junior Maddy Grundy, reinforced the goal of using the trip to bring others to Christ.
“Getting to partner with the Lord and witness what He is doing in Englewood is truly an honor. I pray that His name be exalted in all of our efforts as we seek to care for the people affected by residual ramifications,” said Grundy, who is currently pursuing a degree in interdisciplinary studies.
Sophomore mechanical engineering student Skylar Waechter also emphasized the importance of presenting the Gospel while helping disaster victims. He noted that doing so may not mean presenting the literal Gospel but instead demonstrating a “living Gospel” through one’s actions.
“Fixing (someone’s) house might be 40 hours of work, but it could have eternal significance bringing in the Gospel,” Waechter said.
Waechter, who is from Florida, is no stranger to hurricanes and other natural disasters and understands the importance of helping victims recover.
The trip will take place over the last week of Liberty’s Christmas Break before classes begin on Jan. 16. While other students may be using the last part of their break to rest, this group of students and leaders will use their time of rest to serve.
“By helping other people, it is resting and recuperating,” Waechter said. “By sitting at home and maybe working a little, just focusing on yourself, you’re not really able to grow. By going out and helping people, you really help yourself as well.”