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Liberty students assist in tornado relief in Georgia with Serve Now program

Liberty University sent eight students and two leaders to help Samaritan’s Purse with tornado relief in Georgia. (Photos provided)


While many college students from around the country head south for the beach and warm weather over Spring Break, a group of Liberty University students and staff chose to use their break for a much different reason: tornado cleanup.

A group of eight students, led by Dr. Darren Hercyk and staff member Abigail Sanders, traveled with LU Serve Now, the university’s disaster relief initiative, to Griffin, Ga., March 12-19 to partner with Samaritan’s Purse to repair the damage left by several tornadoes, one of which was a EF-3, that hit the city on January 12.  The work included moving debris, demolishing damaged sheds, chopping tree limbs, and repairing roofs.

“We could really see God’s providence in everything,” said sophomore Samantha Burris. “From the team that He put together, including the Samaritan’s Purse workers we were assigned to, to the conversations that we had with homeowners and the different work orders that we were able to fulfill, you could see Him working in a lot of ways.”

With the help from Liberty, Samaritan’s Purse was able to close the Griffin site with a total of 499 work orders completed over the last couple months and help from more than 1,000 volunteers.

“Overall, the other Samaritan’s Purse volunteers were an encouragement to our team, and I know our students were a blessing to the volunteers and staff in Griffin,” said Sanders, who has now led three trips with LU Serve Now.

Liberty regularly partners with Samaritan’s Purse for disaster relief trips as well as internships and other service opportunities for students. On May 12, Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, will be the keynote speaker for the Commencement Main Ceremony.

While meeting the physical needs of Griffin residents, the students also had the opportunity to minister to them. Whether through direct conversation about the Gospel or simply serving with a smile, the volunteers provided a glimpse of the love of Christ to individuals who may have felt broken by the disaster. At each job, they signed a Bible and presented it to homeowners after the work was done.

“Being able to sign that (Bible) and witness through that little note, even if we couldn’t talk to the homeowner one-on-one, I would like to think that makes a difference,” Burris said. “Obviously we don’t always get to the end of that story, at least not this side of heaven, but it is hopeful, and it’s an encouraging thing to see.”

Burris, who is studying developmental psychology, said she originally planned on spending her break visiting family, but felt God calling her to Griffin. She said she saw God move in the lives of Griffin residents, such as a homeowner named Willy who had several downed trees on his property. Despite the destruction, Willy’s house, which he built himself and had lived in for 28 years, remained unscathed. Burris said even the rubber duckies on his front porch banister were not moved by the tornado.

“(The fact the house was not damaged) was really uplifting for all of us to hear,” she said. “With these trips, we’re there to serve others and minister to others, but they minister to us right back. We’re just totally blown away by the hand of God that we can see in tangible ways.”

Burris, who has now gone on three trips with LU Serve Now, said that one lesson she has learned from her trips is to enter each one without any set expectations. This allows her to fully follow the moving of God instead of strictly following the work plan.

One example of this was how she witnessed two other students on the trip take time away from the set job to interact with the granddaughter of one of the homeowners. While they had entered the site expecting to spend the day cleaning up debris, they instead saw the opportunity to serve the child.

“I have never been at a house, on any of my (LU Serve) deployments, where any of us got to interact with kids, but all you had to do was look at this little girl’s face to know that we were in large part there for her,” she said. “That was certainly not something that we had planned or expected, but it was something God knew would happen, and I am so thankful that we were blessed with that opportunity.”

Liberty students presented Bibles to homeowners.

Burris also cited Proverbs 19:21 as a verse that spoke to her as well as the group during the trip. This verse emphasizes the sovereignty of God’s will over the plans of mankind.

“I think I can say that was the theme of this trip for everyone — we can enter into it with expectations and plans, but ultimately the Lord is going to work in and through us in exactly the way He intends, even if that looks different than what we had anticipated,” she said.

“My only expectation is that God is going to move, and whether or not we see the full extent of the impact we made on this side of heaven, I am perfectly content in knowing that I obediently served the way God asked me to,” she added.

The Georgia trip was one of 16 domestic and international trips sponsored by Liberty over Spring Break. Students traveled to Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean.

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