September 29, 2023 : By Christian Shields - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
Over the past week, a group of Liberty University students on a Serve Now team in Perry, Fla., have been clearing debris and repairing damage to multiple homes hit hard by Hurricane Idalia.
“It’s been super cool to meet the homeowners and get to know their stories as well as work with the rest of the team and have a unifying goal of glorifying the Lord through our work,” said sophomore Claire Bracco, who is studying business with a focus on humanitarian aid. “It’s definitely hard work, but it’s awesome because we get to do it together and make an impact for the Kingdom and serve one another.”
“I have a better understanding of not only how hard manual labor is and how much respect I have towards construction workers, but also truly knowing how to serve other people and be the hands and feet of Jesus,” she added.
The students also ministered to the residents, talking with them and giving them Bibles with personal notes of encouragement. Two chaplains were also on hand to speak with homeowners and share the Gospel with them.
The team was dispatched last Sunday and will return Saturday. On Friday, they were joined by more familiar faces from Liberty — President Dr. Dondi Costin and his wife, Vickey, and Chancellor Jonathan Falwell and his wife, Shari, as well as Vice President of Spiritual Development Josh Rutledge and Executive Director of LU Serve Lew Weider. Students said they were proud to be able to serve alongside their leaders.
“You see those people on stage talking about Jesus and what it’s like to be a Christian, but to see them come down here and live that out … it showed how much they genuinely care about not only LU Serve Now but also the homeowner who had their life impacted by this hurricane, said sophomore financial planning student Phil Zettlemoyer. “It was cool to see that they’re not just talking and are really trying to make an impact.”
The group was also greeted by Samaritan’s Purse COO Edward Graham and his brother, Will Graham, Executive Vice President and evangelist with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and a member of Liberty’s Board of Trustees.
“Samaritan’s Purse and Liberty University go way back. And they’re all about creating Champions for Christ,” Edward Graham said in a Samaritan’s Purse release. “LU Serve gives them the opportunity to serve communities in need and to strengthen the local church.”
“Liberty University has done what God has called us to do, to go to the ends of the earth and every sphere of influence and be a witness for Jesus Christ as Champions for Christ,” Costin said.
The students and leaders spent the day moving brush and logs and tarping roofs. The leaders ate lunch and talked with students before returning to Lynchburg on Friday evening.
Falwell said LU Serve’s goal to care for Perry residents is about “helping them in their time of need and to let them know that Liberty loves Florida, but far better said, God loves them.”
Zettlemoyer encouraged anyone considering taking a service-oriented missions to “just do it.”
“Going on this trip has given me a lot of perspective about the joy that there is in serving other people, especially people in need, as well as the awesome evangelism opportunity for these people who are in such a hard time. It’s really made me consider my calling in life and what it means to be a Christian and to have that joy to evangelize,” he said, noting that even those who are not called to ministry can share God’s love through service. “I’m not a chaplain, but I can move sticks and be a ministry to these people.”
The Florida trip marked the second Serve Now trip this semester. Last week, a team served in Maui, Hawaii, to build temporary homes for residents whose homes were destroyed in the wildfires in August. A third team will be deploying Oct. 8-13 (over Fall Break) to Jackson, Ky., to help residents rebuild after historic flooding last fall. Earlier this year, the program sent students to Englewood, Fla., for hurricane relief and Griffin, Ga., for tornado relief.