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Proclaiming the Gospel in Phoenix: LU’s mission continues on a national stage through worship, service

The Office of Spiritual Development hosts a Sunday service at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort on Dec. 31, 2023. (Photo by Joel Coleman)

Even as the Flames Football team prepares to play in its first New Year’s Six bowl game against the University of Oregon on Monday, Liberty University’s original mission of Training Champions for Christ remains critical for all of those who made the trip across the country to Phoenix for the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl.

Chancellor Jonathan Falwell delivers a message during Sunday Service on Dec. 31 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Kendall Tidwell)

Throughout their time in the desert, members of Liberty’s administration, football team, and even fans have had the chance to proclaim the Gospel not only through community service projects in the Greater Phoenix area but also through a morning church service.

On Sunday morning at the Cypress Court at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort, the same spot where the night before Flames fans gathered for a pep rally to celebrate the team, Flames administration, football players, and fans gathered en masse again, this time for a time of worship and a message from Chancellor Jonathan Falwell.

Between sets from the Liberty Worship Collective, more than 2,000 miles away from his home church of Thomas Road Baptist Church, where Falwell serves as senior pastor, Falwell delivered the message of the Gospel and a New Year’s charge of three words to live by in 2024 for all those in the resort to hear. The event was streamed live on Liberty’s Facebook page (view the service below).

“Many, many years ago my dad (Liberty founder Jerry Falwell) told me, ‘If they ever give you a (microphone), you give them the Gospel,’” Falwell said.

He read from three chapters out of Proverbs, charging the crowd to live by character, unity, and love as the calendar turns over to 2024.

“Jesus said simply to love,” Falwell said. “As we begin a brand new year, let’s begin it with … that kind of character, the kind of integrity, the kind of unity that when the world looks at us at first, they’re going look at us a little strange (and ask), ‘How can they be that kind? How can they be that nice?’ … But let’s make sure that when the world looks at us … what they see is something they are attracted to because they know that thing is different. And that thing that is different is the Living God.”

After Falwell’s message, Flames Football Director of Spiritual Development Ed Gomes and pastor PJ Preston both prayed over the crowd and the team before sending them off to their final day of preparation before the Fiesta Bowl.

An abbreviated Battle of the Bands breaks out during the joint service project between Liberty University and the University of Oregon on Sunday, Dec. 31. (Photo by Joel Coleman)

Shortly after the Sunday morning service, Liberty University leadership and administration headed down the road to the Mountain Shadows Resort to take part in a joint service project with leadership and administration from the University of Oregon, a tradition Oregon began in bowl week in 2014 after being challenged to participate in a joint project with Ohio State University that year, President John Karl Scholz said.

As they all arrived at the hotel, a smaller battle of the bands and mascots broke out in the lobby, creating a festive atmosphere.

For the project, the universities partnered with the Valley of the Sun United Way to fill backpacks with books, created bookmarks, thought cards, and friendship bracelets for low-income schools in the Greater Phoenix area.

Emma Garcia, chief community development and engagement officer for the Valley of the Sun United Way, said the “Book in a Bag” project makes a huge impact in the community.

“Reading is so, so essential because that’s vital for them to graduate from high school to go to college to be successful in life,” she told all those involved. “So we thank you for your service today … because this is such an important way that our community benefits from not just the game, but the services you’re providing while here.”

Liberty President Dondi Costi (left) exchanges gift baskets with University of Oregon President John Karl Scholz during a joint service project. (Photo by Joel Coleman)

Before getting down to work, Scholz and Liberty President Dondi Costin exchanged gifts from their respective states and both thanked each other for recognizing the importance of service at their respective schools.

“Lending a hand to our neighbors and paying forward the generosity shown to us in the past is part of what it means to be a Duck,” Scholz said. “I’m learning that’s also part of what it means to be a Flame. So I’m glad to have you, President Costin, and members of your campus community join us in this project.”

“While we will be opponents tomorrow on the field, as you suggested, what we’re doing today is exactly what Training Champions for Christ is all about,” Costin said. “It’s about what Liberty University is all about.”

“We are raising up young men and women to make a difference in the world,” Costin continued, “in your communities, in your states, in your region, and in places and ways that only God can imagine at this point. So thank you for this opportunity to work with you.”

Liberty Football players have also spent time in community service during their time in Phoenix. After a midday practice on Friday, they took a break from their bowl game preparations to participate in a wagon building contest amongst the team with the Girl Scouts of Arizona Cactus-Pine, a project to help them prepare for cookie-selling season.

Liberty University President Dondi Costin (left) and University of Oregon President John Karl Scholz participate in a joint service project on Dec. 31 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Joel Coleman)

The players were divided into teams and paired with Girl Scouts to assemble the wagons in an assembly line, with a wagon trophy going to the winning team, who were each named after a specific Girl Scout cookie.

Flames wide receiver Noah Frith, who noted his favorite Girl Scout cookies are Trefoils in an interview with the Fiesta Bowl, said he was thankful for the opportunity to give back to the community in Phoenix.

“It’s a chance for us to show Arizona who Liberty is, and show the Girl Scouts who Liberty is” Frith added, “It’s the chance to give back because we’re not just here for a football game; we’re here to enjoy ourselves and give back to the community.”

At the end of the competition, Team Tagalongs, led by tight end Austin Henderson and a host of other Flames Football players, took home the wagon trophy.

The Football Team Community Outreach event with the local Girl Scout Chapter is held at Tempe Diablo Park on Dec. 29, 2023 (Photo by Kendall Tidwell)
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