The coronavirus pandemic made the transition to fully online education a challenge for Liberty University residential students, including many students taking the school’s required Christian Life and Evangelism course.
The course, required for all incoming freshmen, teaches students the basic fundamentals of servant evangelism and how to share the Gospel with non-believers. Assignments involve students sharing the Gospel with a non-believer and serving a non-believer in a tangible way in the name of Jesus.
Evangelism professor Dr. David Wheeler said he didn’t panic when state guidelines for social distancing were announced in mid-March and students still had these assignments to complete.
“My first response was, ‘OK God, you’re in control and there’s something here you want to do, and we just have to figure it out,’” he said. “We don’t have a choice and we can’t change it, so let’s just make this the best we possibly can.”
Wheeler said he immediately began brainstorming ideas with his graduate assistants, student workers, and fellow ministry associates. The team created a running list of servant evangelism ideas that it shared with the students, including buying groceries for elderly neighbors, writing encouraging notes with gift cards for essential workers, donating blood, and providing free child care for families of essential workers.
“We started thinking, ‘Well, we’re at home and we can’t do anything else, so why don’t we get involved in helping our neighbors?’” Wheeler said.
Jordan Martinez, a rising sophomore studying biomedical sciences (pre-med), took advantage of some of these ideas and decided to write encouraging notes and donate gift cards to medical workers at her local hospital. Martinez’s mother is a healthcare worker and delivered the notes to the staff.
“Writing notes of encouragement is just one of the many ways we can serve our medical workers,” Martinez said. “Learning to find new and creative ways to spread the Gospel during these times is something I am truly grateful for because I feel it was critical to my development as a Christian in regard to serving.”
Isabella Johnson, a rising sophomore studying business administration: healthcare management, also decided to write notes, including messages of encouragement with Scripture passages, to several family friends she knew to be non-believers.
“I realized that I needed to adjust my perspective on what Christ-like service entails,” Johnson said. “I realized that serving individuals’ emotional needs is just as important as serving their physical needs, especially during a time of elevated anxiety. Every college student should take the time to compose at least one handwritten letter to serve an individual struggling emotionally during this crisis. Writing a few letters truly transformed my outlook on the impact of service during quarantine.”
Hannah Ulrich, a rising sophomore majoring in global studies with a camp and outdoor adventure leadership (COAL) minor. spent her Easter Sunday filling roughly 100 plastic eggs with candy and printed Scripture verses, riding around her neighborhood on her bike and hanging the eggs on door handles.
Wheeler said that students have even seen family members come to Christ through this time, including the 93-year-old father of an online student and an 83-year-old uncle of another student.
“This is definitely not a time to hide, rather it is a time to shine for Christ and the Gospel,” Wheeler said.
Some Evangelism students even assisted their local church with serving the community.
Rachel Curry became involved with her church’s outreach in inner-city Philadelphia. She said her church is deemed essential because of its weekly food distribution and is able to use their large sanctuary to comply with social distancing. The church also used this as a time to share the love of Christ with the community.
“Our country is in dire need of the Gospel, especially during this time,” Curry said. “So many people are lonely and many do not even have the proper access to food and necessities. The younger generation has an amazing opportunity to not only meet physical needs but also spread the Gospel. I believe that Christian young people can be a catalyst for change when we allow God to work through whatever resources we have during this time.”
In response to the pandemic, Wheeler said his team wrote a document for the class that was produced to help train pastors and churches sharing the Gospel during the pandemic. The free document was made available online as part of the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia’s (SBCV) coronavirus ministry resources.
Wheeler also did six regional online training sessions with SBCV churches and pastors across the state, using much of the same material that was developed for the Evangelism 101 classes.
Wheeler said he is excited about the new opportunities for service that this pandemic has created and believes young people have a key role to play in servant evangelism during this time.
“We don’t need to disconnect; we need to connect with the good news of Jesus Christ,” Wheeler said. “People are hurting and are searching for hope, and young people need to hear about the hope of Jesus now. When young people connect their intellect with the Holy Spirit of God and his calling in their life, and you put all that together, I promise God will use them.”