A second Cure Bowl trophy. A No. 17 national ranking — the first time LU ended a season in the Top 25.

  Flames Football’s best year is now in the books.

  But all the triumph didn’t come without a game plan, a set of plays carefully designed by coaches and ingrained in the minds of the players, all bound by a firm commitment to follow through with that plan.

  Liberty University has used a deliberate game plan for all of its students from the very beginning — a plan that not only sets them up to reach their career goals after graduation but to also lead fulfilling lives as Champions for Christ where they live, work, and serve.

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  Jerry Falwell Sr. in 1981

  Ever since a true visionary with grand ambitions launched Liberty nearly 50 years ago, the faculty and staff have remained committed to their task of guiding students in biblical principles, instilling lessons deeply rooted in a Christian worldview. With coaches, professors, campus pastors, and scores of other mentors, the university is carrying out the very words that its founder, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, preached at a Wednesday night church service in January 1971:

  “Young people are the hope of our nation and our world. I believe we have a sacred obligation to provide thousands of young people with a solid Christian education. Let us dedicate ourselves tonight to starting a college with the goal of seeing thousands of young men and women, deeply in love with the Lord Jesus Christ, who will go out in all walks of life to shake this world for God.”

  That was Falwell’s game plan for Liberty, and the university remains dedicated to rolling out plays from his playbook every day.

  

  President Jerry Prevo addresses faculty in the Liberty Arena on Jan. 20. (Photo by Ellie Richardson)

  This semester, just a few days before classes met in person, the faculty gathered in the new Liberty Arena. It was a time to reflect on their own calling and purpose before stepping into the classroom. They watched a video of Falwell sharing his vision and were encouraged to kick off another semester with the same firm focus and an awesome sense of responsibility.

  “When parents send their child here to Liberty University,” President Jerry Prevo told the faculty, “they’re entrusting us to train them up; they have allowed us to adopt them. They’re depending upon us, and they’re depending upon each one of you because you’re really the ones who are going to have more direct contact with their child than anybody else. They’re depending upon us to carry out the vision they’re all familiar with, Training Champions for Christ, and that’s what we want to do here at Liberty University academically, spiritually, and morally.”

  Ed Gomes first came to Liberty as a student in 1972. Now, in his role as director of spiritual development with Flames Football, he shows how the lessons taught on the field and in the classroom are lessons for life.

  “We have a game plan to help our young men and young women here at Liberty University succeed academically, athletically, socially, and spiritually,” he said. “We have a plan of action that can help them become true Champions for Christ if they embrace what we have to offer. That’s what makes us unique; that’s what separates us from any other university.”

  The emphasis on spiritual development throughout every facet of student life is Liberty’s defining characteristic.

  “I tell our guys that God has brought them to Liberty more than just to play football or to get a college education. God wants to do something in them so He can do something through them. That’s our prayer,” Gomes said. “My mission, my passion, the thing that wakes me up in the morning is how I want to help our young men become intentional about their relationship with God and make an impact on our football team.”

  __________

  “Essential” has become a buzz word amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Determining something as essential places a high value on the service that is provided. A Christian education has always been essential. The founders of our nation’s first universities knew this. They wrote Christian principles into their creeds and even carved Bible passages in stone on their buildings. But sadly, many of those institutions have parted ways with their roots. As they built prestige in academia, they abandoned their very foundation in the Creator who is the source of all the knowledge that they impart.

  But at Liberty, although it’s one of the youngest universities of its size in America, topping 15,000 in its residential programs and another 100,000 online, the mission has never been altered or avoided. Even as academic and athletic offerings have expanded, elevating Liberty to the highest levels of competition, the mission rings out loud and clear.

  Each semester, faculty, staff, students, and alumni are proving that Liberty doesn’t just say it’s Christian but shows it boldly to the world.

  If you watched the Flames battle Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl on ESPN the day after Christmas, you saw quarterback Malik Willis sporting an armband with the words, “God’s Plan.”

  “My journey to Liberty has given me a chance to find myself as a football player and as a man,” Willis wrote in a column for a game day program last fall. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for dragging me through everything He did to ultimately put me in this position.”

  Falwell often said that athletics would raise the national profile of the school as it trains Champions for Christ in all fields of study, and he was right. On Dec. 26, over 2.6 million tuned in from across the country to watch these champions on the field.

  And it’s not just athletics that has arrived dramatically on a national stage. Liberty students are demonstrating academic excellence, proving how an evangelical university can indeed persist in its Christian teachings while offering world-class programs.

  Liberty’s debate team remains the only team in the history of collegiate debate to sweep all three national titles in the same year — and they did this not only once but 10 times in the last 14 years. In the fall, their success caught the attention of then-Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, who held a special virtual session with them on their season’s timely topic of foreign policy.

  Already this semester, a moot court team in the Helms School of Government took the national title following a season that focused on arguments for First Amendment rights.

  Liberty University School of Law is graduating students every year who are fighting some of the country’s most intense culture wars. This year marked the highest number of applications to Liberty Law since its opening in 2004.

  And from its perch on Liberty Mountain, the medical school is training the next generation of osteopathic physicians. Last fall, three second-year osteopathic medical students earned first place at a Scholarly Symposium of Virginia Academy of Family Physicians for their research on e-cigarette effects on the unborn.

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  Liberty students first learn what it means to be a Champion for Christ through a Christian Life and Evangelism course, required for all incoming freshmen. It was the founder’s vision for graduates to go out into the world as missionaries in their chosen vocation, impacting the world through their professions and their Christian witness.

  “While I have no problem with the church adapting to the culture,” Falwell once said, “we must ensure that we remain painstakingly true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that we remain obedient servants to His truths.”

  Before every class, Liberty professors hold prayer time, and across every academic department, there’s a direct correlation to God’s Word, the primary textbook.

  In the School of Engineering, students are learning a term that Liberty has trademarked for ongoing research projects: Creationeering. By taking lessons from God’s own designs in nature, like studying the way a woodpecker’s beak can sustain impact after impact, students are developing a better football helmet to reduce the risk of concussions.

  In the Biology & Chemistry Department, professors have been leading the conservation efforts for a salamander species in the Blue Ridge Mountains, pointing to Genesis 2 as their charge to honor and care for God’s creation.

  In Liberty’s Studio & Digital Arts Department, students are inspired to reflect God’s gift of creativity and expression through their pieces.

  At the School of Nursing, students are regularly taught servanthood and how to show the same care and compassion to patients as Jesus taught his own disciples. As they serve at a Hands and Feet Clinic for underserved individuals in Lynchburg, they truly become the hands and feet of Christ to their community.

  And as students work toward degrees in cybersecurity — one of the fastest growing career fields today — integrity is emphasized as a key virtue in the field.

  “The strong Christian values that these students graduate with, the industry loves it because it comes down to trust,” said Dr. Michael Lehrfeld, executive director of the Center for Cyber Excellence at the School of Business. “That’s what makes us unique. It’s a cool thing to see these students go forward and take Christ into those areas.”

  There are many websites that analyze and compare the values of degrees from institutions all across the country, often reported in the form of dollar figures that one can expect to make if they attach the institution’s name to their résumé.

  But these lists often neglect to factor in the overall student experience. When faith is a primary focus, the value of a degree becomes so much more. While employers will look at the skills and knowledge attained, every person who encounters a Liberty graduate will also see in them the value of a life lived

  for Christ.

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  Jerry Falwell Sr. talks with students in the courtyard in 1985.

  When some of Liberty’s earliest alumni visit campus, they often remark that their old stomping grounds are hardly recognizable. The residence halls have grown several stories skyward. There’s a new roof on the Vines Center, and its new next door neighbor, the Liberty Arena, just opened. The Academic Lawn is lined with state-of-the-art buildings equipped with the latest technology for students to learn about the futures of their fields today.

  But the work within all of these walls is still producing the same kind of champions the world desperately needs. Alumni are surely happy for the physical changes, but what is still recognizable to them is the way that their alma mater has never wavered from its game plan and continues to “shake the world” unlike any other college has done.

  Vernon Brewer (’73) was among the first group of students to receive a Liberty diploma. He joined fellow alumni last fall at Liberty’s Fifty Years by Faith event held at Thomas Road Baptist Church. After a night of worship, reflection, and celebration, Brewer echoed the sentiments of Liberty’s leadership in attendance by saying, “the best is yet to come.”

  As the founder and president of World Help, a large, faith-based global humanitarian organization that serves the physical and spiritual needs of impoverished families, Brewer said he is a living testimony of that vision being fulfilled.

  “I’ve been able to literally reach the world with my ministry because of that vision,” he said. “I just think the best is yet to come — and it’s God’s timing, and this is what so many people have prayed for and waited for. It’s just God.”