LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) -- Liberty University is sending a team of eight students and two team leaders to Ponce, Puerto Rico, through LU Send Now, the university’s disaster relief initiative.
The team will leave Thursday, Nov. 9, and return on Friday, Nov. 17. They will be working alongside the International Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) from Samaritan’s Purse and receive training in Greensboro, N.C., from the nonprofit before flying to Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico in mid-September as a Category 4, making it the strongest storm to hit the U.S. territory since 1932. The storm left the island devastated, knocking out power and causing intense flooding. Much of the island is still without power.
This marks the fourth trip for LU Send Now this semester. Teams have been dispatched to Texas and the islands of Antigua and Barbuda for hurricane relief, as well as to Mexico following a devastating earthquake.
Puerto Rico team member and sophomore Kristen Busby said the trip will be a life-changing experience.
“I have never been through a situation like the people of Puerto Rico, where they have lost everything. But here we are, a large university, sending a team to minister to people. I think it shows what Christ’s love is all about.”
The psychology major said she hopes that she has a chance to get to know the people of Puerto Rico and hear their stories.
“In a lot of these disaster relief situations, it’s more focused on handing out food or clearing debris,” Busby said. “People have emotional needs as well that need to be taken care of. I want to just listen to what they’ve been through. It’s something I can’t handle on my own, but I’m praying that God gives me the right words to say.”
For team member and senior Curtis Johnson, this will be his third trip through LU Send Now. Johnson was involved in relief efforts after tornadoes struck in nearby Appomattox County in February 2016 and in Mississippi this past January.
“Puerto Rico has been in the news for so long,” Johnson said. “I’m hoping that this trip will give me a perspective of what Puerto Ricans are experiencing.”
Johnson said he hopes his time assisting in other disasters has prepared him to encourage those who have lost so much in Puerto Rico.
“I want Puerto Ricans to know that there are people who are willing to get down in their mess and help in any way they can,” he said.
The business major said he feels blessed to be part of a university that wants to respond in times of distress.
“The fact that Liberty has these resources for us to take a week, or two weeks, to reach out is incredible,” he said. “I was nervous about missing class, but all my professors have been supportive and want me to do this.”
The LU Send Now team will take time on Thursday to pray with the Liberty Flames Men’s Basketball team, which has been actively raising money for hurricane relief. Last month, the basketball team participated in an exhibition game against Virginia Commonwealth University in which the proceeds went to helping Puerto Rico.