Reflections by a Jerry's kid
Jerry Falwell's Legacy: Don't Quit!
By Lori D'Augostine
CBN.com Associate Producer
CBN.com "Jerry, Jerry, Jerry.." the crowd would stammer from the 10,000 seat Vines Center dome centered at the heart of Liberty University’s campus. Some of my most cherished memories as a student there came from the man himself, our beloved chancellor, Jerry Falwell.
It seemed an anomaly that a man of his distinction would subject himself to basketball game crowd surfing but hey, we were family. We knew the man that the media didn’t, the man in the big black suburban honking his horn and playing practical jokes on his students. Best known as “Jerry Kids,” we, the alum, are his legacy and were privileged to a front row seat of what he coined as the “World's Most Exciting University.”
When I first arrived on campus, I didn’t know a lot about the man or his school. A stranger to jargon such as the Southern Baptist Convention or Moral Majority, I was a new Christian seeking a solid education. Liberty was my one-stop launching pad, packed with everything an impressionable young-Christian adult would need.
There was something exhilarating about that place: a world-class education, residence life that offered all the perks of Church summer camp, solid Biblical teaching in and out of the classroom, and a chancellor who even promised us a spouse. “Don’t leave Liberty University without finding your mate,” Jerry would challenge us from his podium. He loved to tell us the story of how he pursued his wife, Macel.
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty,” was my favorite phrase of Jerry. It seemed as if God had Liberty in mind when He inspired Paul to write that in the Bible (2 Corinthians 3:17).
It truly is only the Spirit of the Lord that could attest to the unprecedented impact of Jerry Falwell and Liberty University. Since its inception in 1971, Liberty University remains the largest Christian University in the world. Currently with an enrollment of 21,500, Liberty attracts students from 50 states and 80 nations.
Along with the university, Jerry’s other contributions include but are not limited to: Founder and Senior Pastor of the 24,000 member church, Thomas Road Baptist Church and host of Old-Time Gospel Radio Show (since 1956). He is also founder of Elim Home for Alcoholics, Lynchburg Christian Academy, The CENTER, and the Liberty Godparent Home for Unwed Mothers.
So, why and how could one man have such an enormous impact? His secret was simple. I can’t think of a more fitting epitaph then the name of one of his most enduring sermon series called, “Don’t Quit.”
If you are a “Jerry’s Kid,” you know what I’m talking about. Every semester, Jerry would read off a list of what he deemed the essentials of the Christian Life. For those who have never had the privilege of sitting under his sermons, I bring to you the true legacy of Jerry Falwell:
- Never make a major decision in the midst of a personal crisis.
- Never seclude yourself from friends/family when going through a storm.
- Never listen to your fears. Dread distorts your view of reality.
- Never give in to self-pity.
- Don’t dwell on “if only” and “what could have been."
- Don’t overlook the good things that happen to you everyday.
- Don’t become absorbed with yourself (focus on the needs of others).
- Don’t quit living while going through your storm.
- Never forget that God Almighty is sovereign.
How fitting that he would base these nine points on Galatians 6:9 ( “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up!” )
This was his true legacy! He never gave up and his harvest proves it. His life made his sermons that much more credible. We knew the Christian life worked.
One year, our university was in debt and in danger of losing accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Jerry called us to a campus-wide prayer effort. Thousands of students voluntarily showed up for all night prayer vigils. Even Jerry himself committed to several months of fasting that only consisted of coffee. Then the report came, and preceding it was one of the loudest roars I’ve ever heard. In chapel one day, Jerry announced that an anonymous donor sent him a check for 50 million dollars! We all knew it was because the Lord honored Jerry’s mountain-moving faith.
Since this major breakthrough in the late 90’s, the university has tripled in size and Thomas Baptist Road Church has relocated to Liberty Mountain in a building that resembles a mall.
You didn’t have to become a member of Thomas Road or meet with Jerry regularly to know the man. He was transparent and admirably humble. He publicly admitted his mistakes, most often with the media and sometimes he’d even let us in on a squabble he’d have with Macel. Yet within the same breath, he loved to tell of his nearly 50 years of marriage (at the time) and number one commitment (after Christ) to his family. He remained consistent and bold in his faith and traditional family values in the public and private sector. The Jerry we all knew and loved was the same man challenging pro-choice activists on Larry King Live.
Jerry loved everyone and most remarkably those who opposed him. One of Jerry’s most fervent prayer requests was for the salvation of Larry Flynt. Flynt’s Hustler magazine crudely portrayed Jerry in a series of satirical advertisements back in the 80's. The case was argued before the United States Supreme Court in 1987 and although Jerry did not win the suit, the two became well-acquainted controversial opponents. Jerry would often share his love and concern for this man with the Liberty student body, and I can remember praying for Larry Flynt, whom I knew so little about.
Many may remember Jerry for the controversies they have read about, but for those who knew him best, Jerry was notorious for seeking reconciliation.
In the wake of his death, I’ve heard several reports accusing him of divisiveness and hatred. As one who has studied his example over the years, I’d have to admit that this is true. As Christ, he stood for Biblical truth that does inherently divide. His hatred for sin was apparent, but more obvious was his love for all sinners.
With a powerful, baritone voice and meek spirit, his cry was in the wilderness… Don’t Quit! No matter how many people you offend or how impossible life’s circumstances seem, keep on… even to the moment of your death. Although unexpected, Jerry was doing just that. According to reports, he was working in his office, atop Liberty Mountain, making plans to build a university that would hit 25,000 on campus students by the year 2020.
And now, Jerry is face-to-face rejoicing with His Savior, the One who has made this all possible. His reward has come, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Although, he will be sorely missed, his legacy now calls us forth to a new era. Now, who will be the next servant?
Comments? Email me.
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Lori D'Augostine graduated from Liberty University in 2002 with a B.A. in English. Following graduation, she worked as a freelance writer with the Lynchburg Ledger. She has also worked as a sports writer with The Daily Journal in Vineland, N.J. before moving to Virginia Beach, Va. While studying Communication at Regent University, Lori wrote for Regent's Web Site, Regent In the News. She is currently The 700 Club Producer for CBN.com.
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