Life Leader with heart for missions wins award

December 17, 2013 / by / 1 Comment

By Janie Magruder
GCU News Bureau


Christmas came early for refugee children living at Serrano Village Apartments east of GCU’s campus when junior Wil Gilliland and his girlfriend, Vanessa Waters, handed out soccer balls on Sunday. Gilliland, who received the GCU Community Service Award for his volunteer work at Serrano and on campus, and Waters raised money to purchase the soccer balls. (Photo courtesy of Wil Gilliland)

The jubilant faces of the refugee children living in a low-income housing complex east of Grand Canyon University’s campus keep GCU junior Wil Gilliland grounded.

“What they have and what they experience is so much less than what we have,” said Gililland, who tutors, mentors and kicks around the soccer ball with children from nearly two dozen countries who live with their families at Serrano Village Apartments. “And yet, they have a joy about them that is incomparable.”

Gililland, who spends about 10 hours a week at Serrano Village and is a Life Leader in Camelback Hall, is the GCU Community Service Award recipient for November. The inaugural award was given in September to Jesse Villegas, a senior who helped launch programs for the Serrano children, and in October to Jenessa Fesmire, a junior who mentors youth in south Phoenix.

Gilliland, a secondary education major, is among two dozen GCU volunteers at Serrano who have found ways to conquer the language barrier. The children, ages preschool to high school, have learned the word “good,” and they know that when their homework is done, it’s soccer time in the Serrano parking lot.

Jacob Page, manager of GCU’s global and local outreach, said Gilliland goes above and beyond as a student leader.

“He has become so passionate for the families living there that he serves as a tutor on Wednesday nights, serves Serrano kids on Thursday nights and, on all the other nights, he goes and hangs out with the youth,” Page said. “The reason he is so passionate is because of his love for Jesus, which compels him to have compassion and love for his neighbors. “

Gilliland, 22, also leads weekly Bible studies in his dorm with as many as 10 young men. “We talk about how we can become better men for Jesus, and how we can apply God’s Word to our everyday lives,” he said.

The Sacramento native and pastor’s son has a heart for missions. His first journey outside the United States last summer took him to Honduras on a University mission trip, and he plans to go to Kenya this summer.

“To visit 2,000 children at a school and to share my testimony, to give them clothes, because many of them had been wearing the same T-shirt for two weeks,  just to see how excited these kids were to hear about Jesus, was just a great experience,” he said. “It confirmed that I want to be a teacher, whatever God’s plan is for me, whether across the seas or here in the States.”

Contact Janie Magruder at 639.8018 or

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One Response
  1. Brant

    Great story! I know a man who was also changed by a trip to Honduras. He gave his life to helping children after that, and is still doing it.

    Dec.18.2013 at 9:39 pm
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