Community service award recipient seeks to better lives in native Liberia
By Cooper Nelson
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University sophomore Washington Livingstone volunteers many of his mornings distributing food to the homeless or mentoring underserved youth residing at the Phoenix Rescue Mission Changing Lives Center, a rehabilitation center for struggling women and children.
Livingstone, a native of Liberia — one of Africa’s poorest countries, where nearly 76 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to the European Commission — said he possesses a heart for serving destitute people as a result of his difficult upbringing. He immigrated to the United States in 2007 to escape civil war in Liberia.The 21-year-old business major’s work at the Phoenix Rescue Mission earned him GCU’s Community Service Award for the month of December. The award was created by the University’s Office of Spiritual Life to recognize students who embody GCU’s mission of servant leadership by spearheading community outreach.
GCU sophomore Washington Livingstone: “God says you can move mountains if you trust in the Lord, and I’m willing to trust in the Lord, so I can move mountains.”
Livingstone is the fourth recipient of the award. He joins senior Jesse Villegas, who received the inaugural award in September for his work among refugees at the Serrano Village apartments close to campus, junior Jenessa Fesmire (October) for her work with children in south Phoenix and junior Wil Gilliland (November), who also serves at Serrano Village.
Livingstone plans to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in agriculture after graduating from GCU in order to return to Liberia to grow crops to combat the country’s issues with hunger and poverty. He believes earning this award is a message from God that he is headed in the right direction.
“I do it just to be a servant, like Jesus would do,” said Livingstone, who was illiterate until high school. He earned a number of scholarships that allowed him to attend GCU.
“Seeing this (award) means that I have come so far and I know that God is working in all that,” Livingstone said. “I am just amazed at how He is working through me and I know there are great things He has (in store) for me.”
As a 10-year-old, Livingstone remembered gunfire erupting outside his school during the first Liberian civil war. He sheltered himself in the classroom as he watched his classmates and teachers flee in terror. When the gunfire ceased, he returned home to find his father with a rental car, packed and ready to leave the country for neighboring Ghana.
Livingstone, his father and stepmother lived in a Ghana refugee camp for two years before moving to a new camp in Guinea. He left Guinea for America with his stepmother and her children when he was 14. During his time in Africa, he lived through two Liberian civil wars.
Hailing from an English-speaking country, Livingstone had little trouble assimilating to the American culture, but he struggled in school, not knowing how to read or write. He made it through junior high and, after transferring from two high schools, found himself at Hope Online High School, associated with Covenant of Grace Christian Church, where he attended every Sunday.
He chose to live with Leonard and Sharon Griffin, senior pastors at Covenant of Grace. The Griffins helped him learn to read and write and eventually graduate high school with scholarships that helped finance an education at GCU.
“What he is doing is incredible,” said Leonard Griffin, 61, who has served as head pastor for 26 years. “It’s a real testament to God’s hand in (Livingstone’s) life and how He enabled him to use the gifts and resources God gave him to help those in need.”
Livingstone remains in constant contact with his father in Liberia and told him his plan to return to help grow crops to feed Liberia’s people. His father sent him a letter recently, telling Livingstone that he has a lot of responsibility and that he believes he can help his people if he continues his education.
Livingstone said the award empowers him to reach his goal, while also encouraging him to continue to serve the less fortunate locally before serving Liberians in the future.
“God says you can move mountains if you trust in the Lord, and I’m willing to trust in the Lord, so I can move mountains,” Livingstone said. “Not only in Africa are there poor people, there are poor people that need help here, too. (Volunteering at the Phoenix Rescue Mission) is just another step in that direction for me.”
Contact Cooper Nelson at 639.7511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.