God, tragedy, and Tech

Last time, I wrote about Ravi Zacharias’s great visit to Virginia Tech in early October. But this is only one small part of what God has worked for good in the midst of their horrific tragedy 6 months ago. Again, I approach this topic with humility. I want to share God’s work, but I don’t exactly feel real qualified to do so in this case.

The moment I first drove onto the Va. Tech campus, the weight of this time at this school bore down on me. I was a sophomore at Texas A&M when Bonfire fell, killing 12, and those of us in the Christian community there have our own stories of campus life – and God’s work – in the midst of collegiate tragedy. I had thought about that going into this experience.

But this is way different.

This was evil. Death caused purposely, and only 3 real-semester months of classes since that horrible day. And so as I drove on campus, there was this weight of realization and, as God saw fit, a move from theoretically “exploring college ministry” to experiencing an amazing college campus for those few short days. It was a profound time there for me, really and truly.

Va. Tech Memorial

It was an immense honor to participate in the week with Hokies – touring campus (thanks, Melissa), joining 24-hour prayer, attending the forum, meeting students, hanging out. I was offered the guest room of the Baptist Collegiate Ministries (a phenomenal blessing), and Darrell, Mark, and Melissa were immensely helpful in learning about the school and God’s work there since April 16th. For the BCM, like other campus ministries, the event was particularly personal, as they lost their member and friend Brian Bluhm that day.

In my conversations with those guys and my own observations, I saw God working in many ways. Here are a few.

  1. By deepening His word in lives. Isaiah 61:1-3, still posted on a huge board upstairs in the BCM, has been particularly significant to those students. As has II Cor. 1:3-7, as God’s comfort poured out on some allows them – now and forever – to offer such comfort to others. (This is a verse God used in our time with Bonfire, too.) Also important was Jeremiah 29:11 – not simply because God offers His hope generically, but because this was one of Brian’s banner verses. “But how does his verse apply now?” they have to ask, and in doing so find a grown-up knowledge of a promise-keeping God. Students have had to understand how God’s promises “fit” with pain, and in knowing God’s word better, they know Him better.
  2. By bringing unity. Apparently, there had already been talk of bringing ministries together – but what ears had heard, eyes have now seen. It’s clear simply from the inter-linking among ministry web pages concerning the Ravi Z. visit that God has unified ministries there. But it was that way throughout the forum – from organization to presentation to ministry afterwards, including the final event of Ravi’s forum, the Blacksburg Ministry Leader Breakfast on Thursday morning.
  3. By changing lives. It probably goes without saying, but God has worked to bring healing, help, and some answers. Attendance by non-Christians at Bible studies has increased, for instance. Obviously, the work continues in things like the Ravi forum, too. I remember it being said during the Bonfire tragedy that the “Aggie spirit” (which certainly is a powerful force) could still only be the Nurse in painful times. It is the Holy Spirit who is the Doctor, they told us. The Hokie Nation’s spirit is a great Nurse, too, but the Holy Spirit has been powerfully doctoring in these days. As I saw at A&M and we all saw following 9/11, there will come days when all seems “normal” again – but there will be many individual lives changed forever in this period.
  4. By bringing ministry. Students have “stepped up” in their attention to God’s work around them – including taking many opportunities already to let the comfort they have received overflow to others. This ministry and memory often came creatively, such as BCMers wearing Detroit Tigers caps on campus because it was Brian’s favorite team. Other Christians, during that time and since, have been drawn to Blacksburg from the outside, unto fruitful ministry there. (Although this can be a tricky thing, as I’ll discuss in the next post.) Finally, Darrell mentioned an interesting point – Va. Tech is probably still the most prayed-for college campus in America. What might God do in response to the prayers of so many of His people? Ravi mentioned Virginia Tech being known someday for God’s work there – coming out of this tragedy – and not simply for this tragedy. Oh, that it might be so.

Soon enough, I’ll post some (hopefully) helpful notes about dealing with campus tragedy (on our campus or somebody else’s), that I gained from those at Va. Tech. This will include some thoughts from Hokies about how to prepare practically for this present possibility.

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