in light of future campus hardships: some notes

We may not want to think about it, but we can take steps and think thoughts to prepare for possible calamities on our campuses.

In my time with ministers at Virginia Tech a few weeks ago, some clear strategies for dealing with campus-wide tragedies became apparent – not simply checklist items to pull out once problems arise, but even some things we can do now to prepare for a possible then. In recent years, there have been campuses affected by accidents, natural disasters, and man-made evil; even this week, 7 students from South Carolina and Clemson were tragically killed. It seems wise to be prepared for God to use us to the utmost in these worst of times.

I realize I know far less about this subject than many, but that’s a big part of why I’m on this trip. Hopefully I’m learnin’ some stuff that I can pass on – and that I can use in the future, too.

We can get to know the Experts now. Do you know who you would call if something tragic happened on your campus tonight? The foremost practical suggestion from those I talked to was to connect with disaster relief people now, within your denomination or among other local Christians. Why not get to know them, and get to know the procedures to follow in the event of a disaster affecting your campus?

Likewise, you’ll want to know locals who can counsel students, faculty, staff, and others in the midst of tragedy. Unless somebody on your staff has real training here – or you want to go back to school for a while – knowing experts in helping-through-counseling could make a big difference.

We should plan to look to Experts then. Besides disaster relief folks, other “experts” were suggested, as well. For one thing, it was wisely noted that college ministry-types preside over a lot of weddings… but we’re not real accustomed to doing funerals. So if the time comes to walk through grief with family or friends, it can help to turn for advice to those who do experience both ends of life’s spectrum – namely, pastors. These experts can give us tips on carrying out our own pastoral roles in the midst of pain.

Another “expert” worth connecting to will be someone who’s gone through tragedy before; this is one specific way that God’s past comfort is able to overflow to others. Darrell Cook, Director of the BCM at Va. Tech, found help from someone who had experienced the pain of Hurricane Katrina while ministering at Mississippi College, for instance. We’ll have specific questions in that time, and there are people who can give specific, seasoned answers.

Finally, employing students or other volunteers in a focused, “expert” capacity can be helpful in a crisis period. One example suggested to me was a “filterer” – someone ready and able to filter the many emails and calls that will come in during a well-publicized crisis. That way, you (as a ministry leader) can avoid good-but-not-best while still being attentive to contacts deemed most important. Delegating specialized roles can keep things running most efficiently at a time when wisdom and strategy are most important.

We should get to know the administration. If at all possible (and if you haven’t already), help the school’s administration know your ministry as helpful. In times of crisis, old lines and old walls can go out the window – but it will help if your ministry is already known and appreciated. Ultimately, it would be great if your ministry could be seen as a great “go-to” – even before it’s needed.

We’ve gotta be ready to “roll with it.” It seems to me there’s a lot of “going with the flow” that has to take place in tragic times, too. We don’t know who God will raise up as “point people” in moments like these, and we sure don’t know how His Spirit will lead or work or gather people together. But He will. Enabling students, ministries, etc., to respond to what God is doing – rather than trying to force our agenda – will be vital, even if it means canceling a Bible study, skipping a class, paying for a lunch, or missing some sleep.

But we’ll also need to lead. As I seek not to “overplan,” my personal overcorrection in this area would probably be to “let whatever happens, happen” too much. God has called us leaders “for such a time as [even] this,” and our campuses need us to lead in the Lord. Furthermore, there can be plenty of “un-wisdom” in the midst of suffering, as you learn from talking to those who have gone through these kinds of tragedies. So sometimes our leadership will step on toes – even on other Christians’ toes – as we tend to broken legs. (I’ll try to post soon about some of the “un-wisdom” that was visited upon Va. Tech during its tragedy.)

Most of the blogging this year won’t include “best practices” talk – simply because methods are generally better discerned at the end of research, not in the middle. But when a lesson comes up that could be applied right away, there’s no sense in sittin’ on it, right? So, like I wrote on recruitment methods at the beginning of the school year, I wanted to include these preparation strategies now.

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