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Churches preparing for Virginia Tech students’ return

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (BP)–“College Care Kits” with pens, granola bars, laundry detergent and other items will be among the helps awaiting Virginia Tech students when they return for the fall semester.

The Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia state convention implemented the program last year and distributed care kits made by church members to students at colleges throughout the state. But this year they’re focusing their resources on the campus where 32 students and faculty were killed April 16.

Main Street Baptist Church in Christiansburg, Va., just 10 miles from the Blacksburg campus, is the collection site for the care kits. The church’s pastor, Timothy Hight, told Baptist Press that the community still is “in a state of shock and disbelief over what happened because everything kind of ended so abruptly.”

“They canceled classes for the rest of the term, and most of the kids left and went home,” Hight recounted. “So there wasn’t a lot of [in-depth counseling] to help them deal with the tragedy and how it impacts them and their friends. We’re anticipating that that’s going to be a great need when they come back.”

Hight said he and some other area pastors have met to begin discussing ways they might minister to students in August when they return from the summer break. So far their plans involve the care kit distribution and another ministry Main Street Baptist will organize, which is providing two-wheeled dollies to help students move into the dorms.

“We’ll be on campus when students are moving in,” Hight said. “One of the things that we do each year through our college ministry is called a hand truck ministry, where we go out on move-in days and provide hand trucks free for the students to borrow. We take about 80 hand trucks out there and we set up a booth with bottled water and snacks and loan them hand trucks that they can use to move their stuff in.”

Probably at the same time, Hight said, several local Baptist churches will be handing out the SBCV-sponsored care kits, with such items as pens and pencils, microwavable popcorn, granola bars, small containers of laundry detergent, stain remover wipes, bars of soap, stress balls, plastic water bottles -– and a modern translation of the Bible or New Testament along with an evangelistic tract — all packaged in a mesh laundry bag.

The care kits are to be shipped to Main Street Baptist no later than July 31. When the kits are distributed, the students will be asked to provide contact information so that area churches can reach them for follow-up and possibly connect them to a new church plant at Virginia Tech.

“It’s a great way we can say to the students that we still care and haven’t forgotten,” the SBCV website says. “… These students are the future church and will carry the light of the Good News into the next generation.”

Hight was pleased with the opportunities his church had to minister in the days immediately following the shootings. One of the ways Main Street Baptist had a presence on campus was through a faculty representative connected with the church’s Leadership Network for college students.

“It was our faculty representative that really got the ball rolling so we would be able to get permission to have the tent on the drill field,” Hight said. “Typically it requires seven days minimum, and I think we got it within a couple of days just because they knew what we wanted to do, I think, and were willing for us to do that.”

For four days in April, Main Street Baptist manned a hospitality tent on the drill field — one of the campus’ prime meeting locations — and gave away more than 8,000 bottles of water, hundreds of pounds of fruit, 1,500 copies of the “The Invitation” CD, 1,500 copies of a CD featuring interviews with author John MacArthur regarding tragedy, 3,000 copies of “Where Is God When Things Go Wrong?” by John Blanchard and several thousand tracts and other pieces of Christian literature.

As far as Hight knows, they were the only ministry granted permission to have such a presence on the drill field immediately following the shootings.

“We had a tract from the American Tract Society called ‘Massacre at Virginia Tech,’ and we gave away several thousand of those. They were printed within a couple of days of the tragedy,” Hight said. “It was a really neat piece of information that actually had a picture from one of the memorials. The students received those really well.

“Many of the students had a lot of questions and a lot of different emotions going through their minds and hearts in light of what happened. Having something to help them make sense of things — to really get a handle on where God is in all of this and how He’s at work and how He can work in their lives — they were very open to that,” Hight added.

Main Street Baptist, which typically has 45 to 60 Virginia Tech students involved in their church during the school year, also had some help in the tent from at least 10 counselors from The Master’s College in California.

“The group of counselors from The Master’s College had contacted some people in the area and said they wanted to come if there was an opportunity,” Hight said. “They didn’t have an established ministry to work through, apparently, and then a couple of things came through where they were able be at our tent and at one other place over by the dorms.”

Students within the church’s college ministry also rose up to take on leadership roles as they comforted their fellow students, Hight said.

“Our students took a number of opportunities to invite their friends to church. A number of our students were involved in the tent ministry those days. There were a lot of conversations that were very unique in light of all this, and I think many of them did make a concerted effort to point their friends — especially their non-Christian friends — to genuine biblical answers and biblical truths that God cares and God wants all men everywhere to repent,” the pastor said.

Most of the students have dispersed from campus during the summer, Hight said, so there’s not much opportunity for ministry until the fall. In the past, Main Street Baptist’s college ministry has organized a Sunday morning worship service on the drill field followed by a free catered meal for the students, and at other times they’ve partnered with on-campus ministries to conduct evangelistic surveys and hand out Christian literature.

They plan to continue those initiatives in the fall, but with an added emphasis on helping students with the questions they have related to the shootings, such as why the tragedy struck at their school, what could have been done to stop it, and whether God cares, Hight said.

“The big thing right now is to pray for the churches that are in this area and the ministries that are involved, that we will recognize the opportunities God gives us and that we will be able to minister the comfort and the peace and the hope that God gives to them when they come back in the fall,” Hight said.

“I’d also say to faithfully support the Cooperative Program because their Cooperative Program dollars are at work,” the pastor said, explaining, “The SBCV disaster relief provided all the water and the fruit, and there’s no way we could have done this without them. It was the water and the fruit that drew people into the tent for the other stuff, and ministering to that need that people had gave us the opportunity to meet some spiritual needs and sow some seeds. If it hadn’t been for the SBCV disaster relief people, we there’s no way we could have done what we did.”

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  • Erin Roach