BLACKSBURG, Va. (BP)–Amid a sea of orange and maroon, two freshmen friends sit together. Looking around, you’d think they were waiting for a sporting event to start, not a convocation service that will mourn 32 teachers and students shot to death just yesterday by a student gunman who committed suicide.
Austin Murray, from Richmond and Jerod Stepp from Abingdon met each other at Virginia Tech during their first year on campus. They are from two different churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia convention but now fellowship together on campus. Never did they think their freshmen year would end like this.
Austin lives in the dorm that was first attacked by the gunman. He praises the Lord that he was in the library at the time of the shooting, but he mourns for a friend who was shot and killed. Jerod lives in the dorm next to Austin and awoke to the sounds of sirens and swat team members pointing a gun in his window to tell him to stay put and stay out of sight. They both say none of it seems real, yet.
But today in this coliseum, reality is starting to sink in. As comforting words from the governor, president and other dignitaries flow, so do the tears. All around, students who had been extremely quiet through much of the hour-long convocation now are sobbing, hugging, praying. Jerod says he knows that through this tragedy God has a higher purpose and he wants to be part of it. “I think my role is to be a comforter. It’ll never be the same here, so many people are confused and feel lost. But I can talk to them during this time about God’s love.”
On Monday night, hundreds of students like Austin and Jerod joined together with the Baptist Campus Ministry and Campus Crusade for a prayer service. It started in praise and worship but quickly moved to prayer. Students began in prayer on their feet but ended on their knees, sobbing and crying out to God for healing and comfort. Prayer services like this are planned throughout the week at various Southern Baptist churches around the Roanoke, Va., area.
Both freshmen say that they’re still looking forward to their sophomore year, but for different reasons. Austin is going to be a resident assistant for a dorm floor and knows there will be plenty of opportunity for ministry. Jerod says he just wants God to use him however, wherever and whenever He wants to. “We’ve been praying for God to break the heart of this campus,” Jerod says. “I can see that God is doing something really big here on this campus, He’s still in control.”
Brandon Pickett is a media missionary with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia state convention.