BLACKSBURG, Va. (BP)–When students returned to the campus of Virginia Tech four months after the worst school shooting in history, Southern Baptists were there to help them move into dorms and to let them know people care.
About 60 volunteers from the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia state convention and Main Street Baptist Church in Christiansburg provided 93 two-wheeled dollies for students to use in moving their belongings into the dorms at the start of the fall semester.
“The way the dorms are at Virginia Tech, parents have to unload their cars within minutes and move on,” Jack Noble, a church enrichment missionary with the SBCV, told Baptist Press. “And so you have refrigerators and blankets and clothes and microwaves all sitting out on the curb because you don’t have time to take it inside the dorm before you have to pull off.”
A total of 973 students borrowed the hand trucks during the Aug. 15-18 move-in, Noble said.
“That was just an opportunity to gain students’ names and e-mail addresses so we could follow up with them in a few days and say, ‘Thanks for borrowing our hand truck. Is there anything we can do for you? Here’s a church service you might like to attend,'” Noble said. “We’re going to follow up with them one time so we’re not hassling them, but we want to continue that open relationship.”
Last year, as a hands-on mission project, the state convention collected college care kits and distributed them to six different campuses throughout the state. But this year when tragedy struck at Virginia Tech in the spring, convention leaders decided to give out all 1,169 care kits at the Blacksburg campus.
“As students returned the hand trucks, we gave them some water and some fruit and then we gave them a college care kit,” Noble recounted. “Within the care kit was lots of things to help set up a dorm room, from laundry detergent to softener to pencils and pens and a New Testament to popcorn, cookies and some other snacks. The value was somewhere between $30 and $40, and it was all within a laundry bag so they had something to keep their laundry in.”
Also in the bags were cards to let students know the gifts were from Southern Baptists in Virginia, Noble said, as well as contact information for nearby Main Street Baptist Church and a new church plant in Blacksburg called Ekklesia.
“Everybody worked two-hour shifts, and we went from 8 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon,” Noble said of the volunteers. “The side that surprised us is I thought personally this was going to be a very low-threat ministry, that it was sort of like we’re going to get an opportunity to be in front of folks.
“But what happened was that the ministry unwrapped people,” he said. “What I mean is a number of people — over 20 different sets of parents — they’re at a crossroads in their life. They’re dropping their child off at a university and weren’t really properly prepared. They didn’t know that they even needed a hand truck.”
Several parents who came by to get a hand truck for their students were moved to tears because they were amazed that someone actually thought of them and the needs they would have on a hectic, hot day, Noble said.
“One of the things we’ve done this summer is we’ve intentionally prayerwalked the Virginia Tech campus and the Blacksburg community. When we told the parents we had prayerwalked and sat outside dorms and prayed window by window by window for the people that would be there in the fall, the parents were like, ‘You prayed for my student already?'” he said.
“And again, it would just unwrap them, and it was incredible for them to see we’ve really been intentional about this. And then the college care kits were just an icing on top of it. Each time it communicated to the parent that there are people in this community that care about their child.”
Noble told BP about a church of mostly senior adults in Mechanicsville, on the other side of Richmond from Blacksburg, where the members told their interim pastor not to expect them to do any kind of ministry because they were old and were just interested in hearing some preaching.
Right before classes started at Virginia Tech, the interim pastor decided to go against the members’ preferences and take the senior adults on a road trip to the campus to prayerwalk.
“They ended up prayersitting,” Noble joked. “But this group of 75-year-old people ran across one of the moms of a student that was killed on April 16. What that did for the 75-year-olds is it told them, ‘We can do more than come and hear preaching. God can use us to pray and to minister to other people.’ The mother of that student was very gracious to them, and it was sort of like ’75-year-old people can be used by the Lord.'”
Regarding the church plant in Blacksburg, Noble said the pastor, Doug Short, was moving to town the day of the shooting. He had planted two other churches in Delaware, and it happened by God’s providence that he was starting one in Blacksburg in a season that would become the community’s greatest time of need.
Though the church doesn’t specifically target Virginia Tech students for ministry, Short and some SBCV volunteers had a block party in his neighborhood around the time students were returning to campus.
“If I had to make a guess, it’d be about 75 to 80 people that had responded to the block party,” Noble said, adding that Short, a bivocational pastor who works at Starbucks during the day, leads a Sunday evening Bible study in his home that averages about 15 to 20 people from the community.
With the church plant and other ministries progressing in Blacksburg, Noble said the students of Virginia Tech are “ready to move on.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.