BLACKSBURG, Va. (BP)–As the Virginia Tech community marked the third anniversary of the shootings that left 32 students and faculty dead April 16, the director of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry on campus recounted ways he has seen God at work.
“This was an especially significant anniversary because this year’s seniors were freshmen when the tragedy occurred,” Darrell Cook told Baptist Press. “They’ve been through a lot together across the course of four years.”
This year BCM students marked the anniversary by participating in campus-wide events such as the 3.2-mile Run for Remembrance on Friday morning and a candlelight service that evening.
“They also took the initiative to plan some things on their own,” Cook said. “A few of our students put together a big cookout Friday at one of the largest apartment complexes. The event was part outreach, part to pull folks together in community. Many of these students understand community in the body of Christ better that any other students I’ve ever had the chance to work with.”
Cook just started his 13th year of ministry at Virginia Tech, and he said he has seen God do a lot in the lives of the students since the shooting. One passage of Scripture that the BCM students held onto in the days and months after the massacre was 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, which says God comforts people so that they can comfort others.
“We have watched those verses be lived out time and time again as students have allowed the comfort of God to overflow into the lives of others,” Cook said. “One of our 2009 graduates, Samm Schulz, is doing an internship at the University of Kentucky’s BCM. Last year their ministry walked through some dark days as two of their students were killed in a car accident. I can’t help but think that God has Samm there for a reason in His economy of overflowing comfort.”
Classes were cancelled Friday to mark the anniversary, and events throughout the day highlighted the achievements of the victims and honored their memory. At the state capitol in Richmond, the governor read a proclamation honoring those who were lost the day a gunman opened fire, and he said the state would observe Virginia Tech Remembrance Day each April 16 during his term.
“The grieving process has felt different each anniversary, but one constant has been the assurance that Southern Baptists are praying for us,” Cook said.
At Ekklesia Blacksburg, a church plant of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, pastor Doug Short led the congregation in prayer for Virginia Tech students during the morning worship service on Sunday.
Short, who was moving to town to start the church on the same day the shootings occurred, noticed a Washington Post article about Molly Pearl, who was a freshman that year and was supposed to be in a class where a professor and 11 students were killed. Instead, Pearl overslept that morning after a weekend of partying in South Carolina.
“People in my class tried to jump out of windows,” Pearl, 21, told The Post. “What would I have done? I would have stood there, frozen. If I had gone to class I would have been shot. I probably would have been killed.”
Now Pearl is haunted by nightmares and an unshakable survivor’s guilt. She has spent hours talking to therapists, The Post said, but she spends many of her days in bed, the only place she feels safe.
In church April 18, Short led the congregation in praying for Pearl and other students who survived and may have similar feelings. The pastor is leading the church through the Book of Psalms, and the psalm for that day happened to be the 13th chapter.
King David laments that God seems to be hiding His face, and he wrestles with thoughts and has sorrow in his heart. But in the end, David proclaims trust in God’s unfailing love and rejoices in His salvation. “I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me,” David writes.
“This is the struggle [Molly] goes through, and we prayed that God would use the situation to turn her eyes toward Him, that she might in the end rejoice in His salvation,” Short told BP.
“We prayed that her suffering would go from being feelings of guilt that she survived to being a song of rejoicing, that there would be a switch and her life would end up being lived out as a praise to God.”
When Short moved to town three years ago, he prayed that the Virginia Tech tragedy would not be in vain, and he has seen that God is accomplishing much through it.
“I certainly see a communal spirit among the local ministries here. We’re united in our desire to see God magnified in this town,” he said. “When the anniversary comes around, we are all of like concern of heart for the people. That’s been a really beautiful thing to see.”
And though Ekklesia is still a small church plant and the students who attend now were not on campus when the shootings happened, Short can see that the event had an impact.
“I think there perhaps is a bit more urgency in the hearts of the students who say, ‘We need to be on mission because life is short. We need to be a witness to our fellow students, but we also need to be a witness to the community and to the far reaches of the world,'” he said.
“That’s where our congregation is right now. The students in my church very much have had a renewed passion for missions and reaching the ends of the world for Christ because we don’t know what tomorrow may bring.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.