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Va. Tech still healing 1 year after shooting tragedy

BLACKSBURG, Va. (BP)–The Virginia Tech community gathered for remembrance services on the first anniversary of the worst school shooting in U.S. history April 16, and campus ministers say they’ve noticed spiritual growth in some of the students affected by the tragedy.

“The most exciting thing we’re seeing now is a call to prayer,” Darrell Cook, director of the Baptist Collegiate Ministries at the Blacksburg campus, told Baptist Press. “We’ve had three different student leaders over the last few weeks come to us with burdens for different prayer ministries.”

Cook said those burdens stemmed in part from an anticipation of grief being stirred up again surrounding the one-year mark of a gunman killing 32 people on the college campus.

Mark Appleton, associate BCM director at Virginia Tech and a missionary with the North American Mission Board’s Mission Service Corps, also reported a renewed urgency for prayer along with a greater commitment among the BCM students to surrender their lives to Christ.

“I would say the attitude in our ministry is shifting to reflect an understanding of the brevity of life and to make the most of the opportunities,” Appleton told BP. “More and more people are surrendering to say, ‘God, use me. Don’t let me pass up opportunities because of fear, insecurities or whatever.’

“I believe the idea of surrender is growing in our organization, and a lot of it has to do with what we’ve walked through,” Appleton added.

Appleton said a core group of students gathered at the BCM at 8 a.m. April 16 to pray for an hour, asking God to use the day for His glory and to use them in people’s lives.

Cook noted that BCM students have seen how Jeremiah 29:11 has meaning beyond an earthly life. The verse was a favorite of Brian Bluhm, a graduate student who had been active in the BCM before he was killed in the shootings.

“Brian’s death has really helped a lot of our folks redefine what it means to have a hope and a future,” Cook said. “He is experiencing his hope and future in heaven with Christ right now, and that’s a new way of looking at it for a lot of folks. Some of us sometimes define a hope and a future as what makes us comfortable and happy, and Brian’s life has reminded us what a true hope and future in Christ is.”

Cook said some of the BCM students have stayed in touch with Bluhm’s family throughout the past year, and they’ve drawn inspiration from his life and the lives of others who died.

Virginia Tech sponsored a campus-wide memorial service at 10:30 Wednesday morning on the Drillfield. A permanent memorial with 32 stones representing each victim overlooks the field, about 100 yards from the Norris Hall classroom building where most of the students were killed. The building soon will house a newly established Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention.

“There are different activities throughout the day that are open to anybody to express their feelings and different things through dance and song and writing and open mics,” Appleton said.

At 8:15 p.m., students planned to gather for a campus-wide candlelight vigil to remember those they lost and grapple with the emotions they still feel. Appleton said BCM students would meet for their Bible study groups after the vigil like they normally do on Wednesday nights.

“The mood is very mixed,” Appleton said. “There are a lot of people that feel pretty good where they are — they’re obviously not happy about it, but they’ve gone through a lot of healing. And there are some people that are still really bothered by it. There have been a lot of tears this week again.

“I would say overall it’s positive, though, in the sense of people coming together to move on,” he added. “But there are people still at different points of the grieving process.”

Appleton said the tragedy has given him a new perspective on the centrality of the Gospel.

“I see a lot of people trying to heal through a lot of different ways. For a moment I get excited for them that they’re finding relief from their grief, but then it kind of weighs on me that there are temporary crutches and temporary healing that isn’t going to last,” Appleton said.

“That has been growing on me in the past month, that it’s really only through the grace that Christ offers to us that we’re ultimately healed, and everything else just doesn’t have any substance to it and isn’t going to last,” he said. “It’s almost more deceptive to people who feel like they’re being healed but ultimately they’re still in need. That truth has really rung loud to me lately.”

The truth that God is who He says He is also has stood out to Appleton during the past year, he said, as he has seen God working in students’ lives to bring good out of evil.

“Our ministry has become revitalized, even recently in the past weeks and months,” he said. “We’re being called to prayer and called to mobilize, to not live for ourselves and to live for the sake of the Gospel.”

Appleton requested that Southern Baptists pray that the name of Jesus would be proclaimed above all at Virginia Tech as believers try to set an example in the way they grieve and heal. He also asked for prayer that God would give him and others the words to speak when they otherwise wouldn’t know what to say.

“I really hope everything we do will speak to the truth of the Gospel and that people will see that,” Appleton said.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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