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Va. Tech to hear ‘Finding Answers….”

BLACKSBURG, Va. (BP)–The Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Virginia Tech is one of about 20 campus groups and local churches sponsoring a forum with Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias on “Finding Answers Amid Life’s Greatest Losses” Oct. 9-10.

“This is the largest collaborative effort of New River Valley churches and ministries in years,” event coordinator Danny White said. “The incredible local involvement expresses the human desire for answers about tragedies and the existence of evil.”

The idea for the forum came from a couple in one of the local churches as they prayed for Virginia Tech the day a gunman killed 32 people on campus in April.

“They both had this idea pop in their head that Ravi Zacharias could really speak to some of the questions people would have about something like this,” Mark Appleton, associate BCM director at Virginia Tech and a Mission Service Corps missionary with the North American Mission Board, told Baptist Press. “They e-mailed him that night, and by the next morning his wife had responded and said that they would come in the fall.”

Appleton said the local couple then shared their idea with campus ministry representatives, and leaders agreed the forum could be a helpful tool for continuing dialogue.

“The idea behind it was to be a collective Christian response to some of the big questions that people raise with tragedies like this,” Appleton said. “Ravi Zacharias isn’t the focus of the whole thing, but he is probably one of the best individuals there is to just directly answer people’s questions philosophically and spiritually as far as some of those big questions of how these evil things happen.”

Zacharias, a native of India, is an internationally known author and speaker on comparative religions, cults and philosophy and president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, headquartered in Atlanta.

His weekly radio program, “Let My People Think,” is heard on more than 1,500 stations nationwide, and his skills as a defender of the Christian faith have garnered invitations to speak at several Billy Graham events.

“Ravi doesn’t compromise as he speaks, but he’s very gracious in his tone and the way he presents it,” Appleton said. “That marks his ministry.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 9, the Zacharias forum will be for Virginia Tech students, faculty and staff, and the following night at 7:30, the public is invited to attend an open forum at the campus basketball facility, Cassell Coliseum.

Appleton said Zacharias will speak for about 45 minutes each night and then open up microphones for students and others to ask questions.

“Really the scope of it is evangelical in nature, to provide some answers that get people comfortable with thinking through the fact that there is a God in the midst of all this and He is the God of the Bible,” Appleton said. “We just really feel that this is going to open up a dialogue about that in a healthy manner.”

Appleton was quick to emphasize, though, that organizers are not expecting Zacharias to heal all hurts or answer all questions definitively.

“When I say the vision behind it was a collective Christian response, it is that, but nobody is looking at this as the answer as in, ‘We just do this and move on.’ The bigger thing is it gets more discussion going,” Appleton said.

At the Baptist Campus Ministry, some of the students weren’t familiar with Zacharias, but that is changing as the campus anticipates his visit. Appleton said a number of students have told him they’re inviting their classmates and broaching the subject with people on campus who aren’t involved in Christian groups.

“We’ve been talking about who he is with them, and they’ve gotten very excited about it,” Appleton said. “We have one student who lives in an honors dorm, and she lives down the hall from an agnostic that is not an apathetic agnostic but one who really thinks and reads things. He has read the Bible and likes to argue. He’s very anxious to go. She’s been telling him about it.”

While the Zacharias forum is the most intentional ministry focus this fall in response to the campus shootings, Appleton said the students seem to be recovering well as they participate in regular campus activities.

“April still comes up in conversations, as would be expected. Some students are still sorting through questions,” he said. “The feel on the campus is back to normal campus life as far as what the students do. They’re doing all the same stuff they used to do. There’s obviously this big event that most of them have in common that kind of hangs over.

“As far as specific things we’ve seen, in our Bible study groups we’ve had more non-Christians coming this semester than we’ve had the past few years,” Appleton added. “That’s mostly out of our own students connecting with friends on campus and in classes. Our students do that every year, and I couldn’t tell you if it’s related to April or not, but there have been more non-Christians who just come to check out Bible study.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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