BLACKSBURG, Va. (BP)–Three days after the shootings at Virginia Tech, a leader at the Baptist Collegiate Ministry on campus issued a call for continued prayer for those affected by the tragedy.
“The mood is very solemn on campus. It’s quieter,” Mark Appleton, associate BCM director at Virginia Tech and a Mission Service Corps missionary with the North American Mission Board, told Baptist Press April 19. “So many people have left just to get away from here, so it’s just a quieter atmosphere besides all the media folks.”
Appleton asked that Southern Baptists across the country keep up their prayer efforts even as the intense concern for the victims starts to subside.
“People hear that all the time in a situation like this, but it’s a real and absolute need,” he said. “This is going to be a long-term thing. People are getting over the initial shock, but there’s some stuff that’s going to be dealt with for a long time here.
“Students are going to have to start going back to class, and that’s going to feel a lot different,” Appleton added. “The whole atmosphere in this town feels different. That’s hard to describe to people. That’s going to take some healing, and the opportunity for ministry is going to be great.”
While hundreds of people want to help the campus community in a tangible way, Appleton advised Christians to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to know the appropriate response to such a sensitive situation.
“For people who want to help, the best way to help is to come with an attitude of servanthood to discern needs and meet needs in the love of Christ and not to come thinking that people know what people here need,” Appleton said. “There are a lot of people offering help, and some of it is great and some of it is not so great.”
Following a joint prayer service with Campus Crusade for Christ and InterVarsity on the night of the shootings, the BCM carried on with its planned functions Tuesday and Wednesday night, Appleton said.
“On Tuesday, people started heading home quite a bit. We had our worship gathering Tuesday night with maybe 60 or 80 students,” he told BP. “Last night we had our weekly small groups. We didn’t think we’d have many people at all for that because even more people had left, but we ended up with 40 or 50 last night.
“That was a neat time because they are groups that have been together all year long,” Appleton said. “Those who were still in town came together and talked some Scripture but then started processing things together again. Then they started to laugh a little bit and tried to be normal, which is a good thing.”
Appleton said he has observed a change in students’ demeanor over a couple of days. At first a lot of them weren’t able to discuss what happened April 16 without breaking down emotionally.
“Now they’re more able to talk about it in a conversation and then move on and laugh,” he said. “So I think things are healthfully progressing, but it’s going to be a long recovery.”
Brian Bluhm, a graduate student in civil engineering, was the only active BCM member killed in the shootings.
“Aside from him, many of our students knew some of the other victims even though they weren’t a part of our ministry,” Appleton said.
During the days, Appleton and other BCM staff members are making themselves available for students who stop by looking for help.
“Most of our programs have been in the evenings, but we have students come through periodically — not a large volume but occasionally,” he said. “We pray with them and stop and meet any needs. Some of them came by yesterday just to be here and talk, and we walked around the campus with them.”
Jim Burton, senior director of the partnership mobilization division at the North American Mission Board, told Baptist Press April 19 he had no updates on disaster relief activity from the two Virginia state conventions. Things are mostly slowing down, he said.
Brandon Pickett, media missionary for the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, reported that four of the state convention’s pastors and one church planter in the Blacksburg area have offered to counsel anyone who needs to talk about the shootings.
“The YMCA has donated some rooms to us for the next couple of months for counseling and Bible studies and things like that,” Pickett said. “This is a real neat thing where pastors in the area are getting together and saying, ‘Hey, you know, sometimes people come in for a short time to help, but we’re here to stay to minister.'”