By Steve Wilkin
The Virginia Tech community just observed “A Day of Remembrance” on the one-year anniversary of the tragic shootings that shook the campus and the nation April 16, 2007. Classes were canceled all day so people could attend the University Commemoration, candlelight vigil, and numerous smaller gatherings planned by various groups to help us grieve our loss in healthy ways.
News coverage of this landmark anniversary has prompted many across the nation to reflect on the events of that blustery, terrible day last spring. How could such an event happen?”
As much as I loathe it, still I believe that each encounter with suffering is an invitation to grow in spiritual maturity. Everyone is different. To oversimplify the environment here at the university would be unwise, but we can share some significant observations based on our experiences this past year.
A Wake Up Call for Nominal Believers
We rejoice that many students who were only nominal believers and who were dabbling in the “pleasures of this world” have been sobered (in more ways than one) by this tragedy. With the help of their fellow student believers in the campus ministries, many of these students are now experiencing a vibrant relationship with God.
I wish I could say this is happening on a massive scale and revival is breaking out like wildfire. That’s just not the case. Some people have been drawn closer to Christ through this adversity, and others have not.
Some of the students in our campus ministry (Christ’s Church at Virginia Tech) say their non-Christian friends are now much more likely to spend time thinking about and discussing life after death. There is a newfound openness and honesty about such things. Some of these spiritual discussions proceed long into night. Again, I wish I could say students’ hearts are so softened that these conversations usually lead students to accept Christ as their Savior and be baptized that very night. Sadly, that’s not the case either.
However, these conversations are planting seeds in the hearts of seekers. We’re praying that the unusual number of seeds will yield an unusually bountiful harvest in the coming years.
No Hostility Toward Christians
While we are not witnessing a massive revival on campus, it is encouraging to see the opposite has not occurred either. Some may have feared a vast backlash against Christians and Christianity. They may have anticipated nonbelievers would feel as if they now had proof that God could not exist or be good if he allowed such a terrible thing to happen. There may have been concern they would use this as ammunition to take out some of their frustrations and attack those who were still believers.
I cannot speak for all 25,000 students at Virginia Tech or for all 40,000 residents of Blacksburg, but in none of my conversations since the shootings can I recall ever hearing of even one case of anyone blaming God for what happened.
Healing for Some
Obviously, among those hurt most deeply were the friends and family of the 33 who died and the 23 who were wounded. Healing, for them, may take a lifetime.
One of our students who lost a friend in the shooting still has nightmares. She sees reports of tragic violence on the nightly news and is reminded of her loss. In contrast, another one of our students who did not know anyone who was shot confessed to me that he had not even thought about the tragedy for several weeks.
No matter where students are in their healing process, our campus ministry and other campus ministries at Virginia Tech help students take the next step toward healing and a stronger faith that has been tempered by adversity. We have answers to the most important questions, and we have love and support to help heal the wounds that reason cannot address.
From the urgent phone calls that finally confirmed everyone in our group was OK, to the hectic days that soon followed, our campus ministry has been there. We have coordinated with relief workers, served with university leaders, and facilitated community efforts that have helped bring healing and encouragement.
Campuswide events featuring gifted speakers such as Ravi Zacharias have opened new doors of opportunity. And throughout the year individualized attention for students has helped them find comfort, consolation, and courage to carry on.
Our campus ministries knew the university and the students. With our finger on the pulse of the campus, we were available to be used by the Lord in extraordinary ways. We’re thankful to be his messengers of hope in a hurting world.
Steve Wilkin is campus minister at Christ’s Church at Virginia Tech campus ministry (www.CHRISTatVT.org).