InterVarsity’s Friday night fellowship at Virginia Tech is called 180. Staff member Wes Barts and his leadership team were concerned about setting the right tone for the new school year. It would be the first 180 of the new school year that followed the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
“We didn’t want to hide it,” he says. “We wanted to talk about the shooting in a way that shared the Gospel and shared hope.” A theology class that he took this summer gave Wes a clear vision of what he needed to say. “I used a lot of what I learned in my talk.”
“I spoke about how we really don’t need an explanation for this tragedy or why it happened. But, what we want is our friends back. We want resurrection. That’s who Christ is and that’s what he’s done for us. He made a way to destroy and punish all the evil that was committed on that day, while making a way to save us. Our hope is in Christ, because he is the resurrection. That’s what we want, more than an explanation of why this happened.”
Not knowing an easy answer for the best way to relate to students about the tragedy—some are open to talking about it and some are not—Wes decided to focus on Jesus, “boldly and unashamedly.”
He used the same approach at New Student Outreach events during the first couple weeks of school, instead of just explaining about InterVarsity and its activities on campus. “We’re witnesses of Jesus Christ, and we’re not ashamed of that. I told students ‘We’re here to love the campus with the love that God has for us.’” The most common response, he says, was “Really, how do you do that?”
Talking about Jesus and emphasizing evangelism at the very beginning has gone over well. “I found that students really want to hear about who he is,” Wes says. He’s invited lots of students to do GIGs (Groups Investigating God, investigative Bible studies) and is excited to see a strong response. “I noticed that there are a lot of students who are looking for community and fellowship. They’re really asking for it and seeking it out.”
Most students at Virginia Tech yearn for a return to normalcy. Some students realized a sense of normalcy starting to return with the May wedding of Robert and Karen Howe, who are both involved in international student ministry at Virginia Tech. “That was a really encouraging event,” Robert says. “It represented bringing the community together and our commitment to the University. But what happened is going to impact us for a long time, and the way we see ourselves.”
Robert and Karen, and Wes and his fiancée Lindsey Jones, all took the same theology class together this past summer. The class provided a strong foundation for their return to ministry at Virginia Tech this fall. “The issues we were dealing with in the class had direct relevance to responding to tragedy, as well as understanding the character of God,” Robert says. “I feel like we’re better equipped to answer tough questions, to know how to respond out of God’s character and revelation. I think it was a high point for all of us.”
“One of the high points of my summer was the joy of learning more about who God is,” Wes agrees. Some returning students noticed a difference in his demeanor as classes started in August and asked him, “What happened to you?” He says spending time with God and learning more about God this past summer has made a big difference in his life and ministry. “I know who God is more confidently. And I know God is at work here.”
You can make a direct financial donation to support InterVarsity’s work at Virginia Tech by following this link.