Students share faith in hard times at VT

BLACKSBURG, Va. (BP)--One of the ways students from the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Virginia Tech have shared their faith since the shootings is by wearing Detroit Tigers baseball hats to represent the favorite team of Brian Bluhm, one of their own who was killed in a classroom.

"We had someone donate a lot of Detroit Tigers hats, and our students have been wearing those around on campus as a statement of their loss and also to tell about Brian's life and how he loved the Tigers and loved God, and to say, 'It's our faith in God that's getting us through things right now,'" Darrell Cook, the BCM director, told Baptist Press.

Cook said they've been overwhelmed by the much-needed support and encouragement from churches across the nation.

"So many offers to help and so many people praying for us have definitely strengthened us through some of the worst days that a lot of our students have ever had to walk through," he said April 26. "The darkness of what happened last Monday is still hitting a lot of people very hard right now, obviously, but we're seeing our student leaders at BCM doing a tremendous job of ministering to one another.

"They are helping each other ... where they hurt. They're helping people outside our ministry deal with the pain and hurt," Cook said. "They are finding ways to share their faith in the midst of some really dark times."

More than 60 BCM students loaded up in church vans and traveled to Winchester, Va., where a funeral for Bluhm was held Tuesday night, April 24, at Fellowship Baptist Church. Another 70 stayed at the BCM building to pray for Bluhm's family and worship, Cook said.

"We had a lot of our alumni that met us up there. The family knew that one of Brian's least favorite things was to dress up, so they wanted everything to be very casual," Cook recounted. "They said, 'We want Hokie gear and Detroit Tigers hats.'"

And there were Tigers hats all over the place at the funeral, Cook said. Bluhm's family, in their own grief, ministered to their son's friends that night.

"They just poured love and appreciation out on students," Cook said. "The family also insisted that when it was time for them to come in and be seated, they wanted all those students to sit with them because they said, 'These students were the family of God to Brian at Virginia Tech.'

"They understood and were encouraged by the role that these Baptist Collegiate Ministry students had in walking with him and growing with him in Christ."

During the service, the family provided a time for people to tell about what Bluhm's life meant to them.

"Students just kept coming one after the other, sharing things of the authentic and kind person that he was -- one of the best listeners and someone that when he was asking somebody, 'How are you?' he was a guy that really meant it and really cared about the answer you gave," Cook said. "So the way Christ came out through Brian's life was a pretty clear part of the service."

Friends also remembered Bluhm as someone who put God first, family and friends second, and his love for the Hokies and Tigers third. They mentioned the pinch he was in last year when the Hokies played an important football game at the same time the Tigers played in the World Series.

"Under normal circumstances he was a quiet guy, but when it comes to sports, he'll yell and jump and cheer with the rest of us," Matt Conner, a friend of Bluhm's from Virginia Tech, was quoted as saying in The Roanoke Times.

As for those left to deal with Bluhm's death and others, Cook said the BCM is looking ahead.

"A lot of students have already started to leave the campus because the university has given the students a lot of leeway and a lot of options about how to finish their semester," he said. "If they're pleased with their grades right now, they can just end their semester. So we're saying goodbye to a lot of students right now.

"In the midst of all of that, I think our students are wisely asking questions about what it will be like in the fall and what the climate will be like to minister to one another and to reach out to new students in the fall," Cook told BP. "There's a lot more grief to walk through and a lot more healing for God to bring, but already we're seeing students stand strong in their faith and find chances to encourage and share the goodness of God in the midst of tough times."

Family and friends remembered another Southern Baptist and victim of the shootings, Nicole White, at her home church in Suffolk, Va., April 25. Her younger brother, Evan, told about 1,000 people at Nansemond River Baptist Church how much he treasured his sister.

"Nicole Regina White is my beautiful sister," he said, according to WTKR-TV in Hampton, Va. "I say is, not was, because she is right here with us. Nicole, you are my best friend and always will be."

The funeral included a montage of photos of White growing up as well as pictures of the Virginia Tech campus as students made memorials to those they lost April 16.

"I loved her so much. I can't believe she's gone," Kristi Talbert, a friend since middle school, said. "We had so many fun times."

Friends remembered White as a "spunky redhead" and a caring and strong person with an "endless smile" and an "infectious personality," the Daily Press newspaper reported.

In the classroom where she died, White was found clutching another student's identification card, the Daily Press said. She had learned from her days as an EMT with a local rescue squad to find personal information about someone she was helping, friends said.

Cook, the BCM director, urged Southern Baptists to keep praying for the students and their families as they continue to recover from the shock and the losses caused by the nation's deadliest mass shooting.

"We appreciate the prayers of people from all over because those have been needed and felt in tremendous ways and will be needed in the fall when everybody comes back and starts to walk through things that people would hope would be something close to normal days again," Cook said. "It will be a time when folks will need those prayers and will need to lean on God's grace because this will be a long-term process."


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