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Praying for Blacksburg

Like you, I was horrified to hear of yesterday’s violence at Virginia Tech. And like you, I had immediate flashbacks to the Columbine shootings which, though they happened eight years ago, seem fresh in my mind. It was awful to see the pictures of bleeding students being carried from the campus and to see the death count rising and rising. It was awful to hear of people jumping from windows or cowering for hours in darkened classrooms, wondering if they would ever make it out. What apparently began as an act of violence against a girlfriend soon escalated into an outright massacre. My heart went out to the people of Blacksburg as they begin their attempts to come to terms with this horrific event.

Last week I traveled to Jackson, Mississippi to take in the Twin Lakes Fellowship. At the airport I linked up with some other men who were heading to the conference and we boarded the church bus together to drive to the camp. Two of the four other men on that bus were Chris Hutchinson and Kyle Kockler who pastor Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Blacksburg, Virginia. Through the week we were privileged to hear updates from their work at the Virginia Tech campus and in their local community. Grace Church is also home to J.R. Foster who heads up Reformed University Fellowship at the Virginia Tech campus (link). Foster was on the campus yesterday morning according to this article in WORLD. Because of their proximity to the campus and because students from the campus attend their church, these men have suddenly been thrust into this situation. I am grateful that gospel-loving, Bible-believing Christians are there, on the ground, ready and able to be used however they are needed.

I sent an email to Chris Hutchinson and, though I’m sure he is exceedingly busy helping his congregation deal with this situation, he was kind enough to reply to me. This is what he wrote in response to my request for how we can pray for those who have been most affected by this tragedy:

We are still waiting on a full list of the names of the dead and wounded, and so right now, we do not know if any those who worship at our church or who go to RUF are included.

As for prayer, it is for what you would expect: for the victims’ families, for the injured, for the administration, for all those traumatized, and for the murderer’s family. Pray also for the Gospel-loving churches and ministers of Blacksburg, that God would show us how to minister beyond our own congregations to a hurting and stunned community.

We had a prayer service at our church last night which had participation from several area churches, and the Lord was good and blessed us with His presence. Pray that we would know the goodness of the Gospel ourselves in such a way that those who are now truly looking for answers will find them through us.

I hope you will join me in praying as Chris has directed. Let’s pray for the victims and their families, but also pray that God will prepare, equip and sustain the few who are in the unique position of ministering to the many who are hurting, confused and hopeless.

I had a strange night last night. I woke up at 5 o’clock and initially felt wide awake. But I soon drifted off to sleep again and spent the next hour dreaming about the gospel. It was an odd but delightful dream in which I sat with a young man and young woman and just shared the gospel with them. For a whole hour I spoke of the gospel in all its glory. I awoke exactly an hour later (to the minute!) with a heart inflamed with a love for the gospel and the knowledge that this is the only thing that can bring peace and hope to those who are suffering. I went downstairs and tried to read and study James, the book I’ve been studying for some time now. But I was distracted and eventually just prayed, asking that God would raise up men, women, churches and whole communities who can take this gospel message to the lost and hurting. It soon occurred to me that there will soon be at least thirty three funerals because of this tragedy and each one of them can be used in one of two says: they can ignore the gospel and be used to bring false hope or they can be based on the gospel and bring joy and true, lasting peace. I prayed that God would allow these funerals and memorials to bring peace and to be used to glorify His name. I pray that the true Christians on and around the campus will bring the gospel to the campus and that God would be pleased to use this great evil to bring much good. I pray that His presence will be obvious in the Word and in His people. May He bring comfort to the hurting.

Here are some good articles from elsewhere in the blogosphere:

  • Carolyn McCulley shares applicable passages of Scripture
  • Jollyblogger offers a simple prayer.
  • Josh Harris suggests that each picture we see can be a reminder for us to intercede in prayer.
  • Reformed Virginian asks that we pray specifically for Chris, Kyle and J.R..
  • John Piper offers 21 ways to love and comfort the hurting (first published after Columbine and revised after 9/11).

I may update this post as the day goes on.

Update:

Kyle Kockler sent me an email with the following information and some more detailed prayer requests:

  1. Pray that God would be glorified through this tragedy. He is good and we trust that there is purpose in this.
  2. Pray that He would use this to bring many to Christ.
  3. Pray for the friends and families of those lost in this tragedy.
  4. Pray for those who are recovering from injuries.
  5. Pray for us and other churches as we seek to minister to our students, people, and community through this. Pray that God would grant all of us wisdom, compassion, and energy.
  6. Pray for the family of the shooter.
There is so much information that has yet to be released. As we find out more about names and other things, I will be able to provide more specific information. As of right now, we don’t have any members or students from our church or RUF that were killed or injured. There was one teacher in our congregation that was in a room in Norris that blocked the shooter from being able to get in and thankfully the shots her fired into that room didn’t hit anyone. Please pray for her as she is dealing with all of this.

Update #2

Here is a common statement from Chris that can be freely distributed:

Statement from Pastor Chris Hutchinson, pastor of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Blacksburg, VA, Tuesday, April 17th, 2007, 10:00 AM: 1) Our first priority is to try to find out whether any of the dead or wounded attended GCPC or our campus ministry, RUF, so that we may minister to them or their families. All media requests take a secondary place to that task. As of Tuesday morning, we do not know of anyone who attended GCPC who was killed or wounded. However, several worked in Norris Hall, and need prayer for the trauma they have undergone. Here is a story from WORLD magazine which includes information about what one of our members, Haiyan Cheng, went through. We baptized Haiyan and her family just last year. We praise God that He protected Haiyan and her students from the gunman, but mourn that he apparently continued his killing elsewhere. We give even more praise to God that had any of the bullets fired through the door hit Haiyan and taken her life, that even though she died, she yet would have lived, for Haiyan’s faith is in Jesus Christ, Who died in her place for the forgiveness of sins (John 11:25-26). 2) If none of our own people were harmed, we are praying for ways that we can be a blessing to the larger community and bring the Gospel to hurting people. Please pray for us, and our whole church in that regard, that God would give us guidance, strength, compassion and wisdom. 3) We would be privileged to offer counsel and prayer to anyone at Virginia Tech who is need, regardless of their religious background, and will try to minister the Gospel to them in this. Vic Wolf, a minister and counselor in our congregation, is also making his services available to Tech students in need.

4) As of this point, I do not think we need other ministers to come to Blacksburg to help counsel. If that changes, we will notify those who have kindly volunteered.

5) The Lord blessed the prayer meeting last night with His presence and ministered to us through His word and prayer. There are several AP and Roanoke Times photos of the prayer meeting on the web [Tim here. Here are a few links I’ve found using Google’s news service: link | link | link | link | link]. One of the photographers told me how powerful the service was. It ended on a powerful note when the Rev. Keith Allen, of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Blacksburg told us of his email from his archbishop, Emmanuel Koliny of Rwanda, who reminded him of the large-scale massacres in his own country a decade ago, and told us he was praying for Blacksburg. He then reminded Keith of the African Benediction, which Keith then paraphrased and blessed us with:

Minister: All our problems …
People: We send them to the cross of Christ!
Minister: All our difficulties …
People: We send them to the cross of Christ!
Minister: All the devil’s work …
People: We send them to the cross of Christ!
Minister: All our hopes …
People: We set on the risen Christ!
Minister: Christ, the Son of Righteousness, shine upon you and scatter the darkness from before your path: and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you, forever and ever. Amen.

Update #3

Here is another update:

1) We continue to receive emails and phone calls from all over the country of people expressing their support in prayer, and asking how they may help. We are grateful for all of this love shown to us in this hour, and trust that God will use their prayers to help us as a church reach out with the Gospel. We are posting these updates and prayer requests to our website, www.gracecovenantpca.org so that you can refer people there. If you know of a media request, do feel free to pass on the info to me or Kyle or JR; it’s just that we want to control which ones we respond to. Thank you.

2) You probably know by now that Virginia Tech has cancelled classes for the week. Pray for those students who are going home to be with family, or to attend funerals. Pray for those who stay, that we might minister to them while they are here. I do not know how many will be back with us by Sunday morning. Pray also for all of our members returning to work tomorrow at VT, that they would be able to communicate the love and truth of the Gospel to their co-workers.

3) So far, 22 names of the deceased have been published, and none of them were people known to have been attenders at Grace Covenant. Nor have I heard that any of the wounded are known to us. This frees us up to reach out into the wider community (see #6 below), so please pray for those efforts. Of course, continue to pray for the wounded and the families of the deceased.

4) If any of you have felt the need to talk and pray one on one about this tragedy but have held back to see if someone had a greater need, please contact us now, and one of the elders will be happy to meet with you.

5) RUF is being held tonight at 9 PM in War Memorial Chapel on campus. As far as I know, this may be the first group gathering of any kind held in the chapel since the murders. Kyle and I are going as well to show the students our love and support. Pray for the Lord to bless this time abundantly and especially to be with JR as he brings his students and their guests the Gospel.

6) I have heard from London that JR gave another clear testimony (he was on the radio yesterday along with Vic Wolf) of the God’s power and goodness on the BBC. I have not been able to locate it on the web, if it is there.

7) Pray for Brad Davidson who lost a professor and friend in Kevin Genata, who was an Engineering Science and Mechanics professor. Pray for Ryan Holloway and several other of our students who were friends with the RA who was killed in West Ambler Johnson, Ryan Clarke. Pray for Tom Gardner’s colleagues in the English Department who taught the murderer, Cho Seung Hui, in their classes, and that Tom could be a witness to them. If you know of others who are in need of specific prayers for mourning of close friends or colleagues, please let me know.

8) Pray also for the murderer’s family, living elsewhere in Virginia, and for the Korean community here in Blacksburg, which, due to their culture, feels a sense of collective shame. I have heard that many Korean Christians tried to reach Cho with the Gospel, but were rebuffed.

9) Please continue to pray for Faythe Rittenhouse, who works in Norris and for Haiyan Cheng, recovering the trauma of a close call. I am not certain, but it is possible that hers was the only classroom involved in which no one was killed or injured. We praise God for this mercy in the midst of such sorrow. Her account may be viewed here. And once again, we praise God all the more that no matter what happened, Haiyan’s soul was secure in Jesus’ hands.

9) I will now contact the VT administration and Campus ministries to let them know that our staff and Vic Wolf are available to help. I don’t know if they will take us up, but we will press until we find an opening somewhere, God willing. Pray for God to open doors for ministry and for us to be clear, as we should be (see Colossians 4:2-6. Read it right now and pray that for all of us!).

10) I encourage each of you to think hard about anyone you know who may not have any other Christian to talk to about this week’s events, and take some time to give them a call and see if they need to talk. People will be open to talking about things of eternal weight, and are not likely to learn of the grace of Jesus from the mainstreams of information and counseling being made available.

Let us each take a moment right now and ask the Lord to use us as He will to bring the truth and love of Jesus Christ into specific people’s lives, so that from this tragedy of death, many might be given the gift of eternal life. May be it so, Lord Jesus, for you have said: The thief comes only to steal and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:10-11).

Further updates will be posted here.