Biblical counseling emerges at Virginia Tech


BLACKSBURG, Va. — As students, faculty and staff at Virginia Tech struggled with the tragic deaths of 33 of their own, a team of 14 members of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors joined the recovery process.

"Nouthetic counselors use the Bible to encourage and give hope to struggling people," said John Babler, associate professor of biblical counseling at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who had a leadership role in the group's week-long activities. "At Virginia Tech, a primary focus was providing answers from Scripture to the hard questions that arose from the tragedy."

On April 16 Korean student Seung-Hui Cho opened fire on the campus, killing 32 students and professors before ending his on life on a classroom floor.

Babler arrived at Virginia Tech on the Monday after the shootings. His experience as a volunteer fire department chaplain, social work coordinator and children's home program director were quickly put to work at the campus in Blacksburg.

Babler said he helped coordinate the counselors' contacts and interaction with students who were out and about around campus. Words of encouragement and gestures of grace were extended by the counselors to students who were gathering at impromptu memorial sites and information booths.

"The ministry I had there was training and equipping the counselors who were working there," Babler said. "I also had a lot of good contact with the fire chief, the fire department and the emergency medical services department who were all serving in a volunteer capacity."

A nearby church, Main Street Baptist in Christiansburg, and Campus Crusade for Christ invited the nouthetic counselors to help them hand out thousands of pieces of biblically based literature. Serving at a tented table sponsored by the church, Babler and his team shared with hundreds of students the love of Christ and the hope found in Him. Babler said he personally had about 30 spiritually meaningful discussions with students and staff at the university.

"This was a great example of how a local church that had cultivated relationships with campus ministry groups was able to step up in a time of crisis and be a presence for Jesus Christ," Babler said.


Probing discussion
The Christiansburg church also hosted a "Why Virginia Tech?" program for anyone to come and ask spiritually sensitive questions. Nearly half of those in attendance were VT students and campus ministry leaders from Korea. Babler was one of the panelists.

The discussion lasted just over an hour, but Babler and the other counselors stayed for an extra hour and a half to counsel with the Korean students. Babler's experience with Southwestern Seminary's large population of Korean students gave him some insight into their questions and concerns. The Korean students he spoke with were relieved that they had not experienced any race-based reactions after the shooting.

"There is a strong sense of community at Virginia Tech," Babler said. "One of the campus ministries had sent a series of e-mails to Cho (the shooter) the first year he was there, inviting him to come to some functions and services. That was contrary to what Cho Seung-Hui had claimed: that no one reached out to him there," Babler recounted. "The Korean ministry leaders who came to the panel discussion were especially interested to understand how they could minister to Cho's family."

Before returning to Southwestern's campus in Fort Worth, Texas, Babler conducted some training sessions for counselors and emergency responders in using passages of Scripture to meet needs. He has developed a training curriculum based on his experiences in crisis ministry after the 1999 Wedgwood Baptist Church shooting in Fort Worth, the Hurricane Katrina aftermath and conducting several firefighter funerals.

"This was training the counselors in the principles of biblical crisis ministry so they can minister in this way when they get back home," Babler said. "In our culture, we need to prepare churches to do crisis ministry.... We emphasized how counselors having a relationship with people they are helping is central. I helped them see how this relationship looks different in a crisis situation than it does in the in-office counseling sessions they are used to."

To learn more about a biblical crisis ministry, contact Babler by e-mail at jbabler@swbts.edu.