youth worker response to virginia tech murders

in case you missed this, our good friends jim hancock and rich van pelt (authors of “a youth workers guide to helping teenagers in crisis“) wrote a fantastic letter to youth workers (posted on the ys site the other day) about how to respond to teenagers in light of the virginia tech murders. i found it so helpful.

It’s not supposed to be like this. Just so we’re crystal clear about that.
No one is supposed to walk into a dormitory and classroom building and kill 32 daughters and sons. No one has that right.
Someone has to say this clearly and compellingly to the children of God we have agreed to nurture toward wholeness.
This week, long before we know why those students and faculty were stolen from us—if indeed we ever come to know that—you will be face to face with kids who, having witnessed this calmly efficient evil, question God.

Tell them it’s not supposed to be like this.
Tell them the God who spoke through the prophets at many times and in various ways—and in these last days has spoken to us by his Son—tell them this God takes no pleasure in the suffering and death of his creatures.
Tell them it’s not supposed to be like this, and someday it won’t be.
Tell them the hope of the gospel includes a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness—we haven’t seen it, but in faith we see it coming.

In the meantime, tell them, life is grace and bad things happen; people are capable of breathtaking displays of love and staggering acts of oppression; the sun rises and the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Tell them about the mercy of Jesus who promises the good news will one day prove every bit as good as the bad news so obviously is bad in these days. Tell them life is hard and God is good.

BUT FIRST listen to them. Listen to their denial and fear and anger and confusion. And don’t be afraid to admit your own.

As you listen, don’t be afraid of silence. Let paper and colored markers express what can’t be spoken—and know they will almost certainly require more blue and violet and black and gray than yellow and green.
Talk when you believe they are ready to hear. Don’t be glib. Don’t talk down. Don’t bluff.
Here’s a comprehensive list of things you can promise the students in your care:

1. I will do everything in my power to protect you each and every day.

2. …(THERE IS NO 2).

Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

That said, don’t believe for a moment that being unqualified means you are not up to the task. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?” the writer Annie Dillard asks,”or shall stand in his holy place?”

There is no one but us. There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead—as if innocence had ever been—and our children busy and troubled, and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, failed, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved. But there is no one but us. There never has been. There have been generations which remembered, and generations which forgot; there has never been a generation of whole men and women
who lived well for even one day.
— Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm, Harper and Row, 1977 p 56-57

This is the spirit in which each generation of God’s people ushers the next to the table God prepares before us in the presence of our enemies. None of us comes to this table because we are worthy. We come because we are hungry.

Be present. Open your ears and eyes and heart. Remember. Tell the truth as well as you can. Trust God to make that enough.

Thanks for what you do for kids every day.

Deep peace,

Jim Hancock and Rich Van Pelt


ys has published a list of helpful resources for youth workers trying to figure out how to process this tragedy with their students, here.

3 thoughts on “youth worker response to virginia tech murders”

  1. Last night, I had a leagthy discussion with my junior men. We talked about the VaTech crisis. And one of them made the “Hey, God is moving” moment for me.

    He said, “I have heard people say that this is a part of God’s plan. But that does not make since. God’s plan cannot include violence, hatred, and murder. My God is a God of grace, love, and life.”

    Twenty minutes later. He was screaming at the top of his lungs that the leather sofa he had just shifted in quickly was, in fact, a friction problem not gas.

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