When tragedy strikes, Alongside is a valuable tool.

after death of student, a college community comes alongside

The phone rang late on a weeknight, and I heard my son’s cracked voice on the other end of the line.  “Mom, a sophomore girl at school took her life tonight.”  The words just hung there as I tried to process this tragic news.  My thoughts immediately went to her parents—oh the sorrow!

My son didn’t know her well, but he was shaken by the circumstance and the loss.  And as part of Student Government, he immediately recognized the need for practically loving his fellow classmates through this intensely difficult time.  He was already on his way to gather blankets to bring back to school where they planned to keep the doors open all night with coffee, snacks and people to talk to if any students needed.

About a year ago, my book, “Alongside: A Practical Guide for Loving your Neighbor in their Time of Trial” was released, and last spring I gave a lecture about it to students and faculty at his school.

Of course, no one knew they would have to put it into practice following a tragedy in their own community less than a year later…

Knowledge isn’t enough

Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ directive to love your neighbor as yourself.  We can’t just think about, put off, or pretend that loving our neighbor is not part of our Christian job description—especially when our “neighbors” are facing a hardship or trial.

James reminds us that knowledge isn’t enough—action is paramount!

‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.’ James 1:22 NIV

I’ve heard first hand about how in the days since this tragic event, the King’s College community has beautifully lived out both what they know to be scriptural truth, and thankfully, the practical tools they learned in Alongside.

Practical Ways to Come Alongside

Make Specific Offers

The most common thing people say in times of trial is, “Let me know what I can do.”  But that generic offer puts all the pressure on the person in crisis to figure out what you can do, or be brave enough to follow through on asking you.  Receiving is hard enough.

My son said lots of people were asking him what to do, and he told them to make specific offers to the students who were grieving and affected by this tragedy.  He said, if you’re going to get coffee offer to bring one back, if you’re running errands, offer to get their stuff too.  He said people were so glad to know what they could do and came up with great specific offers!

Think Outside the Box

Often in the midst of a hardship we look to the needs of people that are intimately affected.  But if you’re not in a position to help them, either because you don’t know them well, or they are being taken care of by others, it’s helpful to think of the outsiders we might be able to love instead.

In this situation the College’s President and his wife were serving the young woman’s family intensely for several days, so my son offered to bring them Chicken Noodle Soup since he wasn’t in a position to serve the family directly. Thankfully, they accepted!

There’s always ways to help the people who are “helping the people”—which is also a valuable way to serve.

Love with Food

At my son’s college they have a house system, and every student belongs to one of ten houses on campus to give students a sense of community and belonging.

Within two days, the other nine houses on campus had made a schedule to provide meals for the house who lost their member.  How cool to know that even college students know how to love with food in a time of crisis!  And what a relief for these students not to have to think about food in the midst of their grief.

Shine the Light

The first thing my son asked was for me to email him a copy of printable, personalized scripture cards , {get yours by clicking the link} so that he and his friends could share them with people.  Later he told me they printed them out, wrote people’s names in the spaces in each verse, and put them in people’s doors.

The school also held a prayer meeting over the lunch hour a few days after to uplift, support and encourage grieving students and faculty.  Sharing and praying God’s word is hands down the best way to show your concern to someone in the midst of a crisis or tragedy.  I’m grateful this school is a place where this is not only encouraged, but practiced.

Even in the midst of tragedy, there are things we can do to lighten the burden even just a tiny bit.  If we bravely step out of our comfort zones, we can be doers of the word—while coming alongside those we love in meaningful ways.

Author’s note: I struggled with how to share this story and be sensitive to the privacy of a mourning family and a community that is hurting.  But the testimony of love that has been shown by this college is too important not to share, and I believe God gets all the glory—even in the midst of brokenness and grief.  I’m so proud of all these students, faculty and staff.  Please join me in praying for the King’s community, the friends and classmates of this young woman, and most especially for comfort and healing for her family. 

{Become part of the movement.  Get your copy of Alongside, as we mark the one year anniversary of its release.}

Sarah Beckman inspires people from the stage and on the page. She is the bestselling author of Alongside: A Practical Guide for Loving your Neighbor in their Time of Trial, which is filled with practical tools to love people well in the rough patches of life. Sarah speaks to audiences across the country on topics such as loving your neighbor, sharing your faith, safeguarding your marriage and digging up your talents.

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