I suppose the crash involving a college baseball team has affected us all this way but there's one piece of the story you may not know. I graduated from Bluffton 21 years ago. Back then it was Bluffton College. I still have a tough time calling it BU instead of BC.
Bluffton has grown a fair amount since I was there but it is still, by all accounts, a very small college. I maybe didn't always agree with political viewpoints of the campus administration but, still, I truly loved, and still love, my alma mater.
Back when I was there, campus consisted of a lot of trees and squirrels with a mixture of some very old buildings and some 1960s era buildings. Today, it hasn't changed a whole lot except recent years have seen the construction of several new buildings.
Bluffton University is located in Bluffton, Ohio. A town of about 3,000 people. I loved Bluffton, too. During college I worked a lot as a writer at the weekly newspaper in town. I banked at the local bank. I knew many of the community leaders and spent time at profs' houses. I ate at the local restaurants and shopped at the local five and dime, which how now become a store that sells stuffed bears.
I have often remarked in recent years that I would love to have my family be living in Bluffton. It would be great to teach at the college and have Evan in schools there. It is just that kind of place.
As you walk around campus, everyone says hello to each other. It took me a couple of years after graduation to get out of the habit of saying hello to everyone I see out in public. But, society on the "outside" changed me over time. Every once in a while I still lapse into a Bluffton mood where I start saying hello to strangers. I get some weird looks sometimes but, all in all, that is a habit that makes the world a better place.
We typically called our profs by their first names. Is that normal? I guess I don't know. It was at Bluffton. They hold a weekly campus-wide chapel service each week at Bluffton. Regrettably, I never attended. As is still the case, I had a lot of growing up to do when I was in college. A lot of understanding the personal relationship God seeks with each of us. A lot of getting the plank out of my own eye.
Bluffton is a Mennonite college. Many of my friends were Mennonite and I have great respect for the conviction with which many of them were raised. And, before you misunderstand, I will explain that they were not part of the "old" Mennonite order. No horse and buggies though dancing on campus was limited to only a couple of times a year.
We didn't have phones in our dorm rooms either. That wasn't a Mennonite thing. Just a mechanical thing. Each dorm floor had one campus phone and one pay phone that everyone on the floor shared. When the phone rang, someone answered it and went to get the person who was being called. Kind of cool in a way. Community.
I have gone through a strange succession of Bluffton touches lately. On Wednesday evening, I had a call from a Bluffton student who was asking me to support their annual campaign. She chatted a bit about things going on on campaus and she asked me a few painfully scripted questions about myself. But, still, it was a nice touch.
Thursday night, I invited some friends and acquaintances to join me on the LinkedIn.com network. One of those was an old friend from college. He was my RA my freshman year in fact. He responded back and joined LinkedIn and we were actually emailing each other Friday morning about some business stuff when the news of the bus crash broke.
And then, this weekend, Lisa and I are attending a couples' retreat. Who was the first person we saw here? One of my favorite Bluffton profs and his wife. He is now a pastor. They had the distinction of, at 45 years, being the longest married couple at the retreat. He told me about the wonderful ethnic diversity of the church that he and his wife now co-pastor. All incredibly reminiscent of Bluffton
A good friend and co-worker of mine has a neice going to Bluffton right now. Shortly after the crash, he started the communications with his family to make sure that she was not on the bus for some reason. Fortunately, she was not. At a small college like Bluffton, though, she was friends with everyone on the bus. Of the four students who were killed, at least a couple of them were close friends of hers. My friend's family has been horribly affected by this, and seeing the pain that this young co-ed is going through.
At this point, photos of the young men who were killed are starting to surface. Fresh, optimistic, bright faces ... not unlike the Bluffton students I remember. Their lives on this earth tragically snuffed out way too soon to our minds. Parents grieving over the loss of children who were just embarking on their lives. Girlfriends and other close friends at college left to carry on without those who meant so much to them. Four less people to say hello to as you walk through campus.
Bluffton University's website was overwhelmed with hits after the accident. Their response? They immediately took down their normal site and put up a photo of the baseball team kneeling in prayer on the field. In the midst of unimaginable confusion and chaos ... in the face of almost unspeakable tragedy ... who did the campus see? They saw God. And, as testimony to the entire world that was accessing their website, they put this photo out there to let them know that God is still with us ... even in the most horrible of times.
Bluffton will weather this tragedy the best that it can. While, as evidenced by their website, they saw God from the start of this tragedy, these losses are fraught with great pain and, undoubtedly, wondering. But God is there and the campus community knows it. If any campus could ever possibly see God in the midst of horrible events, it is Bluffton. I am, always have been, and always will be, a proud alumni. Proud of God's presence and what He does at and through this small Ohio college.