According to General Conference statistics, 90 percent of Adventist young people attend non-Adventist universities.
Another well-known statistic is that youth leave the church during college years. It is logical to assume that there may be a correlation between the two statistics. For this reason, public campus ministry (PCM) works with college students on public university campuses across Michigan.
In 1998, Michigan was the only conference with the vision to work with public campus students, according to Israel Ramos, director of Public Campus Ministries for Michigan. This vision led administration to start a Missionary Training Program (MTP) on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Ramos was part of that first program, which launched in 1999. In 2011, the program transitioned from the University of Michigan to Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing.
The MTP invites students to take a year off and work exclusively with students on public campuses. Missionaries take courses taught by PCM staff, including Principles of Public Campus Ministry, Philosophy, Education, and Hermeneutics (How to Study the Bible). Other courses are Ethics, Leadership, Character Development, Adventist Doctrines, Media Ministry, and Principles of Biblical Spirituality. “They take our courses in the morning,” says Ramos, “then they do outreach on the campus [in the afternoon].”
Outreach includes personal Bible studies, planning and executing programs for students, and small groups. All the outreach on campus is planned by missionaries. “They serve as a lab for Michigan’s Public Campus Ministries—for what works,” explains Ramos. “They are testing aggressive and subtle ways of creating relationships, contacts, and ministries.”
One successful program they developed on their own was planning a community movie night. They rented a big screen, hired an Adventist vegan chef to cater, and watched a health movie. According to Ramos, 50 to 60 people from the community attended.
Another time, missionaries set up a table in a public area on campus with a sign that read, “If you can prove from the Bible that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday, we will give you a check for $1,000.” As a result, many students have taken Bible studies and become practicing Adventists.
The MTP program, of course, serves to minister to the students on campus. The main goal however, says Ramos, is to “redefine what a missionary looks like in the modern context.” He explains that when one thinks of the mission field, they usually think of countries overseas, but the world we live in today is different. For example, MSU, where the MTP is currently located, has a large influx of international students. “The world literally comes to our campuses,” he says. Not sending missionaries to public campuses would be wasting the world next door, leaving a mission field untouched.
The program seeks not only to reach the world next door, but also help students realize that they can be missionaries. “There are two reasons why people are not missionaries,” says Ramos, "fear and…indifference.” Some students may fear failure, losing their scholarships, or their parents disapproval. Whatever it is, Ramos wants to help them conquer fear. “Fear will constantly manifest itself in life,” he says, “It’s not just a problem that a young person faces.” Fear not only prevents students from being missionaries, but successful adults as well.
Indifference is the second main issue. “There’s indifference to the needs of the world, to the people needing to know Christ,” Ramos says. “Frankly, we don’t care as much as we should.” Our fear and our selfishness causes us to turn a blind eye to those around us who need Jesus.
That is why the MTP program is designed to address indifference and fear, by “helping young people come face to face with who they are, by learning to know who God is, and to trust Him,” says Ramos. The program is designed to eliminate fear and indifference from the lives of young people.
By addressing fear and indifference in the life and character of the missionary, the MTP is focusing “on the missionary, and not just the mission field.” PCM’s primary goal is “to help the missionary develop the character they need that will serve the biblical mission of the world church,” Ramos says.
The MTP is a part of CAMPUS (Center for Adventist Ministry to Public University Students), a division of PCM. CAMPUS is a highly subsidized program that is funded through CAMPUS partners—people who contribute financially to support the ministry. Most of the donors, Ramos says, are public university alumni.
CAMPUS is strictly missionary work, while PCM oversees the 13 major university campuses in Michigan, focusing on student organizations and Adventist student groups. Some campuses have churches attached, which is important. “The Adventist student,” says Ramos, “has to have a way to connect to the church.”
Public university students' spiritual needs are underestimated. At an Adventist university, students are constantly connected to the church, unlike public university students. That is where PCM plays a significant role. PCM administrators assume the role of dean of students or advisors, as well as a pastoral role. “We provide spiritual care for these young people,” says Ramos.
PCM believes in what has been named a cross-platform ministry model. “Every event we hold, we treat evangelistically,” says Ramos. “At every event we teach biblical Adventism. We are very open that we are Seventh-day Adventists. We don’t hide.” Every event, whether it is a MTP outreach or a Camp Au Sable retreat is open to non-Adventists. “We just share what we believe,” says Ramos.
Meet the 2023 CAMPUS Missionaries
Canaan Francisco is no stranger to public campus ministries. Francisco attended a public high school in Grand Rapids, and became a missionary to his friends. They spoke differently around him because they knew he was different. “When you have the light of Christ in you, and you’re in a dark place, that light is noticeable,” Francisco says. Francisco started a high school Bible study group at lunch time. Study topics were originated from his classmates’ spiritual questions. Francisco feels called to be a pastor, but is citing the Lord’s guidance before he makes any final decisions. “My answer,” he says, “will become clearer throughout the program.”
Danielle Fuentes was born in Guatemala, and graduated with a degree in architecture. During her schooling, she served with GYC Guatemala, and it was there that she met Leeroy Hernandez, associate director of public campus ministries, who encouraged her to be a CAMPUS missionary. Fuentes was looking for a long-time mission program, and after much prayer, the Lord guided her to Michigan, despite her initial protests that she was already a missionary where she was. Fuentes gives the Lord all the credit for guiding her, “The hardest part of the journey,” she says, “is ourselves. We are not willing to surrender, but as soon as we do, everything falls into place.”
Elisabeth Panuncia graduated from Grand Valley University with a degree in psychology. Panuncia was raised in an Adventist home and was very active with CAMPUS during his college years. After her graduation experience, coming to be part of the missionary training program did not appeal to her—she wanted hands-on experience with her degree right away. The deadline passed to apply to CAMPUS, and then a spot miraculously opened up, and Panuncia humbly accepted the call. After the program, Panuncia wants to work specifically with troubled children and teens.
Enoch De Los Santos grew up in Grand Rapids, in an Adventist home. De Los Santos explains that while his home was Adventist, it was more traditional than spiritual, and after graduation, he left the church. During this time, he realized how much he valued the Lord, and came back. When CAMPUS reached out, De Los Santos was thrilled. He is excited to take the classes the program is offering—he enjoys learning more about the Lord. After the program, he plans to attend Ouachita Hills college to become an evangelistic pastor.
Gabriella Umana has been working with public campus ministries her entire college experience. As a freshman, she was connected with the University of Michigan student group and was able to meet all the Adventist students and attend group Bible studies. She loved the community and fell in love with the ministry. Seeing how it changed her life made her want to play a bigger part, but she was unable to take a year off school. However, this year, situations in her life worked out in such a way that she had the option to take a year off. That same day, Leeroy Hernandez called and invited her to be a part of the program. “I talked to God,” she said, “and here I am!” After the program, Gabriella hopes to become a social worker.