The University of Michigan is a place familiar with the revolutionary. It has graduated one of the Mayo Clinic’s co-founders. Antonia Novello, the first female US Surgeon General went to school there. In 1957, one of its chemists pioneered the first synthetic penicillin breakthrough. In July of 1971, three of its aerospace engineering alumni jumped in a rocket to plant a miniature Michigan flag (among other things) on the moon using a lunar rover vehicle for the first time ever.
Michigan—at least partially—has been responsible for the launching of countless medical, astronomical, and social revolutions. Some of its more infamous radical revolutionaries include America’s first serial killer, the first right-to-die activist doctors, and the publishing of “Unabomber’s Manifesto” by Dr. Kaczynski. Other Michigan students and alumni have broken Olympic world records and founded publications that pioneered new trends in journalism. Indeed, Michigan is no stranger to revolutions.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that thirteen of our nations’ presidents have visited its campus – most of them on multiple occasions. Years ago, on the steps of the Michigan Union, Senator John F. Kennedy gave an impromptu speech on a cool October night. It sparked a new student movement, and the Peace Corps was soon launched. What was the vision? To send an “army” of young people into the world as “missionaries of democracy” who were “qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary.” Famously, young people readily responded to his legendary words: “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” And to this day, that movement continues to grow.
In the winter of 2000, The University of Michigan was about to incubate not just another revolution, but two of them: Adventist ministry on secular universities and a youth conference calling young people to radical discipleship. This time, it was not on the steps of the Michigan Union, but in the Koessler Room on the third floor of the Michigan League. Not on the inspiring words of JFK, but on the prophetic words of Ellen G. White. Speaking of “diffusing light” to secular campuses – specifically the University of Michigan, she said: “This work must be done, and it will be done.”
This is why more than one hundred years after the penning of White’s words, and decades following Kennedy’s late-night speech, young people gathered together on a crisp winter morning for the first Collegiate Sabbath at Michigan. It was a test-run. Dr. Pipim was exploring the possibility of meeting for church on the campus of a secular university. Prior to this meeting, students attending the local colleges were disbursed in the surrounding communities. Once a month, all the students got together at one of the local churches to worship. But having a permanent meeting place on campus never crossed anyone’s mind.
For the inaugural Collegiate Sabbath, a group of Korean students from Massachusetts and New Jersey called SPARC – Students Preparing Adventists for the Return of Christ – was invited to hold the service. Several years prior, Dr. Pipim had spoken at an East Coast Korean Camp Meeting and was instrumental in leading those young people to recommit their lives to Christ.
During the Sabbath School program, an undergrad from Brandeis University took the stage. “I-I-I’m addicted,” he stuttered on purpose. After pausing for shock value, he began to list—in fast pace—the things that he was not addicted to. Some in the crowd sighed in relief and holy amusement (if you can call it that).
His name was Justin Kim, and he was a sociology student at a university that was nearly named after Albert Einstein. Hilariously Justin almost resembled him. His hair was wiry, hard to control, and unusually gray. His dry sense of humor and above average intelligence made him seem older than he really was. And for a moment, a slight moment, I actually wondered what he was addicted to.
“I’m addicted to the Word,” he says, “to the Word.”
His five-minute speech wasn’t meant to be the highlight of the first Collegiate Sabbath. Other students shared the remainder of the Sabbath School time and one of their team members preached the sermon. But I can never forget that guy who was addicted to the Word.
That Saturday evening, Justin and I discovered that we are about the same age but mutually thought the other was much older. We exchanged our contact information and, although we would only email each other once in a while, we wouldn’t see each other again in person. Not for another two years. Not until a chat took place between Thrity5 and MissionJustice on AOL Instant Messenger.