PUBLIC CAMPUS MINISTRY
MISSION AMONG NON-CHRISTIAN WORLD RELIGIONS
Director of the Center for Adventist Ministry to Public University Students (CAMPUS)
Director of Michigan Conference Public Campus Ministries Department
Coordinator of Lake Union Public Campus Ministries
A Case for the Public College & University
It is estimated that more than 75% of our Adventist college students are attending non-Adventist institutions of higher learning. Anyone skeptical about these statistics is not currently in touch with our denomination’s educational administrators in North America and beyond. The challenges are many. First, most of the North American Division church membership is made up of minority groups. These individuals—especially African-American, Asian, and Latino students are viewed as a growing asset among some of our nation’s most populous states, heavily targeted by public colleges in an effort to “embrace our demographic future.” Even though a large sum of funding is provided by local conferences, unions, divisions, and—in some cases—the General Conference, church subsidies make up a discouraging 10% of operating funds making it difficult for these tuition dependent institutions to compete with the more funded public and private schools in our nation.
Another major challenge lies in Adventist attitudes towards education and the battles that ensue over what is taught in Adventist institutions of higher learning. The situation compounds when some are led to conclude that Adventist Education should be blamed for the estimated 50% of our Adventist young people that are leaving the church causing some parents to worry about paying high tuition rates for counterproductive outcomes. Regardless of the validity of the arguments, the reality is that a growing number of our Adventist students are not attending our Adventist colleges and universities.
Adventist Education doesn’t struggle alone. Recently, questions have been raised in the media as to whether; in general, college education is really worth it. High costs and questionable results are listed as challenges that the public college faces in determining the value of higher education.
With so many attacks on Adventist and public education, one might wonder if it is worthwhile to even pay attention to the college campus. The case for the public college and university campus lies in its mission opportunity.
Reach the Campus Reach the World
According to the Institute of International Education, the leading non-profit educational exchange organization in the United States, more than one million or 5% of students studying in our country’s colleges and universities are international students. The majority of these individuals are studying at universities offering doctoral degrees, indicating that many of them are seeking graduate education. The international student’s family provides an overwhelming 60% of their primary source funding. These statistics indicate that the international students on our public college campuses are highly educated and financially wealthy. There is a significant possibility that many of these individuals will return to their homes to become their country’s leaders.
Compounding the missional significance of their education, wealth, and future is the country of origin of most international students in the United States. Saudi Arabia, China, India, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Japan make up more than 60% of the international student population on public college campuses. This population is known by missiologists as the 10-40 window—the area with the greatest number of unreached people groups. Thirteen of the top twenty-five places of origin for international students are states that have predominantly or entirely non-Christian religions. These countries include Indonesia, Turkey, Malaysia, Nepal, and Iran.
Although sending missionaries on overseas mission trips is critical to the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it is hard to justify a more efficient method of world mission outreach than reaching international students on public university campuses. In addition to engaging the future leaders of the world and the wealthy and educated, public campus ministry is more pragmatically effective. International students of non-Christian religions who are studying on American college campuses have already overcome the language barrier. We are engaging them on safer grounds. And in many cases, we have an easier time engaging with them on a cultural level, than we would if we were guests in their home countries.
Reaching the public college campus is the most effective missional way to reach the world of non-Christian global religions. It is also the most responsible way of reaching the North American Division’s largest people group in its territory.
Ministry Among Non-Christian World Religions on College Campuses
Although there are many creative approaches for ministering to non-Christian religions on the college campus, this paper will only provide five suggestions.
Community is becoming more crucially important for college students. For many students, loneliness—the feeling that social needs are not being adequately met—is a common experience on college campuses. If this trend is true with American students, how much more true is it with international students who are separated from their family by greater distances? Providing space for wholesome community and simply being friends with international students can be a great way of ministering to their needs. Having sober barbecues, wholesome game nights, and meaningful meetings are simple, effective ways to build community among students of non-Christian religions.
Many international students who come have an appreciation for American Culture. However, students from other countries often discover that there are major differences between our educational system and what they’re accustomed to at home: professors have office hours, the grading system is different, group projects are sometimes required, and more. Inviting international students to celebrate holidays—American or from their native country—is a good way to interact. The Harvard International Office describes three phases of culture shock that are typically experienced by international students: the Honeymoon, the Rejection, and the Recovery. Studying them and applying them to the local context is a good way to culturally engage and minister to international students.
Academic tutoring is another significant way to reach the needs of international students. For most them, English is not their first language and they’ll have to study longer hours in order to fully grasp material. Helping others academically is a strong way to help others and practice Christ’s method of reaching people.
Spiritual conversations are more welcomed than many anticipate. The reason why some do not experience successful spiritual conversation is usually because they lack a tactful approach or unwise timing. In most cases, it is fairly easy to engage in spiritual discussion when it becomes a natural part of everyday living. When spirituality is not something we put on and take off, but is instead who we are, spiritual conversations lose their awkwardness and becoming meaningful for the Adventist student and the non-Christian student, alike.
The ultimate purpose of the Seventh-day Adventist student should be to reveal Christ in their life. In the Early Christian Church, “one interest prevailed; one subject of emulation swallowed up all others. The ambition of the believers was to reveal the likeness of Christ’s character and to labor for the enlargement of His kingdom.”
Public Campus Ministry: Saving Adventist Educational Institutions
It may be possible that in emphasizing ministry to our students on college campuses, we accomplish more than we think. In nearly 20 years of ministry on public college campuses, I’ve seen a trend emerge where Adventist undergraduate students who stay in the church along with students who have converted to Adventism on a public college campus, attend an Adventist graduate program and gain a deeper appreciation for Adventist Education that is likely to be passed on to their children. Perhaps this trend is responsible for the optimism of former Andrews University president Niels-Erik Andreason in a statement that he shared after the university’s board meeting in 2015 where the challenges of enrollment where discussed: “I think that while we may not get all the undergraduate students back quickly, we may find we can replace them with graduate students and specialized undergraduates.” Reaching the campus allows us to reach the world in a more effective manner. But it does much more than that. Public campus ministry can actually strengthen our Adventist educational institutions as well, becoming the single most effective model of ministry, mission, and educational development.
Sauder , Vinita. “Providing Our Youth With Access and Opportunity to Attend Adventist Colleges.” The Journal of Adventist Education, 2012, pp. 5–15.
Phillips, Brad C. “Top 10 Education Trends to Watch in 2015 and Beyond.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 18 Feb. 2015, www.huffingtonpost.com/brad-c-phillips/top-10-education-trends- t_b_6345056.html.
Willey, T Joe. “‘A Wall Unto Them on Their Right Hand and on Their Left’: Adventist Education in the Midst of a Sea of Science.” Reports of the National Center for Science Education, vol. 32, no. 1, 2012, pp. 4.1–4.10., reports.ncse.com/index.php/rncse/article/view/106/93.
FoxNewsChannel. “Tucker Carlson: Is College Still Worth It?” YouTube, YouTube, 11. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Fh6LtBYmiI
 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange.” Institute of International Education, Institute of International Education, 2017, www.iie.org/Research-and- Insights/Open-Doors.
“Year-End Meeting 2017: New Perspectives (Parts 1-11).” Year-End Meeting 2017: New Perspectives (Parts 1-11), North American Division, 26 Oct. 2017, www.facebook.com/pg/NADAdventist/videos/. Watch the entire NAD Year-end meeting reports from Secretariat and Youth Ministries where the public college campus is identified as the largest unreached people group in the North American Division.
Morris, Marcia. “The Cure for Campus Loneliness.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 20 Nov. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/college- wellness/201611/the-cure-campus-loneliness.
Pham, Danh D. “5 Key Facts for International Students About U.S. Academic Culture.”U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 18 Nov. 2014, 8:00am, www.usnews.com/education/blogs/international-student-counsel/2014/11/18/5- key-facts-for-international-students-about-us-academic-culture.
“Adjusting to a New Culture.” Harvard.edu, Harvard International Office, www.hio.harvard.edu/adjusting-new-culture.
The Acts of the Apostles: in the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by Ellen Gould Harmon White, Pacific Press, 2002, pp. 48–49.
Roschman , Melodie. “June Board Report – Andrews Agenda.” Andrews University, 18 June 2015, www.andrews.edu/agenda/37011.