Abigail Almeida began her college experience as a bio-chem major at Michigan State University, introducing her to a culture and world vastly different than home. Family had always been the closest people in her life; her siblings were her best friends, and when she moved to MSU, it introduced her to all that a secular university had to offer. Abi’s brother previously attended MSU and had connected with the local campus ministry, Adventist Student Fellowship (ASF). She arrived two weeks before school started. Since many of the ASF students were not there yet, she had two weeks to enjoy this new-found freedom. As her new friends invited her to events, she began to feel out of place and question her inherited identity. Everything began to feel very strange and unfamiliar. Then one of her brother’s friends from ASF called her and invited her to stay Friday night and go to church together. Though she wanted to say no, she knew her brother would find out.
Once at church with the other ASF students, Abi felt the familiar peace that comes from being around people who love God. Abi stated, “I remembered who I was again.” The ACF students and the University Church in East Lansing became her home away from home. She continued to attend ACF events, but struggled academically that first semester. She admitted to failing her first semester due to using her freedom to not attend class since it was not required. By the second semester, she transferred to Western Michigan University (WMU) and began commuting with her brother to classes.
Since her brother was a leader in the ACF group at WMU, Abi was able to connect with the student group there, and that became her friend group. They would study together on campus even though we were different majors. As with many students, she struggled with her major and changed to bio-med. Every year of her college experience Pastor Jermaine Gayle from CAMPUS would ask if she was interested in being part of the Missionary Training Program. She always said no because she knew her dad would not approve of her taking a year off of school. She signed up to canvass one summer, knowing that she could only canvass for part of the summer due to summer classes. Her dad was unhappy about her decision to canvass for fear it would negatively affect her studies. She completed half the summer canvassing, but was convicted she should stay the entire summer. The canvassing summer helped her grow in her faith and relationship with God. The fellowship with like-minded young people from CAMPUS inspired her. Many of her fellow canvassers had completed the CAMPUS program and encouraged her to join, but God still had to work on her and her parents another year.
The following summer, Abi canvassed again and met Miranda, who had recently been baptized as a result of the Missionary ministry at MSU. They became fast friends and Miranda encouraged Abi to apply to the Missionary Training Program. Interestingly, that was the only summer she did not receive a phone call from Pastor Jermaine about the MTP. Instead, God sent Miranda to give her the invitation while on a canvassing satellite. After dropping students off at their stops, Abi quickly filled out the application for fear she would forget to do it later. Peace came as she hit send, assuming that due to the lateness in the summer, she assumed she would not be accepted. But Pastor Jermaine called extending the invitation to join the MTP in just a few weeks.
Now she would have to tell her dad about her decision. As she reflected, all her decisions had previously been made based on another persons’ recommendation and request. From choosing her major to the university she attended, from attending church to becoming a leader in the ACF student group, each was either prompted through her parents or siblings. Attending the Missionary Training Program was a personal conviction that she believed God had given to her. She feared his disappointment in her for not attending school in the fall, especially since it would be her junior year. As she talked to her dad, her desire to follow God was apparent. She postponed her junior year to dedicate one to God.
Abi will finish her senior year the summer of 2020. Her hope is to get a job working in a lab in North Carolina. However, her long-term plan is to pursue music more seriously. She has a passion for music and especially leading God’s people in singing. During the Covid-19 stay-at-home order, she has used her gift of music to lead music via virtual worship services.
Abi’s word of advice to incoming freshmen is to take your time. She states, “I think a big fallacy in higher education is that you have to get done in four year, or that you have to go to college right after highschool.” In hindsight she believes that if she would have taken a year off before school, she would have a deeper understanding of her faith, identity and purpose. She followed up by sharing, “What matters is not necessarily the education, but it is what we are doing with our classmates and professors? Have we used every opportunity to share Christ with them?”
As the end of the residency program begins to slow down, Grady Yonas never planned to end his year with such a dramatic change. Due to Covid-19 the campus of MSU is now closed and most students have gone home. However, Grady is still very active in ministry.
One of our former missionaries, Alex Delaola introduced his brother, Austin to Grady at the beginning of the school year. Early on Austin felt the Holy Spirit calling him to be baptized and made a decision on the connect cards after CRAVE. However, many ‘thorns’ got in the way like a busy schedule and life, preventing Ausin from starting Bible studies. Through the prompting of his brother, Austin made the trip to GYC.
Austin attended an evangelism workshop by Sam Walters during GYC and was deeply convicted he needed to be a missionary. He not only made a stand for baptism, he committed to living a life of service to Christ. Once Austin returned from GYC, Grady began to study with him, twice a week. He developed index cards for Revelation 12, made illustrations to explain the 2300 day prophecy, and created a storyboard of salvation through John 8.
Although Grady recommends studying with people once a week to allow them time to search God’s Word, the timing Austin was perfect due to the outbreak of covid-19 and he was a diligent student, applying what God was showing him. In order to prevent the spread, the UChurch opted to baptize people on different weeks and limit the number of people present. Though there were others scheduled to be baptized with Austin, he was the only one baptized on March 21, 2020.
Through the process, Grady shared “it very important to see the topic from the person’s background. For example when I study another friend, he shared that his ADD prevents him from processing large amounts of information. So I have had to restructure the Bible studies so he can remember.” This young man is currently telling his homeless friend who needs the hope found in the Bible studies, seeking to connect his friend with Grady to start studying.
When asked what he has learned so far, Grady stated “Our mighty God can work through a sinner. I am humbled to see that God can use me, as a sinner, as a tool to reach others. This needs to be my mentality when I work for God!”
The best part of the Residency program is working with the local church, having an opportunity to preach, use the gifts God has given him in media, music and teaching .He has been able to work with the local UChurch media team to share messages of hope during this crisis.
After he completes his residency requirements and graduates from Hartland college, he plans to serve as a CAMPUS Fellow. He feels being a Fellow is a unique opportunity to grow, and to work in a family atmosphere, a family who have the same purpose, reaching the secular campuses for Christ’s soon return. He recommends the CAMPUS Residency program as the best opportunity for training in soul winning, preaching, managing time and money.
Grady Yonas is currently serving as a Pastoral Resident in the CAMPUS Missionary Training Program. So his residency completes the requirements of Hartland College for his degree in Pastoral Evangelism. He also will be graduating with an associate degree in Christian Media Ministry.
The President’s Council had been planning diligently for the Spring Collegiate Sabbath to be held at Wayne State University (WSU). The day was to be monumental since WSU has not had a campus ministry in about ten years. A young man by the name of Dickson Mogaka answered the call and began to initiate the paperwork process. The paperwork was given to the university just before Christmas break, but by the retreat he still had not heard anything. He follow-up by visiting the office, making phone calls, and sending emails. But he never received a response. The secretary responded in a phone call that it usually takes two weeks, but it had been almost two months since the paperwork was submitted. The President’s Council began to pray for God to open the door.
In a conversation with one of our staff, he shared all his efforts in starting the ministry. He planned to go to the office again that day, so they prayed for God to open the door. When he arrived at the office, the director was there and explained there was a typo in the constitution. Once this was fixed, the Adventist student organization application would be approved. Dickson shared the good news later with the President’s Council, and they ended their meeting with a prayer of thanksgiving.
Due to the spread of the covid-19 the campus of WSU was closed the first week in March. The President’s Council had an emergency conference call with the CAMPUS Director, Israel Ramos, to discuss our options. At the time of the call, the virus had not spread significantly in Michigan. The students desired to move forward and considered holding it at a local church instead. However, their care for the elderly members moved them to postpone the collegiate Sabbath. As staff, we were encouraged to hear their desire to be faithful, but not at the expense of being a carrier and getting someone sick.
Our ministry on the physical campuses have been suspended, but we continue to study the Bible with the student leaders via an online platform and plan to launch a new series “Why am I a Seventh-day Adventist? Prayers are needed for these projects and for our students. Many of our student leaders are uncertain of their future. Some lost needed employment to pay for summer classes. Pray specifically for God’s leading in these faith-building moments for our students.
Each year, an advisory composed of pastors, the presidents of our student organizations (President’s Council), and public campus ministry coordinators of the local church discuss the direction for ministry on our college campuses. The PCM Advisory is always held Sunday afternoon after the Winter Retreat at Camp Au Sable.
The agenda included evangelism funding, pastors hosting meals for students, collegiate Sabbaths, communication between campuses, and creating a joint meeting with the President’s Council and the CAMPUS governing board.
The students were excited about the possibility of both current student leaders and incoming student leaders meeting in Lansing the first weekend in May. This weekend would service as a time to study the Bible together and help in the transition of the new leadership. On the first Sunday of May, these leaders will then meet with the governing board. However, we will adapt the face-to-face meeting since almost all of our students are not back home due to their campuses being closed for the remaining of the semester.
In order to build relationships with the local pastors and the students, Pastor Ramos proposed a small budget to give to pastors for a meal once a semester to have the students in their home. This was passed and will begin the following school year (2020-2021). Also, to connect the universities and the local pastors, a WhatsApp group was created to share events that are open to students from other campuses.
Each semester a collegiate Sabbath is held at a university. However, planning ahead for the collegiate Sabbath has often been difficult. Therefore, we proposed that we set regular weekends. Students suggested dates and locations for next year. The fall collegiate Sabbath is slated for the third weekend in September at Grand Valley State University. This campus has begun a small group Bible study and hope to have a registered student organization by the fall. The collegiate sabbath will be at the end of a public evangelism to be held on campus.
In Proverbs we are reminded that “a man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” We do not know what the future holds for public campus ministry. The COVI-19 has ended public ministry on campuses for reasons of safety. We have set these plans and will continue to minister to where God opens the door. Please continue to pray for the students who are finding platforms to minister in other ways as they are separated from those interested in Bible study.
“This is Love not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10. The ultimate expression of love is revealed in Christ coming to earth. God also gives us illustrations of love through our relationships with each other. The winter retreat was themed “This is love” and held at Camp Au Sable in Grayling. The unusually cold weekend was warmed by the fellowship of friends and the study of God’s Word. The time was spent reflecting on our relationships with others, and most importantly our relationship with God.
Pastor Ron Kelly, Berrien Springs Village senior pastor, spoke for the main session and shared from his college experience courting his wife, but more importantly how God led him to accept Christ’s invitation to love Him first and most. Pastor Leeroy Hernandez, from Grand Rapids, led the attendees in united prayer each morning. It was encouraging to see the students brave the early morning frigid air for prayer together. Pastor Israel Ramos led a Sabbath School centering around 1 Corinthians 12 and 13. The attendees were split into groups of four. One side of the auditorium studied chapter twelve while the other studied thirteen. At the end of their discussion, they had to draw the meaning of the passage. On Sunday, Pastor Jermaine Gayle called attendees to make a decision to be baptized in the final charge.
We encouraged Adventist students to bring their friends for the weekend. We treat these weekends as evangelistic gatherings. Over twenty percent of the attendees were from friends of our Adventist students. The messages at the retreat are unashamedly Seventh-day Adventist. We believe in cross-platform evangelism. In other words, the messages encapsulate the theme from the distinctive Adventist perspective. As a result, those who attend will in many cases make decisions to join our church or seek to know more about the Bible and our faith.
One student summarized his experience this way, “I put the weekend into three words: Rest, Reflect and Restore,” Daniel Patrick, Grand Rapids. He continued to describe how he looked forward to this weekend because of how he was able to grow closer to God. Daniel was invited for the second year through the ministry of Pastor Hernandez and his wife Cori (MSU graduate). The couple has been asked by InterVarsity to train and lead Bible studies for some of its leaders.
Over twenty years have passed since the first CAMPUS Winter Retreat was held at Camp Au Sable. The needs of the students continue to change as much as the young people themselves. Yet, God continues to use this venue to impact the lives of our young adults for eternity. We appreciate your support of this generation to be able to come apart and rest awhile at the Winter Retreat each year.