By Pastor Israel Ramos
Continuing his series, Pastor Israel Ramos expounds on the comforting message found in the sermon on the mount. “Blessed are those who mourn.” He helps students discover the stepping stones to becoming more like Jesus.
By Pastor Israel Ramos
Continuing his series, Pastor Israel Ramos expounds on the comforting message found in the sermon on the mount. “Blessed are those who mourn.” He helps students discover the stepping stones to becoming more like Jesus.
by Anthony Petroff, Lansing Community College Student
My name is Anthony Petroff, I currently go to Lansing Community College, and I am studying Computer Networking and Cybersecurity. I currently live, and was born and raised, in East Lansing, Michigan. Getting to know Christ and His word has been a long journey for me, but a fulfilling one. Unlike many of my friends, I was not born and raised in a Christian household. My parents both adopted an agnostic but quasi-spiritual worldview after they both had terrible experiences with abuse and shunning from different Christian groups. They taught me this worldview when I was young, along with an anti-Christian sentiment. As I grew up they had pressed onto me that Christianity was nothing more than a scam to take money from those that were too stupid to know any better, that it was a means to comfort and control people, an “opiate of the masses.”
Yet as I grew into my early teens, I began to question the validity of their words. As I entered high school and met and became friends with several Christians, I started to wonder about what I had been told growing up? Were my friends really evil or being taken advantage of like my family stated? Was Christianity exactly like my parents had claimed it to be? At the same time, I found myself going through what felt like a crisis. All around me I saw senseless suffering. To everyone I knew, suffering was the baseline of their life, any joy or satisfaction seemed to be the exception, not the rule. In my own life, I could not help but feel unsatisfied, as if something wasn’t right, or that I was missing something. Every experience I chased after couldn’t fill this hole in my chest, only at best distract me from it for a time. What was I missing? What was the point of it all? Was it all meaningless? All of these thoughts raced around my mind as I went about my ordinary day.
While I was questioning these things, one day a friend of mine invited me to a Christian club that was being started at my school, the “Christian Student Union.” Not wanting to disappoint my friend, I accepted his invitation and went along with him. As I walked in and started talking amongst everyone, I couldn’t help but find myself not taking things seriously. How long did I have to be here to satiate my friend? Would it be too socially awkward if I left now? While I considered how to best escape, the meeting started, and someone lead out in prayer. Not wanting to ostracize myself, I mimicked everyone’s actions and listened along to the prayer. While I did this, I realized that I would need to take the group seriously, if I wanted to confirm whether or not my parent’s claims were valid, to see if Christianity really was what they said it was. As everyone was praying, I prayed that God would reveal himself to me, if He truly existed.
From that moment on throughout the rest of the meeting, I felt this presence around me, and had this strange experience of being loved by something. After some time, I realized that it must be God reaching out to me. As I sat and listened to the group go over the Bible, and describe the life of Jesus, and the reality of sin and suffering, everything that I had pondered began to make sense. Afterwards, as I grabbed a copy of the Bible and began to read through the New Testament, all of my fears, doubts, and questions were made clear by this overwhelming sense of reason and understanding. It was from that moment on, that I considered myself a Christian, and pursued God in every way I could.
Although my family was shocked by my revelation and prevented me from going to church, I diligently studied and learned as much as I could about the Bible in my spare time throughout high school. As I transitioned into college, I followed my peers and went to a First Assembly of God church while I was at MSU. It was there that I stumbled upon the SDA’s campus group while I was looking at all of the student groups at MSU’s Sparticipation, an event where all student clubs tried to entice freshmen to join. They caught my eye with a flyer they hung from the bleachers: “$5000 to whoever can point to where in the Bible it states the Sabbath is on Sunday.” This intrigued me, and I felt arrogant enough that I could answer them, thinking about Genesis and other sections I had studied. However, when I went to talk with the members present, I found myself being politely refuted with every argument I brought up, until I was left dumbfounded at the group’s wisdom when it came to the Bible. Although I felt embarrassed for being so thoroughly shown wrong, the group impressed me with their character and knowledge, and I took them up on their offer to meet with them afterwards.
It was from repeated meetings and hangouts with the SDA student group that I slowly became friends with a few of them. As I got to know them, they began to speak to me often about the Sabbath, and the fallible doctrines of other groups. While I got to know them, I made some poor personal choices and fell into a deep depression, and kept my distance from them and everyone else. After a year, I ran into the group again, and spent time with them off and on, as I continued in my studies, not really taking them seriously. However, after a few years, I really started to question my faith, as it had stagnated, and wondered if there was truth to their words. After meeting with them, and taking their words seriously, the Sabbath really started to weigh on my heart. Was it a commandment that I was missing? Is it still something Christians are called to observe?
It was after several serious studies with one of my friends from SDA UChurch, that I felt convicted in my action of ignoring the Sabbath. After several more meetings with Pastor Jermaine at UChurch, I felt convicted to be baptized into the church, partly because I had never really been properly baptized, and partly as a sign of my commitment to God. Before I was baptized, I felt alone and isolated on MSU’s campus and in East Lansing, but now I have a group of family and friends who support me in life, and in my walk with Christ.
Sandy Kretschmer imagines her son Henry returning home from college, dropping his bags and then giving her a big hug. But she knows the reality of this homecoming may be a lot different.
“I’ll probably have a mask on, and he’ll have a mask on when I hug him,” she says.
Henry plans to take a COVID-19 test a few days before he leaves Iowa State University where he’s a junior, and he’ll self-quarantine until he heads home to Chicago.
The Kretschmers are taking these precautions because some family members have underlying conditions that put them at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. Henry’s father has an autoimmune disease, and his 78-year-old grandfather is in hospice care.
Families all across the country are facing a similar dilemma: They want their students home for Thanksgiving, but no one wants the virus to come home with them.
“I want to make sure that I’m not bringing anything home to my parents, and I don’t want them to get sick,” says Brianna Sislo-Schutta, a junior at the University of Minnesota.
Home is just a 20-minute drive from campus, in the suburbs of St. Paul. “That’s why I went to school in my home state,” she says. “I love my family. I love spending time with them.”
In normal years, she would go home often for a meal or a visit. This year she’s forgone the weekend trips home — afraid she might get her parents sick. But Thanksgiving is a hard holiday to miss, which has meant some hard conversations about what the visit might look like.
“As a mother, it’s just gut-wrenching,” says Brianna’s mom, Toni Schutta. “Can I be inside with my child? If so, for how long? Do we have to wear masks?” she asks.
Some students are choosing not to risk it and have decided to stay on campus for the holidays, says Amira Roess, an epidemiologist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
“There are students who are choosing to stay in the dorms because they have family members who are high risk,” she says.
Other experts agree: If a family member is especially vulnerable, the safest option is to celebrate lovingly — but remotely — this year. But for college students and their families who are considering spending Thanksgiving together, here are some precautions you can take to reduce the risk of spreading infections.
A few colleges are requiring students to get tested before they leave campus and head home.
“It’s kind of like the last phase of our semester,” says Daniel Diermeier, chancellor of Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn. He says the exit testing is to make sure that the families and the communities the students are returning to “feel good about their students coming home.”
The State University of New York requires on-campus students to test negative before heading home for the break and Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina just announced the state will send rapid tests to colleges ahead of Thanksgiving. The University of Minnesota, where Brianna Sislo-Schutta is a junior, is also offering free coronavirus testing.
“I know testing isn’t 100%, but it definitely makes it a little less scary for me. I can go home and feel better and have peace of mind,” she says.
But remember a test is just a snapshot of the day it is taken, says Dr. Judy Guzman-Cottrill, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Oregon Health & Science University. “One negative test does not mean that you are home free.” And even if a test is negative, it’s not a guarantee the person taking it is not infected.
She recommends students take another test when they get home, and in the meantime, they should stay masked up after they return home and keep 6 feet away from other family members.
Masks and social distancing may seem like they take all the warmth and humanity out of the holiday, but Guzman-Cottrill says any place where 5% or more COVID-19 tests return positive is a high-risk zone. Before traveling, students and parents should evaluate the rates of infection on campus and the surrounding community.
Not all colleges are offering students testing before they leave for the holidays. The College Crisis Initiative did a random survey of about 100 four-year institutions and found that only eight were offering additional testing to students before the break.
“There’s a sense, at least at some colleges, that once the semester finishes and students leave, it’s not their problem,” says Robert Kelchen, an associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Seton Hall transitioned to online classes this week, amid a rising number COVID-19 cases on campus. The school is encouraging all students to get tested at the university health center before they head home.
For colleges that don’t have resources for exit testing, many are encouraging students to essentially lock down before heading out for Thanksgiving.
“If you don’t have testing available, you really have to be cautious starting now to make sure you don’t bring it home,” says Rebecca Smith, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
And remember, “any form of travel involves some amount of risk,” she says. “Just relying on testing alone is not enough.”
There are 13 days until Thanksgiving and the virus’ incubation period ranges from about five to 14 days. “If you were to be exposed any time, starting now, you could be infectious at the time that you go home for Thanksgiving,” Smith says.
Getting tested once doesn’t mean you won’t test positive for the virus a day later, she says. So the best defense for students — and the family planning to welcome them in — is to limit activities to the essentials.
“No parties obviously,” says Smith, and “limit your social circles to only the people in your bubble and keep that bubble small.”
Students should stay masked up after they return home, says epidemiologist Guzman-Cottrill.
“The only time they should be removing their mask should be when they are eating and eating in a separate room, I think, is the safest decision, or eating outdoors,” she says.
And while it may seem like this takes the joy out of the holiday, with the virus surging across the country, the extra precautions are worth taking, our experts say.
“The last thing we want is big family gatherings that end up being somebody’s last Thanksgiving,” Smith says.
And there are all sorts of things that you can do outdoors with your family that are safer than meals, says Smith.
Outdoor activities are safer because airflow helps dilute the virus, thus reducing the risk of infection.
The Sislo-Schutta family usually gathers with at least 20 friends and family members at their home, but this year it will be just immediate family and they’re planning to do Thanksgiving dinner around the fire pit.
And there will be one more big change this year — they won’t be having a turkey!
“The new plan is to make spinach lasagna,” Brianna’s mom says. “It’s going to be a lasagna Thanksgiving.”
That’s fine with Brianna. “I’m honestly not a huge Thanksgiving food person,” she says. “I just enjoy spending time with my family.”
When people meet Andrew Park, his dedication is obvious, especially when it is related to God. Andrew grew up attending the Detroit Korean SDA church, but never made a decision to be baptized. After graduating high school, he enrolled at Michigan State University as a major in Packaging Science, and it was there that God brought him to the point of surrender. It was after finishing his sophomore year at MSU when God interrupted his typical college life with a calling to follow Christ. The work of God in his life is something to be celebrated, but he also recalls the continued journey after he made the decision to follow Christ. See his testimony here
After canvassing the summer after his sophomore year for the summer, he decided to take a year off of school and attend Ouachita Hills College – this provided a more concentrated time to deepen his experience with God. He later served as the president of “Adventist Student Fellowship (ASF) at MSU, and student ministry took place every day. Andrew explained, “Things were getting difficult because there was so much ministry. It came to the point where we were doing a lot of ministry but we were not connecting as a team.” There were multiple small groups during the week, Friday evening CRAVE, sundown vespers on Sabbath with games nights following, and meetings on Sunday. He admits that although he never stopped doing ministry, in his heart he became tired.
God provided a reprieve the next two semesters as he moved to Maryland and Tennessee for major-related internships. During this time, God taught him how to be a Christian without the support of a student ministry. Separation from the Adventist community at MSU created new challenges in his walk with God. He learned the importance of finding accountability. More practically, he suggests, “Find someone that you can talk to about your struggles and your difficulties. People always talk about ministry, yet we struggle with self every day and we need support.” Andrew recounts the faithfulness of God to keep him in the faith.
His advice to student leaders is to invest time in relationship building, and create a safe community to help one another. He concludes,
“We cannot neglect each other; we need to take measures for things to be sustainable. Embrace the fact that we are going to struggle; it will be hard, but this is part of the process. Just because we are a Christian now does not mean that we no longer have difficulties. There are more testimonies to be made and God will constantly work on the areas in our life that need to be renewed. We all have brokenness that God wants to heal, and it is a continual process throughout life. When we have crises or obstacles in our faith, view it as a call from the Great Physician to heal us. Consider Isaiah chapter 61. He came to heal the broken hearted. He wants to set us free, and God will engage in this work as we engage in ministry.”
Andrew Park is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Packaging Science from Michigan State University this summer. He currently serves as the president of GYC and will serve with CAMPUS as a Fellow for the 2020-2021 school year.
As Decontee began her math class at Lansing Community College, she knew it was going to be a difficult class. Along with the growing difficulty was also a desire to be closer to God. Little did she know that God has been preparing for a few years a divine appointment to not only help her with Math but introduce her to a saving relationship with Jesus.
Halee Boughton, CAMPUS Missionary Alumnae ‘17, continued in East Lansing after the MTP program and was instrumental in starting a small group Bible Study at Lansing Community College. She happened to be enrolled in the same math class as Decontee and signed up for the same group study at the beginning of the semester. The two soon became friends and became study partners for their difficult math class. One time when they met, Halee had a book she was reading about a man who went to prison because of his faith. Afterward they continued to talk and Halee invited her to study the Bible together in October of 2019. Decontee enjoyed the studies and Halee invited her to their weekly Bible study on campus, and Decontee began to attend occasionally.
She began to attend regularly and met Pastor Jermaine Gayle in December at one of the last Bible Studies of the semester. He invited her to attend GYC. She opened her schedule and attended. On Sabbath evening, the speaker made a call for those who wanted to give their life to Christ and make a public profession through baptism to come forward. She was thinking about what the speaker said. Two pastors from Michigan were sitting near her when one of them nudged her and said it was okay to go. She stood up and went forward. Pastor Jermaine and his wife Allie joined her at the front to pray.
The time at GYC was life changing, and she began to study with Halee. Every Sabbath Decontee would faithfully attend church bringing her nephews and nieces. She continued the studies twice a week and was eager to be baptized. God was transforming her life. One day she looked at her wardrobe, and decided to get rid of everything and find clothes that were more modest. No one said anything to her about her clothes, but the Holy Spirit had touched her heart. She desired for her love for God to also be revealed in how she lived and even what she wore.
A date was set for her baptism, and Decontee expectantly waiting for the day she could share publicly her love for Jesus. Then the Covid-19 crisis broke out, and the baptism had to be rescheduled. Those disappointed she knew it was just a week away. But then there were restrictions and her baptism had to be postponed. Her heart sank and her grief overflowed in tears.
Decontee expectantly waiting for the day she could share publicly her love for Jesus.
Then on April 11, 2020, she was able to publicly declare her commitment to Christ and be baptized at the University SDA Church in East Lansing. You can watch her testimony below.
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?”