July 31, 2019 | Panama City, Panama | Libna Stevens/IAD
Hundreds of Seventh-day Adventists university students and young professionals studying in public or private campuses from throughout the Inter-American Division (IAD) gathered for the largest territory-wide Public Campus Ministries Congress in Panama City, Panama, July 18-21, 2019.
The more than 1,400 delegates met for the four-day event to keep grounded on the Word of God, to learn how to establish or strengthen the center of Christian influence in universities not operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and extend the service into the community around them.
“This is the time to keep faithful to the Lord because we all have a mission to accomplish and we need you for that,” said Pastor Hiram Ruiz, public campus ministries director for the church in Inter-America. “God has performed miracles in others but wants to accomplish more through your experience in Him.” For that to take place, said Ruiz, each must understand their role of representing Jesus in the secular environments in which they study and live and become an ambassador for Christ, willing and available to go where He leads.
“You must be sure to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, embrace His mission, change the world one [person] at a time, and say ‘Lord Send Me’ where you need me as a vehicle to share hope, and love,” said Ruiz.
Keeping that mission clear among students and young professionals—or recently graduated students who lead or continue ministering to other Adventist on secular campuses—is key in preparing a generation that will see the church through the end times, explained Ruiz.
Inter-American Division President Pastor Elie Henry, spoke to the delegation on Sabbath and reminded them that God’s vision for them is very large.
“God wants to use you to be a blessing to others in whatever situation you are in or whatever career path you have chosen,” said Pastor Henry. “God wants to redeem you and wants you to know that his vision is global so He can use you to touch the lives of people no matter their race, their social situation or place where they live.”
Pastor Henry encouraged university students and professionals to not limit themselves by the problems or challenges in their lives and ensure that they dive deep in to the Word of God and let God lead them to become a missionary to a lost world.
Being an Ambassador
Themed “Send Me – I want to Be an Ambassador,” the congress sought to help delegates discover the purpose of their life with necessary tools through plenary sessions and dozens of seminars from over 28 speakers. The sessions focused on sharing the gospel using all media available, establishing centers of influence on campus, reaching the post-modern individual, becoming cross-cultural missionaries locally and around the world, finding creative ways to share hope, and more.
Pastor Jiwan S. Moon, public campus ministries director for the Adventist world church, motivated the delegation to be true to their calling as PCM ambassadors and missionaries. “Be committed in sharing the everlasting gospel to the end of the world for you are to model Jesus. You are to impress His mission, you are to change the world,” said Moon.
According to Ruiz, a little over half of the delegates, or 52 percent, included young professionals. “Many of them had the opportunity to see for themselves during this congress how the church has been strategizing and investing in strengthening public campus ministries since it was officially established as a ministries of the church organization in 2014 at the IAD following the steps of the Adventist world church,” he said. They also understood their role in mentoring and ministering to students on campus and supporting them in their mission to become ambassadors and leaders on campus as well as beyond their studying years, explained Ruiz.
“Public Campus Ministries groups help in keeping students focused on building a closer relationship with Jesus and help in developing their leadership skills on campus and in their community,” said Ruiz. It’s about letting them see how their leadership, influence, testimony, and stewardship will help fulfill the mission of the church.
Cecilia Samuels, 28, has continued to be part of mentoring and ministering to Adventists studying at the University of West Indies and the University of Technology in Kingston, Jamaica, for years now. She completed her post-graduate degree in 2017, and lectures at the University of West Indies and has not ceased her involvement in the public campus ministries group Advent Fellowship.
Advent Fellowship has ministered to both universities in Kingston since it was organized 50 years ago this year. Samuels said being part of Advent Fellowship when she left home and moved on campus kept her in the church and helped her establish a closer relationship with Jesus.
“There is so much pull to leave the church, the city life is different that you get drawn in the party setting… and belonging to a church family on campus helped me to make a strong decision for God,” said Samuels. She is part of a mentoring culture of students at Advent Fellowship and one that has inspired and prepared Xaundre Mohansingh, 22, who will begin his fourth year of medical school at the University of West Indies. Mohansingh is serving a year as the president of the Advent Fellowship there and said his life has changed and his leadership skills have expanded in the three years he has been a part of the group.
“This is so fulfilling for me. I can’t really imagine myself doing anything else than being a part of Advent Fellowship,” said Mohansingh. The goal of Advent Fellowship is to foster spiritual growth, gain intellectual skills, develop power to witness and reach social and physical fitness, he explained.
Mohansingh said that everyone who is part of Advent Fellowship gets two degrees when they graduate university: one as part of the Adventist Fellowship and another degree from the career they complete.
Students take part in evangelistic campaigns throughout the year and visit other Adventist Churches throughout the islands to put together a Sabbath morning and afternoon program complete with drama performances, sermon messages, children’s programs and more.
Jamaica has approximately 10 Advent Fellowship chapters with more than 1,000 students as part of the public campus ministries across universities, local church leaders said. Several activities to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of Advent Fellowship will continue to take place throughout the year.
PCM growth in Panama
With over 800 delegates alone from Panama attending the congress, local church leaders know the event will strengthen the PCM groups all across secular campuses in the Central American country.
Misael González, PCM director for the church in Panama, said that there are 10 chapters organized in some of the largest universities there. “We are so excited because universities have recognized our PCM chapters on campuses with a legal document allowing students to impact those around them consistently,” said González. PCM ministries grew after Inter-America launched the new ministries in 2015 with the first congress in Cuba.
Students have impacted their campuses with health expos, clean-up activities, and many other initiatives on campus. González said that in 2017 nationwide launch propelled students, chaplains and pastors to double efforts in organizing to minister to the Adventist students.
“It’s amazing to see how excited our students have been to be part of this Inter-American PCM congress and how much more extraordinary work they will accomplish on campus,” said Gonzalez. According to González, the plan is to visit and build closer relationships with university administrators and professors so they can learn more about the church and its mission and the challenges students face when exams are scheduled on Saturdays.
A center of influence
Ariakna Ortega, 20, a medical student in Panama City, was inspired through a national PCM event to register a group in the private university campus at which she studies. Nine months ago, Ortega and a friend named Andrea Paredes started group meetings for fellow Adventist students attending the four universties in the area. They meet at Libertadores Community Park, which is closet to the four universities. It is the only PCM group among private universities in Panama.
Ortega said there are about 50 Adventists who are studying in the four universities and they see anywhere from 15 or so each week depending on the week. They meet for an hour to sing, pray, a spiritual nugget, a health topic, fellowship and witness to park goers.
“This ministry means salvation because it’s a ministry that rescues,” said Ortega. “It brought me back to Christ because during a time when I started college I felt lost even though I grew up in the church but felt like church was not part of my life then.” She feels her mission is to help those who may be going through what she went through as she transitioned into university.
Paredes, who has recently graduated and is working full time, said being part of the Libertadores group has shown her that PCM is really about salvation and retention, a place to belong to and become a shinning light.
“Many are intrigued by our meetings every week and they come close by to listen in and observe what we are doing,” said Paredes. The group of students has held activities for the kids and parents who come to the park and take time to clean up the park as well. “We want them to see us regularly there so we can create more credibility and trust.”
“The Lord has put us there to be a light in the community and we want to continue to strengthen the faith of students and help develop their leadership skills for the church,” said Paredes.
Both Ortega and Paredes were recognized for their commitment and initiative in leading the Libertadores group.
During a pinning ceremony at the PCM event, 108 students were recognized for their on-campus leadership. There was also a panel forum where students learned about the Adventist volunteer opportunities in their country and around the world.
In addition, a special baptismal ceremony saw six university students getting baptized during the event on Sabbath.
Regional congresses are expected to take place across the territory throughout the year, said Ruiz.
Pastor Ruiz believes wholeheartedly that public campus ministries will stop the exodus of Adventist university students from the church. “As time goes by we are going to see the fruits of this ministry become more and more tangible,” he said. Ruiz said that delegates from 21 of the 24 IAD unions attended the congress.
“This ministry will drive students, professionals and leaders to be more active and leave a positive influence well marked in the church and the community.
To view list of speakers and seminars presented on the program, Click HERE
To view a photo gallery of Inter-America’s PCM Congress, Click HERE