College is a time for independence. A time of liberation where many young people are on their own and away from their families for the first time. Yet with this new found freedom comes the loss of church community. For some, this is a silver lining, but for many more, it's a struggle. ANN InDepth hosts Jennifer Stymiest and Sam Neves interview Pako Mokgwane, the Associate Youth Director for the Youth Department for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and leader of Public Campus Ministries (PCM) andl along with several students who have been involved with the ministry over the years.
Not every student has availability to an Adventist college, so PCM works to bridge the gap between stand alone students and church communities. The app allows students to search for places where you can find like minded believers and connections that bring you back into the fold. Not only that, but the app allows for guidance on how to start your own ministry on campus. This resource is not only helpful for seasoned Christians, but new believers who are trying to find a community to support them in their growth. Mokgwane elaborates on the ministry, saying how they are attempting to “put stipulations and tenants in our policy that will mandate youth leaders and PCM leaders to encourage local churches to connect with public campuses.”
“Once we have that connection, then we're going to make sure that as they leave their comfort zones, their local church, and go to this new space, new environment, new type of lifestyle there are people who will welcome them and show them the ins and outs of how to navigate, and also connect them with same-minded students,” he continued.
More often than not, such attempts to create a church community on campus is a pioneering effort that is often faced with obstacles. Akehil, a student in Canada, faced major pushback from universities that challenged the Candadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is embedded in the constitution and provides religious freedom and safety. For many Christian students, professors and universities will attempt to prevent representations of faith.
“We see professors who don't accept sabbath accommodation letters which bridge Adventist students in a bind, we see professors who purposely single out Adventist students or Christian students for their faith and and sort of challenge or even try to humiliate them in front of class and when it's a class no matter if it's a big class that's scary if it's a small class it's embarrassing,” said Akehil.
It is because of this that pushing for partnership with local churches and building community, has become crucial. Akehil verbalises the need for a church community not only serves Adventists, but non-Adventists who come from countries where religious freedoms are nonexistent or are in need of advocates when religious liberties are challenged.
Guilherme, a student at Yale University, found the usual difficulties when attending a non-Adventist institution such as exams and events all scheduled on Sabbath. Yale was the only ivy league that didn't have a Seventh-Day Adventist campus fellowship, and therefore Guilherme,and two other adventist students “had the desire to start something where a Seventh-Day Adventist could feel at home, where they could be a community, but also reach out to the community, to be in the world, but not of the world as John 17 says.” The ministry grew to provide several social services such as outreach for the homeless, visited housing for retirees and Matthew Daley, a student and pianist, performed for them, they also had their first religious liberty symposium. The ministry soon became a benchmark of ministry leadership for the campus. On his graduation, the Director of Student Affairs approached Guilherme and said that “the Seventh-Day Adventists have set the gold standard for student organizations at Yale divinity.”
Kayc is yet another Adventist student working to further the PCM movement. Since there are no Adventist Universities in Panama, she found a greater community where Adventists could meet to worship and provide a space for connection. “PCM definitely marked a special point in my life that showed that I was doing something for the lord and that I was committed to work for him and to go in the line of what I believe” Kayc says. She found wearing PMC merchandise garnered questions from those not aware of the ministry, allowing for greater mentorship. It was a way for others to ask questions, learn about the community, and introduce them to Christ.
The activity of the Public Campus Ministry has had ripple effects far greater than expected. PCM is parallel to church planting in its grassroots efforts to build a faith based environment that allows current believers to continue their journey and welcome converts. Seventh Day Adventism is starting to be revitalized, both in private and public spheres with their presence in the community as a faith based organization that pours love and leadership wherever they go. It is the hope that this ministry continues to thrive and share Christ's ministry.