October 22, 2008

No Excuses

2008 1530 page23 capny Andrews University alum can tell you the school motto: “Seek Knowledge, Affirm Faith, Change the World.” The school itself is named after John Nevins Andrews, the first church-sponsored overseas missionary of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Each year, student missionaries embark on yearlong assignments, from taskforce appointments in the United States to teaching elementary school in the Marshall Islands. In the academic and spiritual realms, students and faculty move naturally to “Seek Knowledge” and “Affirm Faith,” while the call to “Change the World” has been less prominent. Gradually, however, students and faculty members have emerged to address issues and causes they notice in the larger community, whether on campus, in the communities near Berrien Springs, Michigan, those that affect the global community.

More Than Words
During the 2005-2006 school year students organized a chapter of Amnesty International. Led by current seniors Andrew Gerard and Ryan Choi, Jen Castillo (now a law student at the University of Connecticut), and former campus chaplain Pat Murphy, the group realized that the focus, while meeting specific Amnesty International needs, was not broad enough to satisfy the needs and skills of other interested students on campus.

Jesus JusticeCatch the Spirit

2008 1530 page23 link Gerard, a behavioral sciences and anthropology student, had undertaken international study trips and seen various needs that Amnesty International could not fulfill. As he dialogued with other small campus activist groups, Gerard noted that “a synergy between like-minded people grew on campus.” Students passionate about environmental concerns would also consider humanitarian rights, while those who were part of Amnesty International would also be interested in building homes for needy people.

Working Together
During the 2006-2007 school year Gerard helped pilot Action, an umbrella organization that encompasses Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, and the Village Green Preservation Society, Andrews University’s own environmentally oriented organization. It is an official campus club, sponsored by religion professor Ante Jeroncic. Initially it coordinated with Campus Ministries, and has also networked with the Center for Youth Evangelism.

Environmental initiatives have received support from the University and Student Senate, Provost Heather Knight, Plant Services administrators, various administration officials, and the Office of Integrated Marketing and Communication. Members of Action work with the Department of Student Life and assistant to the vice president Steve Yeagley. “We’re connected to nearly everyone on campus,” Gerard declares. He further acknowledges faculty and administrative contributions as one of Action’s goals, hoping that faculty can work with students to accomplish like-minded goals and transform their local and global community.

Action’s basic goal is philosophical and personal in scope: to “improve dialogue and understanding of human rights and other social issues and give students a meaningful way to make a difference.” Thus, while educating people about global concerns is vital, working toward solving those problems is even more important. In choosing a name, Gerard wanted to reflect this approach and make a statement: these would not be any ordinary students sitting around. “We couldn’t get lazy if our name was Action,” he observes.

Action’s officers meet each week to discuss future events. Their goal is to plan two events or educational meetings each month. Since its inception, Action has made two major trips— a rally at the Chinese Consulate in Chicago, Illinois, to protest China’s involvement in Sudan; and a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court on the fourth anniversary of the detention of "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.More Than Excuses Lest anyone believe that Action is merely a sound-bite organization, leaders offer a weekly trip to Benton Harbor, Michigan, with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for those in need. It hosted a fund-raiser-"Dates for Darfur"-with funds proceeding to aid victims of the genocide in Darfur. It sponsored the showing of a documentary film and subsequent informative material from Invisible Children, a human rights campaign to provide education and nutrition for children affected by war. In April it held Earth Day awareness events, including an outdoor concert and seminars.

Action has not been without its challenges. One hurdle has been busy schedules and lack of time allotted. Another challenge emerges indirectly from Adventist theology. Believing that the world may be ending soon tempts many believers to remain passive in the face of great social inequities. Yet Action declares that social change is important. "For us to let injustices go on is an excuse. It's not sharing the justice and the kindness that we've been taught to show to everyone." Leaders and members of Action have taken on a "No Excuses" stance, learning to match words with actual procedures. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, Gerard notes, has a particular advantage: "[It has an amazing ability to create change, because it is a global community." Because it circles the world, it claims members of almost every socioeconomic class and nation. Historically, its strengths have lain in education and health promotion, a good foundation for motivating people passionate about service.

Gerard invites young adults interested in making a difference within their communities to look at various grassroots organizations that try to implement changes, including ones such as Habitat for Humanity, "because they make a concrete difference in the lives of people. "Look for the problems facing your home, talk to other people with similar concerns, and find a niche," Gerard advises. "There's a lot ofroom for new ideas."

Bonnie McLean is a senior at Andrews University, finishing degrees in English and History.