On February 13, a gunman entered the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, United States, and opened fire, killing three people and wounding five others. The Michigan Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church operates a substantial campus ministry at MSU, and Adventist leaders and students immediately became involved in a ministry response. Israel Ramos is director of the campus ministry center.—Editors
The Center for Adventist Ministry to Public University Students (CAMPUS), a center of influence owned by the Michigan Conference, is housed next to the University Seventh-day Adventist Church (UCHURCH) in East Lansing, Michigan, a block away from where the first shooting took place on the Michigan State University (MSU) campus on the evening of February 13.
The second shooting took place at the Student Union Building, where missionaries give Bible studies each Thursday at 7 p.m.
MSU, with 50,000 students, is the largest public university in Michigan. CAMPUS operates a yearly flagship program that invites young people to take a gap year to serve the concrete jungles of the public college campus as missionaries.
The CAMPUS House serves as a student center on campus, provides office space for its directors, and houses the missionaries who serve the student body through outreach, Bible studies, and various other student services.
Tragic events like the shooting in East Lansing remind us that, although people perish without vision, they live because of it.
Thanks to a healthy public campus ministry, our Adventist students had support during one of the most tragic events of their lives. Our public campus ministry director and CAMPUS Missionary Training Program director had been on campus just moments before the event took place. Unable to return to the school, they alerted conference administration and public campus ministry leaders across the division of what was taking place. Prayers immediately started ascending on behalf of the student body.
Jermaine Gayle, the pastor of UCHURCH, has been involved in public campus ministry for several years and also serves as chaplain to the East Lansing police department. He was able to respond quickly to the emergency and offer pastoral support during this time of crisis.
As the shooter walked through the large campus under the cover of darkness, many young people were anxious, scared, and feeling powerless. Thankfully, there was a system in place for us to be able to chat with our students during this time. Many of them were stuck inside buildings on campus, and some were in immediate danger at times — in or near the buildings where the shootings took place — and then forced to evacuate for their personal safety.
Prayer was being offered on chat; news updates were given; encouragement, hope, and assurance was exchanged throughout the evening, helping to calm some of the anxiety that students were feeling. Having a dedicated public campus ministry in place allowed the church to be in touch with our students from the beginning to the end during a time of great need.
To our knowledge, none of our Adventist students were injured. Two of the five wounded were friends of some of our student leaders, however. Initially in critical condition, they underwent surgery and are currently stable but have a long road to recovery — physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The Next Day
The day after the shooting, the Adventist public campus ministry team used conference resources to support those on campus. The conference president offered prayer as our team planned the day’s event. The missionaries created care packages and delivered them to students in need. Housing accommodations were arranged for displaced students on campus who needed to get away. UCHURCH hosted the only vigil on campus that day for the college community, offering prayer, Scripture readings, and special musical selections.2
Tammy Conway, an Adventist grief specialist, and her husband, Steven Conway, pastor of the Troy Seventh-day Adventist Church, previously served the University of Michigan community for several years. They came to the campus, and Steven offered prayer for a police officer who attended the vigil, while Tammy led a session at the UCHURCH to help students process the tragic events of the night before. Jeremy Hall, superintendent of Adventist schools in Michigan, and Chelli Ringstaff, director of Disaster Response and Community Service, were also available, providing professional counseling to students who needed it.
David Pano, the director of literature ministries for the Michigan Conference, and Anthony Montague, the director of STRIDE, an outreach program of the same department, also rallied to be a support. Their group of young adults walked through the campus sharing literature to inspire hope and trust in Scripture. They also invited students to the vigil and talked to students on-site who needed to speak with someone. Pastors drove from Detroit and Ann Arbor to lend their support. And public campus ministry leaders from across the division supported us from a distance, including Tracy Wood, NAD public campus ministry director.
Although most Adventist students went home, ministry continued to take place on campus throughout the rest of the week. A retreat took place February 17-19 at Camp Au Sable in Grayling, Michigan, for students of public colleges and universities. The speakers were Debbie Michel, Lake Union Communications director, and her husband, Jean. Counseling was made available for people who needed it. The beautiful camp, powerful stories of God’s faithfulness in the lives of our speakers, and community and fellowship helped people to heal and revive mentally, spiritually, and physically.