Hundreds of Seventh-day Adventist students carted suitcases of clothes and toiletries to Cuba as the Adventist Church kicked off a major effort to transform Adventist students into church ambassadors on public universities in the Caribbean, Central America, and parts of South America.
More than 700 university students, professionals, and church leaders gathered in Cuba’s capital, Havana, for a four-day conference intended to provide leadership skills and training to hundreds of Adventist students studying on public campuses throughout the Adventist Church’s Inter-American Division.
Jiwan Moon, director of Public Campus Ministries for the Adventist world church, joined other church leaders in encouraging attendees to recommit themselves to God’s Word and become missionaries on their campuses and in their communities.
“The university is not going to come to the church, nor will the church come to the university. Our meeting point is the community,” Moon said. “You are to be ambassadors and messengers of the cross in your non-Adventist institutions, living the missionary spirit on your campuses.”
The goal is to pair Adventist students on non-Adventist campuses with local church leaders and professionals, mobilizing them to create so-called centers of influence on campus that will go out into the community to share love, joy, and hope.
Part of that joy and love was shared as students traveling to Cuba brought suitcases of clothing and toiletries such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, and soap to share with hundreds of Adventist students on the island.
“It was important to make of this summit a missionary event as well, so we wanted our delegates to be part of benefiting another student in Cuba,” said Hiram Ruiz, director of public campus ministries for the Inter-American Division.
Conference attendees also took a day to paint and repair dormitories at the Adventist Seminary in Havana.
Cuba was an ideal location to carry out the conference, Ruiz said.
“Other than the small Adventist Seminary, Adventist students have no access to Adventist education on the island, so bringing support, networking and fellowship to them was a real blessing,” he said.
The conference offered seminars on how to survive in a secular world, how to testify without arguing, how to establish new ministries on campus, how to keep faithful to Bible principles, how to preach the gospel, and how to become a mentor.
Beatriz Frometa, a second-year dentistry student in Cuba, said that learning that there are more than 1.5 million university students like her around the world was a real eye-opener.
“This has brought me new hope because I’m not alone,” she said. “I have learned new techniques on how to motivate others to want to know more about the Word of God.”
Stefania Casa, a student from Baja California, Mexico, said she appreciated information on how to influence others for good.
“I’ve learned how we can be an influence in our school, and to our friends, our peers and teachers about the love of God and how they too can learn of His grace,” she said.
Robert Soler, a literature professor at Marta Abreu Central University in Las Villas, Cuba, said the conference reinforced the need to strengthen an on-going ministry on his campus called University Adventist Youth, or Jovenes Adventistas Universitarios. The group has carried out many activities in the community, including distributing free pizzas to the homeless one night.
“That night we were able to share the love of Jesus with men and women who mostly live on the streets,” Soler said.
Establishing an ongoing ministry is what public campus ministries is all about and leaves a lasting influence, Ruiz said.
“This ministry is here to stay,” he said. “Long gone are the days when each union gathered their Adventist students studying in public campuses once a year for a get-together for a few hours on a Sabbath. We have a new direction, a permanent ministry in the church.”
That permanent ministry will consist of the challenge of getting every local church involved in supporting those students, Ruiz said.
Moving forward, local churches will now begin accounting for all their university students, and Adventist professionals that could team up to mentor them will help establish centers of influence on their campuses.
“You are a generation that God is training in this secular world,” Israel Leito, president of the Inter-American Division, told the conference. “Do not conform to the models of this world. We have another model. God is calling you to be different, to shine your light where you are.”