Colombia Adventist University is looking to relocate its campus from Medellin because of heavy taxes, but the pending move has not disrupted its strong mission outreach program, with hundreds of students sharing Jesus in the bustling city and showing interest in working abroad.
Colombia itself has become a haven of religious freedom, a fact celebrated by Adventist Church leaders at a weekend conference of 5,000 people.
Colombia Adventist University, established in 1937, was once located some distance from Medellin, the South American country’s second-largest city with a population of 2.2 million. But high-rise buildings have sprung up around the campus as the city has grown, prompting authorities to levy high taxes on the university’s now-prime property.
Plans are under way to relocate to more rural surroundings, a difficult process that may take some time to fulfill but is financially urgent, said Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church.
“This is major news for the area,” Wilson told the Adventist Review on Sunday after attending a briefing at the university.
Colombia Adventist University has 1,521 undergraduate students and 218 graduate students, according to the latest figures from the Adventist Church’s Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research.
The university is known for having a vibrant mission program and counts among its graduates Israel Leito, president of the church’s Inter-American Division, which includes Colombia. Leito accompanied Wilson on the March 18-21 visit to Colombia, Wilson’s last stop on a six-country tour of the Inter-American Division.
The mission program is going strong, Wilson said. Just a week ago, hundreds of students went into the city to participate in community and evangelistic work under the auspices of a project called "A Smile for Medellin."
Seventeen students "graduated" on Sabbath, March 21, from a "One Year in Mission" practical mission course operated by the university and North Colombia Union and will soon be dispatched within the union and elsewhere. The afternoon graduation ceremony took place during a gathering of 5,000 young people in a city auditorium to celebrate the church’s Global Youth Day.
Wilson, speaking during a presentation, urged the young people to remain faithful and not be distracted from God's mission by the world and the devil.
On Sabbath morning, 5,000 people met in the same auditorium for an invitation-only religious liberty conference organized by the Adventist-affiliated International Religious Liberty Association. Leito and Roberto Herrera, director of public affairs and religious liberty for the Inter-American Division, called on participants to be pro-active in relations with the government.
“Too often Adventists neglect to cultivate good relations with the authorities, and the price to pay is sometime very heavy,” John Graz, secretary-general of the association and director of public affairs and religious liberty for the Adventist world church, said in an interview.
Wilson spoke to the attendees about the need to promote religious freedom as a heritage from God. He and other Adventist leaders thanked attending government officials for honoring religious freedom, which is guaranteed in the country’s constitution.
“Pray for God's people in Colombia as they use their religious freedom for the advancement of the Advent movement,” Wilson said Sunday. “Let us all take advantage of the religious liberty we still have to proclaim God's full Bible truth as we approach the Lord's second coming.”