Hundreds of Seventh-day Adventists university students and young professionals studying on public or private campuses from throughout the Inter-American Division (IAD) gathered for the largest ever territory-wide Public Campus Ministries (PCM) Congress, in Panama City, Panama, July 18-21, 2019.
The more than 1,400 delegates met for the four-day event, leaders said, to keep grounded in the Word of God, learn how to establish or strengthen a center of Christian influence in universities not operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and extend their service into the community around them.
“This is the time to keep faithful to the Lord because we all have a mission to accomplish, and we need you for that,” said IAD PCM director Hiram Ruiz. “God has performed miracles in others but wants to accomplish more through your experience in Him.”
Keeping that mission clear in the minds of students and young professionals — or recently graduated students who lead or continue ministering to other Adventists on secular campuses — is key to preparing a generation that will see the church through the end times, Ruiz explained.
Inter-American Division president Elie Henry agreed.
“God wants to use you to be a blessing to others in whatever situation you are in or whatever career path you have chosen,” Henry said. “God wants to redeem you and wants you to know that His vision is global, so He can use you to touch the lives of people no matter their race, their social situation, or place where they live.”
Ambassadors and Leaders
According to Ruiz, a little more than half of the delegates, or 52 percent, were young professionals. “Many of them had the opportunity to see for themselves during this congress how the church has been strategizing and investing in strengthening public campus ministries since it was officially established as a ministry of the church organization in 2014 at the IAD,” he said.
They also understand their role in mentoring and ministering to students on campus and supporting them in their mission to become ambassadors and leaders, Ruiz explained.
“Public Campus Ministries groups help in keeping students focused on building a closer relationship with Jesus and help in developing their leadership skills on campus and in their community,” Ruiz said. It’s about letting them see how their leadership, influence, testimony, and stewardship will help fulfill the mission of the church, he added.
With more than 800 delegates from Panama alone attending the congress, local church leaders said they expect the event will strengthen the PCM groups all across secular campuses in that Central American country.
Misael González, PCM director in Panama, said that 10 chapters are organized in some of the largest universities there. “We are so excited because universities have recognized our PCM chapters on campuses with a legal document allowing students to impact those around them consistently,” González said.
Ariakna Ortega, 20, a medical student in Panama City, was inspired through a national PCM event to register a group on the private university campus where she studies. Nine months ago, Ortega and a friend, Andrea Paredes, started group meetings for fellow Adventist students attending the four universities in the area. They meet at Libertadores Community Park, which is close to the four universities. It is the only PCM group associated with private universities in Panama so far.
Ortega said about 50 Adventists are studying in the four universities, and they see around 15 each week. They meet for an hour to sing, pray, read a spiritual nugget, discuss a health topic, have fellowship, and witness to park-goers.
“This ministry means salvation because it's a ministry that rescues,” Ortega said. “It brought me back to Christ because, during a time when I started college, I felt lost even though I grew up in the church but felt like church was not part of my life then.” She feels her mission is to help those who may be going through what she went through as she transitioned into university.
Paredes, who recently graduated and is working full time, said being part of the Libertadores group has shown her that PCM is really about salvation and retention, a place to belong to and become a shining light.
“Many are intrigued by our meetings, and they come close by to listen in and observe what we are doing,” Paredes said. The group of students has held activities for children and parents who come to the park, and sometimes they take time to clean up the park as well. “We want them to see us regularly there, so we can create more credibility and trust.”
“The Lord has put us there to be a light in the community, and we want to continue to strengthen the faith of students and help develop their leadership skills for the church,” Paredes said.
Both Ortega and Paredes were recognized at the congress for their commitment and initiative in leading the Libertadores group.
Ruiz said he believes wholeheartedly that public campus ministries will stop the exodus of Adventist university students from the church.
“As time goes by, we are going to see the fruits of this ministry become more and more tangible,” he said.