March 4, 2015

Jiwan Moon Has a Plan to Retain Adventist Youth

Jiwan Moon is hoping to tweak the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual — and in the process stem an outflow of young people from the church.

Moon will tell a major conference that opens Wednesday about his proposal to add the position of “public campus ministries coordinator” to the
Church Manual’s lineup of elders, deacons, and other elected officers at local churches.

Moon, just nine months at the helm of the newly created office of public campus ministries for the Adventist world church, said the coordinators could play a crucial role in encouraging Adventist students on public campuses to remain committed to God.

The coordinators, he said, could engage the students in mission-minded activities that taught self-sacrifice and endowed them with the missionary spirit that Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White has described as akin to the spirit of Jesus.
Jiwan Moon, pictured at Annual Council in October 2014, had a 95 percent youth retention rate at his former church in Canada. Photo: ANN

“Adventist students usually have an identity crisis when they go to public campuses,” Moon said in an interview. “There is a saying, ‘They leave as an Adventist and come back as a non-Adventist.’

“In order for young people to make their Christianity relevant,” he said, “they have to learn to appreciate living the life of self-sacrifice.”

Adventist leaders have good reason to worry. The church is losing more than half of its young people before they reach adulthood, and in some developed countries the figure is closer to 70 percent, according to statistics presented at the church’s Annual Council business meeting last October.

Efforts to reach out to public campuses started about 40 years ago within the North American Division, but the world church only decided to create a full-time position to address the issue last year.

Transforming Students Into Missionaries

In the meantime, several grassroots programs that encourage Adventist students to share Jesus on public campuses are flourishing at churches such as the University Adventist Church in East Lansing, Michigan.

“The impact of campus ministry cannot be underestimated,” said David Shin, who spoke of miracles in his seven years as pastor of the University Adventist Church in East Lansing, Michigan (see sidebar below).

“There is nothing more life-changing in a secular student’s life than the everlasting gospel,” Shin said. “The impact of the countless lives that will be touched as a result of these conversions cannot be quantified — it’s like a wave in the ocean of humanity.”The proposed
Church Manual amendment has to be approved by the General Conference session next July. Regardless of the outcome, Moon is laying the groundwork to fulfill his department’s motto to “transform Adventist students into campus missionaries” with the Adventist Church’s first major conference on the issue.

“We are hoping to build a consensus about not only retaining Adventist young people but also causing them to live a proactive Christian life,” Moon said. “We need to empower them and give them the opportunity to serve.”

The five-day conference, which opened at the world church’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, will draft recommendations to the world church on nurturing students from the ages of 16 to about 30. Among the proposals is the creation of public campus ministries positions at all levels of the denomination: divisions, unions, conferences, and local churches. Coordinators at local churches would be able to contact their counterparts at the conference level for resources and other assistance.

A third of the conference’s 50 invited delegates are actively involved in public campus ministries and will share their experiences with the others, a mix of youth ministries leaders and church administrators from the church’s 13 world divisions.

Moon said he hopes that the new public campus ministries leaders will in place throughout the church by the end of the year.

Teaching Vacation Bible School in Canada

Moon is well familiar with the challenges that the Adventist Church faces in retaining young people. Before joining the General Conference last year, he established an innovative program called the Reach Out & Care Missionary Movement at the church that he pastored in Canada.

“We had a 95 percent youth retention rate,” he said. “It was a most rewarding experience to see the fruits of my labor.”

Under the ongoing initiative, young people at the Kitchener-Waterloo Adventist Church, located an hour’s drive from Toronto, are expected from the age of 13 to help a struggling church every summer. The students lead a Vacation Bible School at their church, take a few days of missionary training, and then go to a nearby church to teach Vacation Bible School in the mornings, engage in community outreach in the afternoons, and conduct an evangelistic series in the evenings.

“The youth are strongly encouraged to turn off their cell phones and other electronic devices,” said Dimitar Kolev, youth leader at the Kitchener-Waterloo church (see sidebar below). “We do not listen to secular music and generally attempt to minimize secular influences and spend the week in devoting ourselves to God and availing ourselves for His use.”

He said the program, which started in 2006, changed his own life.

“I myself am a product of this program, and I can attest to the profound impact it has had on my walk with God,” he said.