July 22, 2015

Young Pastor Shares ‘Just Jesus’ on Dakota Public Campuses

, Mid-America Outlook

The idea isn’t revolutionary — quite the opposite.

It’s about going back to the basics. It’s about simplicity. It’s about Jesus. Just Jesus.

Pastor Ricky Melendez is new on the scene — new to North Dakota, new to Jamestown, new to North Dakota State University and University of Jamestown, new to pastoral ministry, and new to public campus ministry. A 2014 theology graduate of Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, Melendez didn’t know when he was hired by the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Dakota Conference that he would be building a ministry from the ground up.

While attending Union College, Melendez and ministry partner Tyler Morrison started a Sabbath school called “Jesus at the Center.” When close friend Abner Campos took it over, the group was renamed “Just Jesus.”

When pastor Melendez arrived in North Dakota, he was given opportunity to initiate campus ministries on college and university campuses statewide and to bring all campus ministries in North and South Dakota under one title.

“It’s like throwing spaghetti at a wall — try it and see what sticks,” Melendez said.

He began the ministry of relationship building, which led him into a partnership with Religious Life leaders at the University of Jamestown, a private college founded by the Presbyterian Church in the North Dakotan town of Jamestown. Soon after, things began to happen at the university.

One group began as a small Bible study in an apartment on the University of Jamestown campus and has now grown into a strong group that is more like a family, acting as a support system for Melendez as well as a team serving together in facilitating larger campus and community outreach events.

The unified hands of this group coordinated a “No Greater Love” benefit concert that took place on campus in February. Together they collected dozens of bags of toys and clothing, 142 pounds (64 kilograms) of food, and raised $1,071 in cash — all donated to the Jamestown Salvation Army.

Jamestown isn’t the only place where Just Jesus Adventist Campus Ministries is on the move.

In Fargo, the largest city in North Dakota with a population of about 116,000, another group meets on Friday nights. There are also plans for a “coffee shop church” at Cafe Delight across the street from the campus of North Dakota State University, a public university in Fargo. Melendez also has begun working with students at the University of North Dakota, a public research university in Grand Forks.

The mission statement of Just Jesus Adventist Campus Ministries is “to ground university students in Christ, to grow them in Christ, thus empowering and equipping them to go out as disciples of Christ.”

“The vision for ‘Just Jesus’ is one that reaches into the future and is self-sustaining,” its student leaders said in a statement.

A “Just Jesus” conference is scheduled at Dakota Adventist Academy on Aug. 7 to 9.

Conferences like this play a key role in fulfilling that vision, the statement said. This is where students partake in ministry for themselves, and also learn how to take the grassroots approach back to their own campuses, communities and friend groups, thereby fostering spiritual growth on a wider scale.

“The focus is not denominational, it is not exclusive, and it is not complicated,” the student statement said. “The focus is and always will be Just Jesus.”

Brooke Lietzke is a student chaplain at University of Jamestown.