An overlooked resource

Adventist students on non-Adventist campuses constitute a resource for building and expanding the body of Christ.

At the time of writing Joan Francis was a doctoral candidate in history at Carnegie Melton University, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. She is currently a professor of history at Atlantic Union College, South Lancaster, Massachusetts.

Pedrito Maynard-Reid is vice president for spiritual life and mission and professor of biblical studies and missiology, Walla Walla College, College Place, Washington.

I came unto my own and my own received me not." This could well be the reaction of many Seventh-day Adventist students in non-Seventh-day Adventist universities when they come to our churches. Away from home, and in a non-Christian intellectual climate all week, they look to the church on Sabbath for spiritual fellowship, challenge, and nurture but often do not find them.

Who are these students? Some of them may have become Adventists recently while attending universities; others may have joined non-Adventist colleges because our own institutions are not offering their particular field of interest; still others may be there for financial reasons or may have transferred from Adventist colleges to see for themselves a different side of the educational process.

Whatever their background may be, this section of the Adventist constituency often feels unwelcomed, unwanted, and unutilized in our churches. From highest to local organizational level, the church has basically overlooked this group a group that constitutes a powerful potential tool in working with the educated, academic, and professional people of the community.

In spite of this negative or indifferent attitude of the church, some of these university students are self-motivated enough to maintain a vibrant relationship within the church and carry on a positive role in witness. Usually such persons have either inherited such a rich Adventist heritage or maintained such an active participation in their home congregation that they already have a fully developed sense of mission and participation. They carry this commitment wherever they go, regardless of hurt or pain they may have experienced by the church organization's indifferent posture toward them.

However, there are other students who are less self-activated and less internalized in their commitment to church structure and mission. Whether the commitment is internalized or not, there is some thing about Adventist belief and lifestyle that even a chance meeting of one Adventist with another sets off its own dynamic and creates opportunities for group fellowship and nurture. If the group is large enough, a more permanent form of fellowship does take place on non-Adventist campuses. But usually the hectic nature of academic life, the largeness of the institutions, and the variedness of the departments hinder students get ting together on their own. Here's where the churches close to the universities should play an active role. They must become the nurturers of these intellectuals, even if the group has or eventually will have a fellowship or association of their own on campus.

To be good nurturers, the churches, led by their pastors, must recognize the needs of the university students. On the one hand, some of their needs are basic, traditional ones common to all. Yet many of us look on these intellectuals as superpersons who either do not have basic human needs or are able to fend for themselves without the assistance of the church. We often feel that the pastors' time could be spent more profitably in nurturing the "weaker" members. On the other hand, some of the needs of the Adventist students and professors in non- Adventist universities are often nontraditional and somewhat unique, and the church cannot afford to ignore these needs. The church is called to minister to all all persons, all contexts, all needs. The church and the ministry must design meaningful ways of fulfilling these needs if we do not wish to lose this great reservoir of talent that can be instrumental in reaching a section of our communities that we now do not reach.

Here are some areas in which the local church can help Seventh-day Adventist students and professionals on non-Seventh- day Adventist campuses:

1. Begin by being helpful. Often new students arriving in a new town find themselves in need of basic necessities: information about or help with housing, furnishings, clothing, and other essentials. I know of an Adventist graduate student who after spending a number of days in a guesthouse got so discouraged that she wanted to quit school because she couldn't find any suitable housing. Our church was not of much help. But another church came to her aid. They had an organized system of assistance they knew exactly what to do and whom to contact and soon the student found her self in a decent house with basic necessities. Every Adventist church in a university town should have a program to welcome and assist students in getting them acquainted with and settled in their new environment. The newcomers would welcome information on such matters as shopping areas, bargain places, points of interest, and important government and private agencies that offer different sup port services to the community.

2. Provide a home away from home. Friday nights are usually the time when university communities begin their unwinding process. After a week of stress, students look forward to their weekend parties. Adventist students in such environments find themselves out of place, and what better opportunity for our churches to show that they care. If our church members would open their homes for a weekend stay or just provide a little time for fellowship, what a blessing that would be to young people who miss their own families. An invitation to a Sabbath meal may open up a relationship, in addition to providing a treat to students who often don't eat too well during the week.

Besides, the fellowship of the Sabbath lunch, with its lively conversation, refreshing religious music, and caring friendship, provides an oasis in the desert of the weekly secular environment and academic grind.

But the relationship must move beyond the meal, to establish a sense of home away from home, a feeling of family togetherness. Church members could take time to make themselves personally available when students need them, and create an atmosphere in which students feel comfortable enough to be able to share their concerns emotional, financial, spiritual, or societal. A family is for sharing, and students away from their own homes have so much to share the joy of academic success, the stress of the university program, the discouragement of the day, or perhaps a note of sadness or grief or happiness from their faraway home.

On campuses or in cities where there is a large concentration of Adventist college students, Adventist student fellowships may be organized. Here too the local church can help by offering its church facility or equipment for their meetings. The pastor can offer to help the young people as a resource person, a facilitator, or a counselor, or as a bridge builder between students and other Adventist units, such as the conference office and the church's educational institutions.

3. Promote spiritual nurture. Al though the visiting pastor is a vanishing breed, the significance of pastoral visits cannot be overemphasized. A university student would be delighted with a periodic pastoral visit, formal or informal, at the apartment, in the library, or over a snack during lunchtime.

Spiritual nurture, however, is not the responsibility of the pastor alone. The entire church must be involved in this enterprise. How do our Sabbath services reflect this trust for nurture of university students? During the week, the students have applied their minds intensively on intellectual pursuits and career development. They are willing to do the same on religious themes. But they look for a quality that will challenge them: imaginative Sabbath school programs, meaningful liturgy, and thoughtful sermons. But having attractive and worthwhile programs and services with students as spectators is not enough. Participation and involvement are part of nurture, and our university students can enhance our Sabbath activities. They must be involved. Their talents need to be tapped; they have great potential for leadership as laypersons; their skills can help build the body of Christ. As they aid in the building of the body, they themselves will realize spiritual growth and development.

4. Provide lifestyle challenges. Christian students in a secular university struggle to maintain a Christian lifestyle against the onslaught of non-Christian tendencies and norms. The problem is even more acute in trying to maintain a traditional Adventist lifestyle. Often the very structure of the thought and social life of a secular campus involving experimentations and explorations, working from different perspectives and under varying sociocultural dynamics places a heavy stress on Adventists, some of them facing for the first time an altogether different worldview. To be condemned by the "saints" is the last thing such Adventist students need. If they seem unconforming, if they don't repeat the rote answers in Sabbath school discussions, or if they ask uncomfortable questions at times, what they need is, not indifference, isolation, or coldness, but care and understanding.

Often Adventist students on a secular campus live under the pressure of invitations: invitations to share a beer, to attend a social activity on Friday night, to go on a Sabbath afternoon outing, or even to go with others to a calypso tent. In the face of such pressures, how odd sometimes that the saints can hardly think of any invitations and lifestyle-support activi ties for young people.

5. Involve them in campus outreach and evangelism. Adventist students on a secular campus are in daily contact with the future leaders of the country states men, administrators, planners, thought leaders, and managers. These Adventists know their peers. And they can be better witnesses to them. Where traditional evangelistic methods may not reach the university community, Adventist students can accentuate creative ways of reaching this significant group. The local Adventist church should not only encourage Adventist university students to witness actively to their faith but also link its program, so far as possible, to the needs of the university community. The church calendar can take cognizance of the university calendar. For example, at the beginning of the school year, the church can plan a special program of a spiritual and social nature to which students of all faiths can be invited. The university calendar should also guide church leaders in being sensitive to time pressure on the Adventist students. For example, examination time would hardly be the occasion when the church would invite the students to put on a vesper program for the church's young people.

Another area in which the church can have close links with the campus is to let the university community know of the church's total program. Advertising on campus would help. Adventist students have a right to be eager for their church to have a high profile on campus. Of course, in planning to attract the university community, the church should maintain high quality in its programs; otherwise visitors may not return, and the loss sustained may be irreparable.

The world church has taken an important step in the setting up of the Committee on Ministry to College and University Students (MICUS), and in the publication of Dialogue. International in scope and specialized in purpose, the journal is devoted to keeping the Adventist faith, mission, organization, problems, and culture before this growing community of Adventist students on non-Seventh-day Adventist campuses. While this serves a worldwide purpose, it cannot and must not negate the role of the local church the flesh and blood contact. The caring church must realize that it has in its midst a valuable but neglected resource. The local church must tap this talented resource, and utilize its inestimable re sources in expanding the body of Christ.

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At the time of writing Joan Francis was a doctoral candidate in history at Carnegie Melton University, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. She is currently a professor of history at Atlantic Union College, South Lancaster, Massachusetts.

Pedrito Maynard-Reid is vice president for spiritual life and mission and professor of biblical studies and missiology, Walla Walla College, College Place, Washington.

February 1992

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