Jermaine Gayle pastors the UChurch that coordinated a vigil the day following the fatal shooting. “What we hope to do tonight is to process that together, pray together, and to try to heal together,” he said. Credit: Jonathan Min

February 16, 2023

CAMPUS Missionaries and UCHURCH Respond After Deadly Shooting at Michigan State University

In response to the shootings on the Michigan State University campus, CAMPUS and the UCHURCH have pivoted to serving the needs of the students, while also grieving the loss of life on their home turf. 

It was business as usual for the Michigan Conference’s Public Campus ministries, known as “CAMPUS”, on Monday, Feb. 13. Based on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., CAMPUS missionaries traditionally minister to the student population through Bible studies, friendship, and events, while also keeping in touch with Adventist students that study at public universities such as MSU.

However, at 8:18 p.m., Anthony McRae opened fire at Berkey Hall, an academic building, and the MSU Union, a central gathering place for students. Three people were killed and five were wounded in the two shootings. Its aftermath has left East Lansing and MSU’s student body of nearly 50,000 reeling and in a state of mourning. 

Since then, CAMPUS and the UCHURCH on the MSU campus have pivoted to serving the needs of the students, while also grieving the loss of life on their home turf. 

“We've been trying our very best to quickly respond,” said Jermaine Gayle, senior pastor of the UCHURCH. “Since the shooting started on campus, our students were very on point in creating a group chat to make sure that everyone checked in and everyone was safe. The church staff was a part of that…we were able to communicate and provide some clear and good instructions, and throughout the night we were pretty much all awake trying to assess the situation to make sure that all our young people were safe.” 

Gayle also serves as the chaplain for the East Lansing Police Department. He assisted first responders on the ground as the situation unfolded. He described his experiences as “surreal and unusual.” “These are things you never plan for. As a chaplain, from my perspective, I have a unique opportunity to have conversations with the people who are involved with the situation and try to process with them through that experience. And then as far as being on the ground, being present with them while the situation was taking place,” he said. 


CAMPUS missionaries assist students in the aftermath 

Gabrielle Umaña, one of the five CAMPUS missionaries, has been on the front lines of CAMPUS’s response to the shooting. “So much of it has been just prayer, prayer and prayer, and prayer,” she said of the initial response. “I think a lot of us already knew that whatever it was, all the things that they would need would be things beyond our ability to provide or control because at the end of the day, we're a handful in the midst of tens of thousands.” 

Despite this, they have been able to minister to many students and facilitate much of the care they have needed. “[We] have been supporting our student group with care packages, meetups, and the CAMPUS house. The center has been open for students who have been trickling in and out trying to either get away from the situation or trying to engage the situation,” said Israel Ramos, director of Public Campus Ministries for the Michigan Conference. 

Ramos says that they have also brought in grief counselors for any students that may need them. 

“We have been taking students to the CAMPUS house if they needed, getting them food if they need, taking them to bus stops, making sure that they were able to get their rides home,” Umaña said. For international students, she said that they have been ensuring that they have a place to stay throughout the aftermath. 

They have also been reaching out to those that are not Adventist. “We have been checking on them, seeing how they're doing, how they're feeling, talking to them, praying with them, praying for them. And we made care packages for them,” she said. “A lot of them were delivered, and a lot of them weren't yet because they left so soon, but we wanted to make them anyway so that they would be here when they got back…that they would know that we are here for the long-term healing and not just for the immediate aftermath.” 

Umaña said that the missionaries have been reaching out to students to help them process and heal. “And for the students that we know more closely, we are making sure we're having those difficult conversations, making sure we're creating safe spaces for them and making sure that we remind them, ‘Hey, we have these resources, and you can use them, and it's okay to use them.’” 

The big things are equally flanked by little things, such as making sure that students have eaten and gotten rest. “Also, making sure that they don't feel like they did something wrong or that they could have done more. Just being there for all the tough parts that they need or want us to be there for, and for all the rest, just pointing them to Christ.” 

For many students, these things have given them peace and comfort, Umaña said. CAMPUS missionaries have utilized group chats to encourage and bond with their peers, which has shown many that they are not the only ones in pain. “I heard from a lot of students that this gave them a lot of peace because they knew that it wasn't just them who was in the middle of it, and that we’re dealing with it. That there was a larger community, not just from the church here, but from the conference level and from the state level and everywhere else, and that everyone was praying for them.” 

The CAMPUS missionaries have been praying for wisdom amid all of this. “We're just praying for wisdom, not just that their reaction to us and how we handle things would be positive, but that they would be able to go through their healing, and afterwards be able to say, ‘I saw Christ through CAMPUS, through the church, through the pastors and the staff and whoever else, all these people who cared for me. I saw Jesus caring for me through them.’ I think that's really our goal,” Umaña said. 


UCHURCH holds prayer vigil, provides group grief counseling sessions 

“Father, in times like these, we don’t always know what to say. A part of the reason why this is the case is because we can’t even always understand the way that we’re feeling,” said Steven Conway, pastor of the Troy church in Michigan, as he prayed at a vigil held at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 13 at the UCHURCH. “And that’s alright. It’s okay for us to even sit in silence. Because the Bible says that you know the words before we can even articulate them.”   

Gayle said that the church wanted to gather to grieve the loss of friends with their community. “We wanted to process the experience of trauma that many of our other friends are currently experiencing together,” he said during the vigil. “This church has been in the city of East Lansing for many years, and we’ve never seen something like this. I truly believe that it has robbed a lot of our peace, and restfulness, and serenity in this neighborhood.” 

Gayle said that this raises questions for many people. “What we hope to do tonight is to process that together, pray together, and to try to heal together,” he said. 

A series of prayers, hymns, and scripture readings during the vigil, such as a reading of Psalm 62, helped set a sacred and safe atmosphere. 

“In times like these, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to pray,” Conway said later as he addressed the group in attendance. “Prayer is not something that need be formal or have the neatness or tidiness that many people think of. It is the just the opening of our hearts to God. We can say to him whatever we feel, and he’s big enough to be able to handle that.” 

Ryan Coon, a police officer for the city of East Lansing, also shared some encouragement during the vigil. “We deal with tragedies like these, and sometimes it’s overwhelming to come to work and deal with the circumstances. We do have a lot of believers at the department who look to Christ for strength,” he said. “The one thing I take in my role as a police officer when I do deal with these crises and tragedies, the only thing that I can do is to just hand ‘that’ over. I would encourage you to ‘hand’ over whatever grief you’re feeling to Him.” 

UCHURCH had three certified grief counselors at the vigil to assist. They held grief group counseling sessions following the prayer vigil. 

“It's hard to see so much brokenness spread because of brokenness and to see how limited we are in and of ourselves to be able to do anything about it,” Umaña said, reflecting on the past few days. “In a sense, it's freeing, knowing that God is the one who ultimately is doing all the work, but it can feel helpless at times. We had grief group counseling sessions at the church, and just in talking with students in general, there are so many emotions that so many people are feeling as they go through all the stages of healing and grief and loss.” 

As for how the CAMPUS team has been coping with these circumstances, Umaña says that they are still finding the balance between service and taking care of themselves. “We haven't been able to really sit and process the shock, and the adrenaline, and the grief, and the sorrow, and the pain, and the joy comes and goes and flows throughout each and every day. But I think we all know it's something that is going to take time inevitably, and we just want to do our best with what we can.” 

“Our students were obviously in a scary situation,” Ramos said of the CAMPUS missionaries, who were only one block away from where the shootings occurred. “Some of them were in immediate danger, but by the grace of God, things did not end up as bad as they could have.” 


Samuel Girven is a student at Northview Adventist School in Cadillac, Michigan, and ASPIRE Academy.