Steven Conway, pastor of the Troy Seventh-day Adventist Church, previously served the University of Michigan community for several years. He offered prayer for a police officer who attended the vigil. Photo credit: Jonathan Min
More than 5,000 acres comprise the campus of a student body that exceeds 50,000 graduate and undergraduate coeds. MSU is the largest public university in the state. It is also the location of the Center for Adventist Ministry to Public University Students (CAMPUS), a center of influence owned by the Michigan Conference that serves the Lake Union and the world church at large. CAMPUS operates a yearly flagship program that invites young people to take a gap year to serve the concrete jungles of the public college campus as missionaries.
The CAMPUS House serves as a student center on campus, provides office space for its directors, and houses the missionaries who serve the student body through outreach, bible studies, and various other student services. The CAMPUS House is next to the University Seventh-day Adventist Church (UCHURCH) in East Lansing a short block away from where the first shooting took place on campus. The second shooting took place at the Student Union Building where missionaries give bible studies each Thursday at 7 p.m. We do not like to think about how different things could have been for our church community if the shooting took place just a few days later.
The North American Division operates Adventist Christian Fellowship (ACF), a ministry to students on non-Adventist campuses with chapters across the United States, including Michigan State University. Although the ACF student ministry is organized by students for students, the Michigan Conference has four full-time staff that support our Adventist students on non-Adventist universities across the state. Additionally, the ministerial department seeks to intentionally place pastors who understand public campus ministry near these college towns, significantly increasing our ministry scope to this unique and very complex context.
Tragic events like the shooting in East Lansing remind us that, although people perish without vision, they live because of it.
Thanks to a healthy public campus ministry, our Adventist students had support during one of the most tragic events of their lives. Our public campus ministry director and CAMPUS Missionary Training Program director were on campus just moments before the event took place. Unable to return to the school, they quickly alerted conference administration and public campus ministry leaders across the division of what was taking place. Prayers immediately started ascending on behalf of the Spartan student body.
Jermaine Gayle, the pastor of UCHURCH, having been involved in public campus ministry for several years also serves as chaplain to the East Lansing police department. He was able to quickly respond to the emergency and offer pastoral support during this time of crisis.
As the active shooter walked through the large campus under the cover of darkness, many young people were anxious, scared, and feeling powerless. Thankfully, there was a system in place to be able to chat with our students during this time. Many of them were stuck inside buildings on campus and some were in immediate danger at times—in or near the buildings where the shootings took place and forced to evacuate for their personal safety. Prayer was being offered on chat, news updates were given, encouragement, hope, and assurance was exchanged through the entire evening, helping to calm some of the anxiety that students were feeling. Having a dedicated public campus ministry in place allowed the church to be in touch with our students from beginning to the end during a time of great need.
To our knowledge, none of our Adventist students were injured. However, two of the five wounded were friends of some of our student leaders. Initially in critical condition, they underwent surgery and are currently stable but have long roads to recovery—physically, mentally, and emotionally.(1)
The day after the shooting, our public campus ministry team used conference resources to support those on campus. The missionaries created care packages and delivered them to students in need. Housing accommodations were arranged for displaced students on campus who needed to get away. UCHURCH hosted the only vigil on campus that day for the Spartan community, offering prayer, scripture readings, and special musical selections.(2,3,4)
Tammy Conway, an Adventist grief specialist and her husband Steven Conway, pastor of the Troy Seventh-day Adventist Church previously served the University of Michigan community for several years. He offered prayer for a police officer who attended the vigil, while she led a session at the UCHURCH to help students process the tragic events of the night before. Jeremy Hall, the superintendent of Adventist schools in Michigan and Chelli Ringstaff, director of Disaster Response and Community Service were also available to provide professional counseling to students who needed it.
David Pano, the director of literature ministries for the Michigan Conference and Anthony Montague, the director of STRIDE—an outreach program of the same department also rallied to support. Their group of young adults walked through the campus sharing literature to inspire hope and trust in scripture. They also invited students to the vigil and talked to students on-site who needed someone to speak with. Pastors drove from Detroit and Ann Arbor to lend their support, the conference president offered prayer as our team planned the day’s event, public campus ministry leaders from across the division supported from a distance including Dr. Tracy Wood, public campus ministry director at the North American Division.
Although most Adventist students have gone home, ministry will continue to take place on campus throughout the rest of the week. This weekend, a retreat will take place at Camp Au Sable for students on public colleges and universities. The speaker will be Debbie Michel, Lake Union Communications director, and her husband Jean. Counseling will be available for people who need it. The beautiful camp, powerful stories of God’s faithfulness in the lives of our speakers, and community and fellowship will help people heal and revive mentally, spiritually, and physically.(5)
Israel Ramos is the public campus ministry director and coordinator for the Michigan Conference and Lake Union. He is also the executive director of the Center for Adventist Ministry to Public University Students (CAMPUS) at Michigan State University.