If you heard that more than two million people, mostly young adults, with all types of needs, live in your proximity, what would you do? If it was further brought to your attention that they are going through some of the most crucial moments of their lives, and getting ready to make lifelong decisions, how would you and your church seek to make a difference in their circumstances?
These are not hypothetical questions, it is our reality in the Atlantic Union territory, where an estimated 2,228,683 higher education students go to school at the hundreds of public and private campuses. According to statistics provided by the Department of Education of each state and the Bermuda government, there are about: 1,259,017 in New York, 501,164 in Massachusetts, 195,084 in Connecticut, 85,277 in Rhode Island, 71,060 in Maine, 70,754 in New Hampshire, 44,957 in Vermont, and 1,370 at Bermuda College in Bermuda.
If we group these numbers together and compare it to the cities across our territory, the student population would be the second largest city in the Atlantic Union, second only to New York City, and larger than Boston, Hartford, Providence, Manchester, Portland, or Hamilton. There are more college and university students in the Atlantic Union territory than there are people in Maine (1,328,361), New Hampshire (1,316,470), Rhode Island (1,052,567), Vermont (625,741), and Bermuda (64,806).
Six out of the eight prestigious Ivy League schools, that are well known for their excellence, selectivity in admission, and social elitism are also in the Atlantic Union territory: Brown University (Providence, R.I.), Columbia University (New York, N.Y.), Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.), Dartmouth College (Hanover, N.H.), Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.), and Yale University (New Haven, Conn.). These and other schools in our territory are the places where future leaders for our country and the world are equipped and shaped.
Several United States presidents and other world leaders were educated right in the Atlantic Union territory; John F. Kennedy, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, to name a few.
The point of all this is that we need to get serious about ministry on non-Adventist university and college campuses across the Atlantic Union territory. After all, which one of the cities or states mentioned above would you give up and totally pull the Adventist ministry and presence from? The truth is that we seem to have given up on those campuses and currently have very little Adventist ministry or organized presence in any of the schools in our territory. We have unintentionally, with very few exceptions, forsaken more than 2.2 million people who could benefit from our ministry and presence.
Together with our team of youth directors, union, and conference leadership we are working on the following recommendations:
1. Place chaplains in the main centers of higher education across the Atlantic Union with the purpose of identifying Adventist students on the area campuses and planting Adventist Christian Fellowships, small groups, and churches on those campuses.
2. Become intentional about the placing and equipping of pastors in churches and districts close to colleges and universities.
If we take this call seriously, the benefits will be the:
1. Retention of our Adventist college and university students who go to non-Adventist schools (about 80 percent of our Adventist sons and daughters go to non-Adventist schools).
2. Creation of a healthy evangelistic lifestyle among Adventist students in non-Adventist schools.
3. Reaching of the highly educated and potentially influential and wealthy upcoming generations. It is easier to reach them on their way up rather than trying to get them once they are on top of the world.
José Cortés, Jr., is the director of Adventist Youth Ministries in the Atlantic Union.