My name is Abner Campos. I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. While living there, I attended Omaha Memorial School from Kindergarten until halfway through 6th grade. For the past eight years I have lived in Minnetonka, Minnesota with my family. I attended Minnetonka Christian Academy until the high school closed after my sophomore year. I experienced distance learning through Atlanta Adventist Academy my junior year, and I was also a part of the distance learning program at Maplewood Academy my senior year. Now I am a freshman theology major at Union College; “I’ve learned enough to know I don’t know that much.1” The people around me have played a huge part in who I am and who I will become—and I am infinitely grateful to everyone in my journey.
MY JOURNEY BEGINS
I am one of many young people who grew up in an Adventist community, surrounded by loving people who have great intentions but do not always do it in the right manner. Throughout my childhood and adolescence I was not attracted to the gospel message. So by the time middle school came, a nasty character had already developed and my using of girls had begun, too. High school at Minnetonka Christian Academy began and what some might call a “player” became a label I easily resonated with.
Suddenly my new reality was turned right side up. A student-led Week of Prayer happened and I decided I would give Jesus a chance—ironic that I was giving Him a chance. I read through Steps to Christ and the Gospel of John and realized that I was a sinner in need of a Savior; a dead man needing life; a prisoner needing freedom; a wanderer needing a home.
The next month I was baptized. A friend I had just met invited me to Philadelphia to Magabook for that summer. It was a difficult decision because I was a dedicated soccer player who had been part of travelling soccer teams. I remember begging God for a sign to tell me if He wanted me to Magabook or not. Yet, it seemed like He never gave me one. The call was so heavy on my heart that I went anyway. Sometimes God does not speak through miraculous signs, because convictions are enough.
If I could narrow my transformation to any single event, it would be to that summer of literature evangelism. The constant rejection of people toughened my skin. However, witnessing the hurt and need people experience caused me to have a soft heart. It has been the spark that lit my fire and is now fanning the hot coals in my life.
While in Philadelphia, a co-magabooker taught me how to live by his example. Frequently I would unintentionally wake up at 5am and see him face down, praying. Waking up two hours later I would see him praying, still. Then, he would read his Bible and a book from the Spirit of Prophecy for another hour or two. Seeing him inspired me to have my own devotions; disciples of Jesus all need devotions—it may not look the same to everyone, but devotions are necessary nonetheless.
Being a student “spiritual” leader at Maplewood Academy was one of the most necessary experiences I have had. At the beginning of the school year I told myself that in this role I would not focus on indoctrinating the students, being an incredible Bible study giver, or being the director of any specific ministries. That’s right, I told myself I would not do that. I told myself that I would attempt to become as good of a friend as possible to everyone I met. My attempt was to love every person with all I had; it was both simple and necessary. However, with vulnerability come risk and challenge and heartbreak.
I experienced a chain of mentoring/mentorship episodes. I was hanging out with some guys once and one told me that a girl friend of ours had been raped about three years ago. BOOM. It hurt to hear that. I asked Linda Vigil, MWA’s chaplain, if I could talk with her in private; I told her what happened—I definitely had to get it off my chest because my heart hurt. Disciples of Jesus need to surround themselves with a community that is safe and caring. Linda Vigil exemplifies that perfectly.
Anyway, a few weeks later I had the humbling opportunity to preach at Minnesota’s Music Festival. The theme and purpose of the sermon was to show the infinite value of a soul as redeemed by Jesus. Some four days later a student messaged me on Facebook and told me she was cutting. What do you say to that? She and I conversed and I gained her trust. The weekend went by and I opened my email on Monday. It was from her, telling me how she had been raped years ago as she walked home from school. The message ended with, “and when he had gotten tired of me he said, ‘This is how you know a man loves you.’” Again, what do you say to that?
The next class period I asked my English teacher, Jennifer Jakobsons, if I could talk with her immediately. We talked and I wept. She was extremely encouraging and knew that I was considering being a theology major and wondering if I could handle the heat. So she pointed me to Pastor Wayne Morrison of the Hutchinson Adventist Church. The next day he and I met and went for a drive around the town. He and I both cried. And through him I learned that my Christianity is what would help this girl out. I stay somewhat in contact with all these people, but the series of these events I hold dear to my heart.
I also learned that mentors are the voice of God—and disciples of God need to allow mentoring to happen. Being a disciple means being open to one’s own error and instruction.
The summer going into my senior year I worked at a local aromatherapy business, Wyndmere Naturals. Working there was something else. The people were extremely kind and welcoming. Also, the lifestyles and beliefs represented opened my heart. The people there could be categorized as: non-practicing Catholics, eastern-religionists, lesbians, and divorced and married parents. If this causes you, reader, to think negatively it should not. The people there are some of the kindest folk I have met. And I love them.
Discipleship does not mean a person slips GLOW tracts into coworker’s purses—that is absurd. Discipleship does not mean you scream Adventism into the workplace. Discipleship looks a lot like friendship and trust and casual conversations. As a church, we cannot expect the gospel to spread across the world without meaningful relationships. And before I came to college, my relationship with two coworkers became so intimate that I was able to give them The Great Controversy.
If I have learned anything from ministry, it is that gospel is not always preached in words but is usually painted in flesh and blood and clothes and food. The simplest way to consistently have a missionary mindset is to allow it to be relevant and practical to those near you who need it. If you are a businessman trying to be a missionary, then be generous to the stressed interns in your office. If you are a student, go out of your way to help your failing classmate. If you are a stay-at-home mom, consider reaching out to the elder nearby living on social security alone. If you are a bored teenager, donate blood. If you are a pastor, get your hands dirty and physically reach out to your community. Gospel is all about going out of one’s way to help another person out.
Jesus needs to be spoken in the language of your culture.
We do not need to make Adventism relevant, because it already is relevant—we need to just let it be.
May we all come to the understanding that a disciple is both a follower and a sinner. May we acknowledge that mentoring and being mentored allows community to grow; therefore discipleship amplifies. And may we come to see that the gospel needs to be relevant to those inside and outside our doors.
1 Song by Propaganda