When he left his home in Mexico to attend Southwestern Adventist University, Armando Miranda, Jr., never dreamed of becoming a church administrator. He wanted to be a pastor, to lead a community and to follow God’s calling for his life. And, despite the path not looking quite how he expected it to, that is exactly where God led.
“Coming to SWAU was the most amazing thing to happen to me as a 17-year-old,” Miranda says. “It was a great opportunity for me to encounter people from all walks of life and I use that experience even now.”
In 2003, Miranda graduated from SWAU with a degree in theology. Today, he is the associate youth director for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists (NAD) in Maryland, a role he’s held since 2015. In it, he works with youth directors across the division to create curricula and programs for Pathfinder Clubs and other initiatives targeted to young people in the church.
“The mentorship and education I received at SWAU were a huge and integral part of my development,” Miranda says. “In particular I think of Bill Kilgore, who is an amazing, gentle and caring man, whose guidance led me to confirm I was pursuing the correct path. I was empowered in my calling through leaders like Bill at SWAU.”
Miranda remembers the day his mom dropped him off at college--the first time he’d ever been on his own. He remembers standing there after she left, thinking, “Now what?!” He was not alone, though; Miranda discovered residence hall deans can be a huge help at this point in a student’s life.
“Dean Stafford was fundamental in getting me through those growing pains,” Miranda says. “He was great at encouraging us to go forth and grow.”
In every part of his life at SWAU, Miranda found support, mentorship and guidance from people who had “been there and done that” and were ready to pass on bits of wisdom from their own life experience. He fondly remembers the Yanez sisters, who made him feel at home, and Greg in the cafeteria who not only kept him well-fed, but always greeted him with a cheerful hello.
“I worked in maintenance and my boss, Castro, considered me more than just a student worker,” he recalls. “He was also Mexican, so he understood my language and my culture, and he made me feel at home. He’d bring me food and always chatted with me at church.”
To this day, Miranda maintains that SWAU has the friendliest campus, where everyone greets you and you know practically everyone.
“The SWAU community let me say I belonged somewhere,” he says. “I was far from home, but I had friends and a community.”
And that community helped this theology major realize there were different ways to worship God.
“When I got to SWAU and experienced all the different cultural ways of worshipping it just about blew my mind,” he admits. “I had so many different spiritual experiences there, and it was so enriching.”
He feels similarly about his experience on the university’s soccer team. Miranda had come from Mexico, where soccer was at the forefront of everyone’s mind, so it was almost a given that he join the team. The only problem was that they lost repeatedly.
“It was so frustrating!” Miranda says with a chuckle. “The other teams weren’t necessarily better than us, but they were in better shape physically.”
Over the four years Miranda was part of the SWAU soccer team, they began putting in more time to train and improve their physical health, therefore improving their game. By the time his senior year rolled around, the SWAU team was winning games 6-0 instead of losing 0-6.
“I learned a lot being involved in sports,” he says. “It’s not every university that offers you the chance to see your progress year after year, gaining a healthier body, learning how to process loss while portraying a Christian character and doing it all in a safe environment. The growth possible in that environment goes well beyond the physical to the mental and spiritual.”
Overall, Miranda views his time at SWAU as “transformational.” He was notably impacted by vespers programs and the mission mindset of the campus.
“SWAU helped me become a functional adult,” Miranda says seriously. “They had the perfect combination of worship, fellowship and culture that made a real impact on who I am today.”
During his time at SWAU, Miranda was the recipient of several scholarships. As he sat in the awards ceremony, he remembers marveling that someone had donated money so that he could be there, thriving, growing and following God’s call.
“Someone in their heart decided to donate even though they didn’t know who they would be helping,” Miranda says. “Well, that someone was me. And when I give back to SWAU, I hope it helps someone else finish their dream and continue the call God has given them in their heart.”
In the years following his graduation from SWAU, Miranda served in the Texas Conference at summer camp and four churches across South Texas before accepting a position as associate youth director for the conference in 2012.
“The multicultural experience at SWAU really helped prepare me for my career as a pastor, interacting with people from all over the world--experience I draw on even now in my role at the NAD,” Miranda adds.
Though his current role isn’t exactly how he had expected to fulfill God’s calling for his life, Miranda knows he has followed faithfully and will continue to do so.
“Once I started working for the church administration, I started leading leaders,” he points out. “I get to help youth leaders be even better at what they do, empowering them to connect with this generation of youth.”
Miranda admits his work involves a lot of meetings, but it also involves traveling all over North America, gathering ideas and recommendations from churches and leaders who are “boots on the ground.” This ensures that the youth department of the NAD can craft curricula that considers everyone’s culture and everyone’s reality.
“I studied to be a pastor and God led me here,” Miranda says. “It’s hard to see why some days, moving from one Zoom meeting to the next, and I catch myself wondering how I’m making a difference. But then the plans develop, and I see leaders all working toward the same goals in reaching young people for Jesus, and then I see it.”
Though his kids aren’t quite ready for college yet, Miranda regularly encourages them to consider SWAU when the time comes. He remembers with fondness the school’s spirit of community, and when he visits campus even now he still feels the warmth of that spirit.
“I don’t know where God will lead my children, but I dream of them experiencing SWAU as I did,” Miranda admits. “When you get to SWAU, you’re part of a family. Every time I’m there it feels like coming home.”