By Becky St. Clair
Pastor Kent Rufo has accepted the call to be PUC’s new chaplain. He will be moving his family from Illinois over Christmas break and will begin serving the campus in January. During his 13 years of experience as a pastor, Rufo has served as lead, youth, and associate pastor, chaplain, Bible teacher, collegiate ministries director, and missionary. He received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Southern Adventist University in 2000 and then completed his MDiv at Andrews University in 2004. Rufo has experience leading prayer and Bible study groups, visitation, counseling, and outreach, among other ministry activities. He is currently serving as lead pastor at Downers Grove Adventist Church in Illinois, where he has been since January 2017.
We caught up with him as he begins figuring out the logistics of their cross-country move and says goodbye to his current church family, and now introduce to you: PUC chaplain Kent Rufo!
Tell us about your childhood. Where did you grow up, and what was life like there?
I grew up in northwest Ohio, in suburbs south of Toledo. My father is from the Philippines, yet the town we moved to was predominantly white. Originally the neighbors weren’t so sure about having an Asian next door, but as the years went by we made some really good friends in that neighborhood. So I’m excited to be moving to a place known for its friendly community and look forward to getting to know our new neighbors.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a kid I wanted to be an NBA player. Being that my father is 5’6” and my mother is 5’4” my odds of becoming a professional basketball player were small. Growing up it was assumed I would go into the medical field, preferably a doctor of medicine. I had thoughts of medicine until college.
When did you first feel the call to become a pastor?
I don’t know if I really “felt” the call to ministry at first. I knew I wasn’t going to medical school but wasn’t sure what was next. I prayed for a “fleece” and 3 people said I should go to the Seminary … all in the same day. I went. I never interviewed with a conference yet one person from Mountain View Conference called me to ask if I’d like to teach and preach. They were looking for a bi-vocational pastor who could teach full time and minister part-time in a college town. Until this day, I have no clue how he got my name. Since I accepted that call, the Lord has clearly opened up ministries for me and my family.
You served as a missionary in Korea for two years; what was something significant you learned during that experience?
Easy question: The importance of studying the Word! My Korean counterpart had just graduated from the Seminary and shared Bible study tools. I will forever be grateful. I also had the chance to read the Great Controversy and the Desire of Ages (twice). It transformed my life. I also learned about the power of prayer.
So how much Korean did you learn?
“Chogum.” That means ‘a little.’ Every day I remember less. I was never fluent but I could get around.
Your passion in ministry seems to be young people. What inspired that?
Actually, I feel the way God created me was with “strengths” in relationships. I’m not a big-show personality and I believe in authentic relationships. I think I’ve just felt I can be honest with young people and that seems to connect. This drives me. I also believe we have not challenged our young people enough. When I was growing up it was enough to just “keep our kids Adventist.” Obviously, that wasn’t enough. I have a passion to see a group of young people study the Word, pray with huge results, and change their worlds.
Speaking of keeping young people in the church, tell us how you plan to be a part of that effort by working with the young people at PUC.
Jesus was not about keeping people in the church. In John 6 he actually says something he knew would make many leave his side: He wants to challenge people, young and old, to commit to his cause. It means sacrifice, but it also means to expect God to do powerful things through them. I’d really love to see how students take hold of a vision and run with it. If the Spirit is leading, it CANNOT fail.
What made you decide to accept this position and come out here to California?
My wife is still asking me this question. She said she would NEVER move to California. Seriously, though, it is the calling to minister to collegiate-age students. Empowering students to start impacting their community now, rather than after graduation, is one of my main passions.
What are some methods you use to stay in tune with what young people need and want in their spiritual lives, even as times change?
Listening. That’s really it. I can’t keep up with everything new: methods, pop culture, media. The principles of scripture transcend time and changes. Most of what I can do is listen. Oh, I do like to read about ministry models, too, but they are not my “gospel.”
What is one of your favorite spiritual quotes and why is it meaningful to you?
One of my favorite Bible verses is John 16:33 which states, “I have told you these things so that in me you might have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” I love this verse because it reminds me that no matter what my world looks like he’s already won!
Outside of scripture, one of my favorite authors is Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. He states, “God is either of no importance, or of supreme importance.” I think the world is looking for authentic Christians. The reason people are turned off by Christianity is that there is a lot of hypocrisy and mediocrity.
What are some books you recommend to young people?
Outside of the Bible, I’m a believer in “The Desire of Ages.” I love that view of Jesus. As for the power of prayer, I recommend “The Circle Maker” by Mark Batterson.
Tell us about an important spiritual mentor you had as a young person, and how their mentorship has influenced your own.
To be honest, when I first became a Christian, my biggest spiritual mentors were other college students: Chris Bullock and Teofilo Matos. They prayed for me. They showed me how to walk with Jesus. This all stemmed from our friendship and desire to change the world around us. I think that is why my heart is in Christian community and challenging the status quo.
How can the community you serve (that’s us!) support you and your family as you strive to support our students?
Gift certificates for a local massage therapist. Ha! Just kidding.
I think my family is just looking to be part of the community. Oh, both my wife and I worked as baristas at a coffee shop so we do like some good coffee every once in a while. (Hint, hint!)
Tell us more about your family!
My wife, Anna, is originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan. She graduated with an elementary education degree but doesn’t feel full-time teaching as her calling. She’s been a teacher, teacher’s aide, administrative assistant, assistant community service coordinator, and a rockin’ wife. It’s important to her to be involved, but only behind the scenes.
My daughter, Madison, is 10; she loves people and wants to be around them at all time. My son, Jadon, is seven; his shell is a little harder to crack, but once he opens up—especially about superheroes—he slowly warms up to people. My wife is like my son.
What are some of your hobbies and interests? What will we find on the walls of your new office on campus?
I’m not really the biggest decorator, but I love being Filipino so you might find a Filipino flag. I do like sports and to work out. I am a Cleveland Browns fan, too. Go Cleveland! (Hey, a Cleveland fan is a loyal one, though we don’t win too often.)