This interview was originally published in Outlook Magazine.
Pastor David Kabanje arrived at Union College as the new chaplain and vice president for spiritual life in the fall of 2021. Kabanje — or “PK” as the students call him — had a life-changing experience at Union and relished the opportunity to return to his alma mater to be a part of that same experience for new generations of students.
After graduating from Union College in 2017 with a theology degree, Kabanje served at two academies, earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership and an education specialist degree in education, innovation and leadership. His wife, Kianna, a Union international rescue and relief graduate, now works as a consultant for ICF International.
We recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his own experience and his first year working at Union College.
Outlook: What happened during your experience as a student at Union that enticed you to come back and work here?
PK: I studied my first year at a local community college, and when I arrived at Union, I really didn’t engage in any campus life until my second semester. But then I started getting involved in Campus Ministries and that proved to be a pivotal point for me.
I learned that every environment is what you make of it — essentially you’ll find what you’re looking for. But Union inspired me to create my own ecosystem of service for my life.
At that moment, I decided to ask not how Union could serve me, but to look for ways to serve Union — my fellow students, my community and beyond.
I believe Union truly changed my life. I met my wife here, I had some of my best memories here. Why not give back to the place that gave so much to me?
Outlook: What have you learned from students in the past year?
PK: One thing I’ve learned working with high school students, and now young adults on the college level, is that they are resilient emotionally, mentally spiritually, physically and socially. You put them into a diverse situation or circumstance and they will adapt. We had some tough years thanks to COVID — it was a struggle for everyone. But they have bounced back and this year the students brought back a tangible energy to campus.
Often we as employees get so focused on the procedures and programs, but students come in with a renewed vitality that is infectious. So I’ve learned a lot about being able to pull away from the logistics to look around and just take everything in.
It may seem strange because we’re supposed to be the ones teaching about leaderingship and adulting and all that, but I’ve learned more from them than I did in my formal education. Young adults have their eyes fully open and they see the world as it is. And now they’re asking us as leaders what exactly are we doing to solve tough challenges from a Christian perspective.
So I love it here because we partner together to create a more cohesive spiritual experience on our campus. The programs have always been student led, but we’re working together to provide resources so that a student-led and Christ-centered model can be implemented in every area of campus — not just the Campus Ministries department.
Outlook: As the costs of education continue to rise, what is the value of an Adventist education at Union College?
PK: Spirituality isn’t one aspect of life, it’s the reason for life. I can’t do my job without first being connected to a source of life, which is Jesus Christ.
When you incorporate that ‘why’ into your career choice — whether it be doctor, teacher, pastor, janitor, or whatever — the answer becomes “because of Jesus Christ.” When Jesus is my front and center, my focus changes from ‘it’s all about me,’ to ‘He made it all about me.’ So because He made it about me, I’m going to make it about other people.
That’s what you get at Union College.
Outlook: What is your single favorite thing about working at Union?
PK: It may sound cliche, but it’s the people. When you come here, you feel alive. You feel like there is a purpose that you are destined to live out — and not just on campus. When you dig deep into the culture of Union, it truly does change your life. That’s because the culture here is one of empowerment, service and love. That’s my ‘why.’ When I see that in myself and the people around me here at Union, I am inspired.