Thousands of Adventist Youth Gather in Oshkosh for Largest International Pathfinder Camporee
by Jeff Boyd
By AT News Team, August 11, 2014
Nearly 47,000 Seventh-day Adventist young people, sponsors and family members are gathering in Oshkosh, WI, for the seventh International Pathfinder Camporee, August 11-16, 2014. More than 44,400 members of the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (NAD) will be joined by 2,580 international guests from 43 countries—from Anguilla to Zimbabwe. Because the NAD has a significant international membership, event planners have announced that more than 100 countries will be represented at the Camporee.
Themed “Forever Faithful,” the four-day Camporee, held every five years, is sponsored by the NAD and its Center for Youth Evangelism, located in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
Pathfinders is a ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, focusing on youth from ages 10 to 15. The General Conference of the Adventist Church (GC) reports there are nearly 2 million Pathfinder members world-wide. Pastor James Black, director of NAD youth ministries, shared the Pathfinder's purpose with Adventist Today: “First of all it's about building young people's relationship with God, making certain they have that personal relationship. The second thing is training young people for service. People look at camping out as just a fun activity, but all the honors and activities are training life skills, which strengthens possibilities for missions. Thirdly, Pathfinders is about community. You have the whole club experience like a family. Nowadays with the challenges of family, many Pathfinders find a place there.”
[Photo: The Oshkosh economy welcomes the Pathfinders. Credit: Ama Rogers, sponsor of the Cedar Chips in Cedar Lake, MI.]
Black also shared his focus for the Camporee. “We really want people to know that this is more than just the largest camporee in the world. If we focus on that we miss the whole point. I look at this as the largest evangelistic campaign in the world.” To that end, Pastor Ron Whitehead, who is the director for the Center for Youth Evangelism and executive director for the Camporee, has included a significant amount of outreach in the week's schedule. Pastor Bill Wood, off site director for the Camporee and the NAD camp ministries coordinator, has planned three categories of outreach for the Pathfinders—community service (5,000-6,000 participants), compassion ministries (1,800 participants) and literature distribution (800 participants).
Wood clarifies the differences between each type of outreach. Community service is task-oriented, with projects such as “cleaning up lake shores, picking up trash, working in parks and in preserves, and painting fire hydrants.” “Compassion is more of a personal touch,” Wood explains. “I thought it was important to do more that touches the lives of people in town, one-on-one—working in soup kitchens and food banks, going into a few nursing homes, and going into libraries and reading to the kids in libraries.”
The literature distribution work, called Project ROAR (Reach Out And Roar), involves passing out Real magazine, which is similar to Guide but geared to the public. “We'll have Pathfinders going door-to-door, passing out 10,000 copies in the communities surrounding the campgrounds. We suggest that if they're comfortable that they also pray with the people,” explains Wood.
Additionally, Adventist Community Services (ACS) will sponsor an Emergency Supply Bucket drive on the EAA Campgrounds. ACS organizers have a goal of filling 3,000 5-gallon buckets with cleaning supplies to be used by those affected by natural disasters. Once filled, the containers will be shipped to California, Dallas, and Pennsylvania, to be used as part of ACS’s emergency response.
Further activities—both on the campgrounds and in the surrounding area—include trading pins, visiting vendor and exhibit booths, earning honors, swimming, canoeing, drum corp exhibitions, golf and soccer. Pat Spangler, communication team member and editorial manager at Andrews University, told Adventist Today that two full-sized airplane hangars are devoted to honors, allowing the youth to explore hundreds of different skill areas.
Night-time programming will focus on the biblical story of Daniel. The Camporee website reports there will be a 30 to 40-minute dramatic production “each evening covering the life span of Daniel that will be tied into the messages presented by Pastor Sam Leonor. The actual cast has twenty main characters…with an additional twenty supporting roles.” Spangler believes “the drama is one of the high points for a lot of the Pathfinders because it's extremely well done. They have the world's largest portable stage with impressive props, other staging aspects, and lighting.”
Because the meetings are in English, interpretation is important for many international clubs. “Evening meetings are translated officially into French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian,” Glynis Bradfield explained to Adventist Today. Bradfield, the director of Student Services in the Andrews University School of Distance Education and the Camporee's international guest coordinator, also said that other small groups—such as attendees from Russia, Romania or Korea—sit together with their own interpreter. Furthermore, guest clubs from other world divisions have the option of partnering with a host club from within the NAD. This arrangement is intended to build relationships across cultures and to help clubs from abroad overcome linguistic and cultural challenges.
Although event planners attempt to keep costs low ($195 per person early bird rate), transportation costs and entrance fees remain a significant challenge for many clubs. Some clubs sold pizzas, washed cars, hosted yard sales/flea markets to raise money to attend the event. Pastor Denis and LeAnn Austin, who sponsor the Steel City Pathfinders at the Pittsburgh SDA Church told Adventist Today that “each year between camporees, we do one fundraiser specifically for the camporee, a bike-a-thon, for which the kids get sponsors.” This is the Austin's third international camporee, and Denis exlained why the effort is important to him: “We do it to show our kids that they are not alone. We do not have a church school, so Pathfinders is what we do, along with great Sabbath School classes, to connect our kids to each other and God.”
Not only does it take years for the clubs to raise funds, it also takes a considerable amount of time to plan. Event coordinators report it takes approximately four years to plan and organize this Camporee. “We really care and value our young people,” Whitehead shared. “I’ve never been so physically exhausted but I’ve never been happier to be this tired.”
Adventist Today talked with a young person who appreciates the efforts of leaders like the Austins and Whitehead. Autumn Meis, now a student at Great Lakes Adventist Academy, attended the 2009 Camporee as a member of the Holly Heron Pathfinder Club in Holly, Michigan. Meis shared her experience at Oshkosh with Adventist Today via Facebook: “I loved just being around so many Christian youth!! Being able to meet new people from so many different areas of the world!! It was AMAZING!!! I also LOVED the plays at night! They really make the stories come alive and were tons of fun!! Trading pins with random people was super fun too!” When asked if Meis would encourage others to attend, she responded with great enthusiasm despite memories of problems with shower water pressure and drainage. “YES,” she declared. “Oshkosh is amazing! It's inspiring! It's fun! It's something you will never forget! You can see so many people there! Earn honors! Make friends! It's something every Adventist youth should go to at least once! I'll never forget the memories I made there!”
The Forever Faithful Camporee will conclude Saturday August 16 with a parade down Main Street featuring 1,500 pathfinders. The parade, open to the community, will finish at Leach Amphitheater with a rally featuring guest speaker, Cedric Ceballos, a NBA all-star who played with the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns.
Those who cannot attend the Camporee can still follow the event on their computers, televisions and telephones. iPhone users may download the Camporee app, which features news and activities of the gathering. Additionally, the Hope Channel will provide coverage through online streaming and standard broadcasts.
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 iTunes app: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/camporee/id408980547?mt=8.