Sean Bernardo is like many other 10-year-old boys. He enjoys playing video games, he is sometimes annoyed by his two younger sisters, and he loves sports: basketball, soccer, tennis, swimming, and pretty much any activity that lets him burn off his energy. In fact, Sean used to have so much restless energy that he sometimes had trouble sitting still.
A few years ago, in an effort to channel his son’s energy and also bond over a shared interest, Sean’s father, Ardison began taking him on bike rides. Together, they would ride for long periods of time without tiring, and Ardison began to wonder just how long his son could last. At one point he asked Sean, "Why do you have so much energy?”
The boy replied, “God gives it to me.”
An idea was soon hatched to use Sean’s energy and new passion for a greater good.
Ardison, pastor of Bramalea Filipino-Canadian church in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, and his wife, Cindy, had always endeavored to teach their children about being engaged in ministry and their community. Ardison planned Sean’s first bike ride fundraiser as an event to help send the youth of their church to a Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC) convention being held in Orlando, Florida.
A goal of 53 kilometers (32.9 miles) was set, and on May 26, 2013, Ardison and Sean rode together on an unpaved trail from the Tottenham Conservation Area to Brampton. Despite the challenge of using a single-gear bicycle on rough terrain, Sean persevered, and the father-and-son pair completed the ride in just under eight hours. Approximately $1,000 was raised for GYC, and a spark was ignited in Sean.
While Sean enjoyed being surrounded by nature, the rough terrain proved difficult, so the next year, Ardison decided to switch to a paved trail. On Aug. 4, 2014, the pair embarked on a new challenge — a 100-kilometer (62.1 miles) round-trip jaunt along the Toronto waterfront. Sean’s passion for Pathfinders led him to fundraise for the “Bible and a Buck” project at the 2014 International Pathfinder Camporee, which aimed to collect 25,000 Bibles for distribution to countries with little or no access to the Bible.
Armed with a larger multigear bike (in fire-engine red!), Sean and Ardison began their journey in Scarborough, Ontario. This time, instead of riding straight through, the pair enjoyed the scenery along the waterfront, stopping for photos and breaks along the way. Unfortunately, Mother Nature did not fully cooperate, and halfway through the ride, it began to rain.
At first, Sean was not bothered by the drizzling rain — he actually found it refreshing after the restrictive heat earlier in the day. However, as the rain continued, their clothes became more soaked, and fears of slipping on slick trails forced the pair to seek safety under a picnic shelter until the rain abated. Sean’s mother, Cindy, began to worry about her husband and son as the day wore on and temperatures began to drop. God watched over them, however, and though they had to cut the route short, they managed to complete 86.6 kilometers (53.8 miles) that day.
Despite the setbacks, Sean found the bike ride peaceful, and he raised enough money to buy 100 brand-new Bibles for the Bible and a Buck project and delivered them personally to the camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Stepping Outside Comfort Zones
In 2016, Sean prepared for his biggest challenge yet. Doubling his previous goal, he planned a 200-kilometre (124.3-mile) round-trip from Oshawa to Mississauga, Ontario, over two days. He also set his fundraising sights higher, casting his net beyond the membership of the Bramalea church for the first time and reaching out to the Filipino Adventist Ministries Coordinating Council (FAMCC) churches in Ontario. FAMCC is a committee made up of all of the Filipino-Canadian Adventist churches in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Together, FAMCC’s executive team planned a multispeaker, multisite evangelistic series in Laguna, Philippines, with a culminating series led by conference president, Mansfield Edwards. With an endeavor of this magnitude, Sean’s fundraising goals increased accordingly.
Sean agreed to speak at several churches in the GTA leading up to his bike ride. Sharing his naturally shy disposition, Cindy expressed her admiration of Sean stepping outside of his comfort zone in order to raise funds for evangelism. “Most people thought that [riding for 200 kilometers] was really inspiring. But ... what was really inspiring for me is when his dad told him that he should speak in the Filipino churches. You see, he’s shy. He’s not a confident speaker.... He had to master that fear. He had to overcome his shyness.”
Sean readily admits the nervousness he felt each time he stepped into a new church, facing people he had never met before. Cindy recalls, “Every time we would go to a church, I could feel that he was nervous and shy, ... but every time I saw him in front I thought, My son is doing this, and I know what it takes to go [up] there because I am that [shy] person.”
Despite his fears, Sean continued to visit churches and step up to the pulpit. He recalls the relief he felt as soon as he was finished speaking. He also appreciates the effort every church put into making him feel welcome.
And thus, for two months in the summer of 2016, Sean visited a different church every week, not just speaking about his bike ride, but preaching for church services. Displaying maturity beyond his years, Sean regularly gave up his free time to practice his sermons and sacrificed seeing his friends at church while he travelled each Sabbath.
Finally, bright and early on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, Ardison and Sean departed from Courtice, Ontario, to begin the first leg of their journey. Fortunately, the weather cooperated, and they enjoyed a beautiful sunny day while riding their bikes across the GTA. After completing the first leg, Ardison and Sean spent the night in a hotel to rest and recover. Sean kept his spirits up by video chatting with his mom and sisters back home, and then settled in for a good night’s rest to prepare for another full day of cycling.
The second leg of the journey began much as the first. With a bright shining sun, Sean took off toward home. Ardison had begun to feel the strain of cycling, but pushing his own discomfort aside, he allowed Sean to continue to set the pace for their ride. And together, father and son rode side by side for eight hours toward their final destination: home. Sean was so excited to see his mom again that he was actually faster on the return trip than during the first leg.
Fortunately, Sean’s hard work and dedication, both in the churches and out on the trails, paid off. After two months of fundraising, he raised a staggering $8,000 for the evangelistic series in the Philippines, more than half of the total fundraising earned for the mission trip. Every single penny went to the fundraising effort, but there were a few kind souls who felt especially impressed to give Sean a separate donation for himself. Those funds were put directly into a savings account by his parents and will go toward a new road bike for future rides.
So what lessons have they learned so far? Ardison learned the finer details of planning — matching the terrain to the right kinds of equipment, preparing for rain and other inclement weather, and remaining mindful of the time. He will take this into account as he plans their next route for their fourth fundraising bike ride this summer.
Learning Along the Way
While Sean always enjoyed these long bike rides, he has learned over the years to focus on his goal. By the third fundraising bike ride, he no longer complained, instead choosing to concentrate on the task at hand and enjoying the peacefulness of nature around them. Luckily, his boundless energy and love for cycling propelled him forward, so the only preparation required was extra rest and early bed times. For future rides, however, he will start training to increase his overall pace. As for the preaching, introverted Sean is unsure that he would choose to go through that experience again.
He does, however, have sage advice for other children who may consider undertaking their own projects. “Never give up.” He is adamant in insisting that whatever your goal may be, don’t quit, or you’ll never achieve it.
Plans are still tentative for this summer, but they are looking at increasing the goal distance once again, this time to 250 kilometers (155.3 miles). Ardison is also in the process of narrowing down a list of potential recipients for the fundraising component. He has been prayerfully seeking God’s guidance in each aspect of the preparations, waiting for the Lord to direct his plans. For his part, Sean trusts his dad to handle the details, knowing that when he sets off on his bike once again, his father will be right by his side the entire time.
When Sean began his first fundraising bike ride at seven years old, he could not have conceived what it would become. Sean has now cycled almost 350 kilometers (217.5 miles), raised nearly $10,000 for various projects, and preached at seven different churches. It’s quite an accomplishment for anyone, much less a shy 10-year-old boy. And yet, the goal was never about the money; it was about parents teaching their child about helping others. A simple joy for bike riding was transformed into his own ministry.
To ask him about it, Sean’s quiet exterior belies his enthusiasm. He may protest at the attention, but Sean Bernardo is a shining example of what can be accomplished with a passion and a goal, whether you are 7 or 70, 10 or 100. He didn’t aim for greatness or have visions of grandeur, but he did learn that anyone can make a difference in the world around them. Sean may have started small, but along the way the words of Theodore Roosevelt rang true, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are,” and that makes all the difference in the world.
— Aimee Perez is a secretary and staff writer for the Canadian Adventist Messenger; click here to find a link for the original article published in the April 2017 Messenger.