What if I told you that spending a full five or six days in an open field, surrounded by 50,000 people or more, walking five to 10 miles per day, having to go to porta potties and bathe in shower houses, and sleeping in a tent and trying to keep up with a group of teens and preteens would be the best experience that you could ever have this summer? This is what happens every five years at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) airfields in OshKosh, Wisconsin.
For the past 34 years the Pathfinder Club ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America has gathered in different places.1 From Colorado to Pennsylvania to its current location in Wisconsin, this gathering of young people and leaders has continued to grow at an amazing pace and has become the event for anyone and everyone who enjoys being a Pathfinder. You might ask: “What is Pathfinders; and why do you want to ‘suffer’ for almost a week, sleeping on the ground and dealing with preteens and teens?”2
Getting to Oshkosh
Let me tell you the story that helped me understand this ministry. While pastoring a small two-church district in south Texas, I had the opportunity to revitalize the Pathfinder Club ministry. The churches, with a combined Sabbath attendance of 80, hadn’t had a Pathfinder ministry for years. As soon as I arrived in early 2008, we started to dream about having a Pathfinder Club, and also about going to this big event occuring in Wisconsin. We had about a year to prepare, fund-raise, get our tickets, and plan our 30-hour bus trip. We started looking at budgets and we realized that to get to Oshkosh in 2009, we would have to work hard to raise the money.
There were moments when the leaders and parents asked whether we’d make it. There were church mortgages, local church expenses, and many other important things to pay for, and sometimes we didn’t know where the money was going to come from. But lo and behold, we raised enough money to take 31 people (15 Pathfinders and 16 staff members).
“Church” — but Different
The trip was long, expectations were high, and anxiety was heavy, but the moment we got to the place and lined up to enter the camp premises as part of the 40,000 people gathering there, it became the experience of a lifetime for many of those Pathfinders and parents. Yes, we walked a lot; yes, we slept on the floor; yes, the bathrooms were not what we were used to; but the youth had fun! They connected with young people like them from all across North America, and even from other parts of the world. They experienced “church” as they could not have in their church back home. They learned about Queen Esther in a different way, and their worldview was transformed.
We were all tired at the end, but after this camporee the kids and their parents were never the same — in a good way. Youth ministry impacted and revitalized at my local churches because of this event.
I have no doubt that a similar thing will happen this month as Pathfinders gather again on the EAA airfield.
Wouldn’t you want that to happen in your church? Support your Pathfinder Club and the Pathfinders in it. If you don’t have a club in your church, contact your local conference youth ministry department and ask for help to start one.
It isn’t too early to start thinking about the 2024 International Pathfinder Camporee!
1 Visit vimeo.com/153679819 for a Pathfinder camporee history video.
2 See www.pathfindersonline.org to learn about Pathfinders; visit vimeo.com/265203931 for the 2019 camporee promotional video.
— Armando Miranda, Jr., is Pathfinder director and associate director of Youth and Young Adults Ministries for the North American Division.