Stories & Commentaries

Swamped at Oshkosh!

Adventist Education wasn't sure what to expect when they opened for business in a airplane hanger at the 2019 Chosen International Pathfinder Camporee.

girls in hangar at Oshkosh 2019

Pathfinders at the 2019 Chosen International Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wis., spend some time learning in one of the hangars at the EAA airfield where the camporee took place. Photo by Sonja Hults

Swamped at Oshkosh! The dawn broke on a vast empty space. An 18-wheeler roared somewhere out on a forgotten freeway. A small group of men and women sat, heads bowed, drawn together by a dream and the electricity of nervous anticipation.

NAD Adventist Education had never attempted anything quite like what was about to happen at Oshkosh. The planning team led by Ruth Horton (Lake Union Conference) had pulled together and rented a massive aircraft hangar at the Oshkosh Pathfinder Camporee. Forty-two schools, colleges, and educational service providers came on board to pack the hanger full of everything from programable robots to an escape room, from virtual reality displays to a full-sized aircraft.

As they prayed together, the hanger sat thick with questions marks. Would kids come? If they did, would they stay? Was there anything in here that really would grab them, engage them, and most importantly, inspire them? No one would know until 12 noon when the hanger would go live.

From time to time, team members wandered outside only to be greeted by the vast emptiness of a full-sized airstrip with nothing but the occasional exhibitor golf cart puttering by.

As the minutes ticket by, the tension grew thick.

At 12 noon sharp, the massive hanger doors went up. And there, waiting patiently in the summer heat were hundreds of people. Good. But not great. Hundreds wouldn’t fill this massive hanger. Thirty minutes ticked slowly by, and then, as if on cue, the craziness began. Soon lines to get in where 50 deep, and that was just the beginning. By the end of the week, roughly 30,000 people had been through the Adventist Education hanger each day. If you want to know what that looks like, imagine the Tokyo Subway at rush hour, and then multiply it by 8 hours a day for five days!

They came, they came back, and then they came back again. 

The response was overwhelmingly positive. One parent commented, “This event has been life changing for our family!” A pathfinder leader was overheard calling his club on his cell phone saying “You have to get all the pathfinders over here now! This hangar is amazing — full of all the things our kids love!” And as for inspiring people to action? People liked what they saw, and signed up thick and fast. 

Collegedale Academy has many pages of names of families expressing interest in attending and many academies have students attending school this year after coming to their booth and finding out about the tremendous opportunities available. For example, Great Lakes Academy was getting back to campus the Sunday after Oshkosh so they could register a new student to start school Monday, after the student decided to attend the academy on Thursday after learning about all the Academy has to offer. Similarly, the treasurer from Indiana Academy had two phone calls on Friday from students who are enrolling after staff talked to them about the school. Indiana Academy profiled their foreign mission trips program and extensive community service. The academy credits their monthly mission projects, inspired from Isaiah 58 including baking and delivering bread, making quilts for babies, prison ministries, meals for the homeless shelter, assisting in the local library as part of the appeal for potential students at camporee.

Arne Nielsen, North American Division vice president for Education, commented, “We are so thankful to God, and the outstanding team of educational leaders who pulled this off. It greatly exceeded our expectations. We learned three things. First, there’s a God in Heaven who answers sincere, humble prayers. Second, when the pressure is on, we’re a team who pull together, put in the long hours, and support each other. Finally, when people hear about the amazing schools across our division, they want to attend them. God gave this church a unique vision for education. It is great to see that vision catching on among Pathfinders, their parents and their leaders.”

— Leisa Morton-Standish, Ph.D., is director of Elementary Education for the North American Division.