Valentine with the young man he baptized at the recent "Chosen" Pathfinder Camporee | Photo by Jean-Irés Michel

January 2, 2020

Enlarging Our Territories

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six . . . I still remember hearing the mind-riveting countdown echoing across Cape Canaveral with earnest expectation of liftoff on our family’s TV. Who could forget the sound of air seemingly being torn like paper as that spacecraft vaulted through the heavens?

As we commemorate the celebration of the lunar launch and landing 50 years ago, which impressively ripped open the skies puncturing the heavens above in a manner never done since Jesus ascended to heaven, we, the Seventh-day Adventist Church some 150 years ago, like the Apollo rocket but with the might and speed of angels, encircled the globe with angelic winged messages that break every societal norm assuring mankind that grace abounds and heralds a touchdown for which we all long — the return of Jesus.


Recently, Sharon, my wonderful wife of 34 years, and I were at a three-day AdventHealth event called “Conference on Mission.” That Sabbath, as we were leaving the worship service, Sharon stopped to ask a young lady how she became a Seventh-day Adventist. She replied, “Actually, I’m not.” What she stated next reminded me of the blessing of our connectedness as a church family. She remarked with a smile, “But now that I see how close you all are, I’m considering becoming a Seventh-day Adventist. You all are like a big family!” She is an employee of AdventHealth (the new name of the former Adventist Health System) and was attending the meetings in place of her boss who was on a mission trip. What a blessing that she observed our “community” as people were present from many states, most of which are east of the Rockies.   I’ve heard similar statements mentioned by others, such as, “In our denomination, we rarely interact with other churches right down the street. We might get together once or twice a year for a concert, maybe.” Thank God our pioneers recognized in our infancy that the fuel that would jettison these outstanding messages of the Three Angels to the farthest parts of the world required a global vision. That’s why the mission story and offering were regular staples of the Sabbath School society. The phrase, enlarge my territory, taken from the prayer of Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:10), is a truism for the Lake Union Conference. Our territory has been enlarged, not geographically but relationally with the broader Adventist faith community. In the last year, we were privileged to host the Seventh-day Adventist World Church on many occasions. The events range from three national level Treasury and Trust training events, a division-wide teachers convention, the Pathfinder Bible Experience — with participants from faraway lands and, of course, the International Pathfinder Camporee at Oshkosh, an event that has grown so big that the Lake Union Conference is no longer identified as its sponsoring organization.


While at Oshkosh, I was privileged to baptize a young man, who, just after changing back into his regular clothes, looked up toward the sky with an absolute sense of amazement. Observing his face, I saw it lit up with a sense of awe one rarely sees. Not sure what he was looking at, I turned and saw the Pathfinder scarf blowing gently in the breeze. The scarf was held up by two cranes and visible from the adjacent highway. As I was turning, he exclaimed, “Wow, do you see that?!” A generous donor was kind enough to purchase the mammoth scarf which holds the Guinness world record for its size, spanning 100 feet tall by 300 feet wide.

Again, he smiled more broadly as he opened the thoughtfully prepared baptismal bag of gifts which contained a Pathfinder pin, a beautiful color baptismal certificate and a green Bible, causing the 17-year-old newly baptized member to say with delight, “Green’s my favorite color.” I felt honored to sign his beautifully designed color baptismal certificate.

To date, the total baptism count was in excess of 1,300 young people. As I write this editorial, the young people who were baptized are being contacted by our Youth director, Ron Whitehead, and his team which led the 55,000-attendee event representing 105 countries. By faith, the baptismal planners planned for 1,000 souls. They had to scurry to find enough gifts for the 300-plus more youth and young adults that chose to give their hearts to Jesus. Speaking with Pastor Ron, he stated, “Oshkosh is really a big evangelistic meeting!” 

Evangelistic meetings require much planning. Thank God, once again, for Pastor Ron’s team who planned and executed the largest baptism in the Lake Union and North American Division’s history. As I visited several local businesses, both near and as far as 20 miles away, it was clear the event itself generated an interest in the surrounding community as to who we were. Moreover, we left knowing we had served the community as the Lake Union Adventist Community Health Initiative (dental/medical) event also worked in tandem with the main event, seeing to the needs of roughly 50 people. Special thanks are in order to Dr. Randy and Kathy Griffin and their team of volunteers for their ardent support of this major undertaking. Many other Lake Union Conference employees played key roles in the execution of this event too numerous to enumerate here. Thank God for a great team we have here in this office. 

Moreover, many from within our union and from other union conferences worked arduously to see the youth and young adults evangelized truly encircling the globe.

Several biblically based, story-telling theaters I’ve attended that showcase period accurate costuming, live animals, and well-written and well-executed plays do not surpass the efforts of Ron’s wife, Betty Whitehead, and her team. Biblical story theaters often display their stories many times, sometimes daily, not contending with having only one time to get it right. The actors at “Chosen” were committed Christian young (and young-at-heart) people who were happy to be used of the Lord. It was amazing to see that, although they had only one time to present, they knew their lines very well and acted on the level of professionals, not missing a single cue or beat. 

Maybe the greatest unsung heroes are the Pathfinder leaders who organized, raised funds, gave up their vacations, drove or flew hundreds or thousands of miles, and keep the clubs going year in and year out. What a precious sacrifice they give to the Advent movement and, moreover, to building the Kingdom of Christ, rooting and grounding the next generation in the service of their Lord and Savior for years to come. 

Because of our connectedness, we so often under appreciate all the factors — from training educators and treasurers to a world-wide camporee, big and small — that work together to enlarge our territory and advance God’s Kingdom. I'm glad to be a part of our global family!

Remember that young lady who is considering joining our church? Would you please pray for her and all those who are carefully listening to the Word preached at each of our evangelistic initiatives? She and many others certainly remain in our prayers as they contemplate that they, too, have been “Chosen” to serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Let’s pray Oshkosh will be only the first fruits of greater things to come through the power of the Holy Spirit!