June 5, 2019

Growing Young in the Lake Union

He was prepared to leave the Seventh-day Adventist Church for good. But he went to a Pathfinder event called “Oshkosh,” and now he’s a leader in God’s last day remnant church.

This was the testimony of an individual I recently met at the Camporee orientation held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, possibly the largest Christian camporee held in the nation.

At the day-long orientation, presentations were made by about 10 or so associate level leaders of the camping extravaganza, all of whom support the Christian Youth Evangelism Department, a resource shared by Andrews University and the Lake Union Conference. They covered a variety of subjects, ranging from where bathrooms and showers will be located to whether you can fly drones (which you cannot.) It’s quite impressive to see! It was a tremendous privilege to see how adroitly Ron Whitehead, affectionately known quite literally around the world as “Pastor Ron,” with his excellent team at his side, has put together this extraordinarily executed event of mammoth proportions.   

Parents and “spiritual parents,” and, in some instances, young adults, as was the case with the gentleman I met mentioned above, who probably would be bettered considered a “big brother” to the youth who participate in Pathfinders, take time off from work and money from their pockets, to camp throughout hill and dale of their region to help boys and girls grow into mature servants in God’s work by taking them to events called camporees. They are the true big brothers and sisters of today’s church who, once every five years, come to this event.

This year, tickets to the Oshkosh Camporee sold out faster than ever. The Lake Union is privileged to host 50,000 attendees from all over the globe. “Chosen” this year’s theme of the international gathering, is taken from the boyhood life of David. Betty Whitehead, Pastor Ron’s wife, designs a gargantuan stage for the continuing story which is portrayed each night, written on the Camporee theme.

Vernon Byrd, known far and wide as “Vern,” oversees the arrangement of the camporee site; Sue Young and many others serve faithfully in capacities too numerous to cover here. 

I’ve only been once before. I could have gone when my children were of Pathfinder age, and regret that I didn’t. I’m sure the youth I pastored would have had a keen appreciation for their pastor accompanying them on the trip, especially my kids. I did attend when I served as a conference president, and the youth of our conference certainly did show their appreciation on that occasion.

When Pastor Ron introduced me to the young man who almost left the church, the young man stated, “It was how well Oshkosh was organized that changed my mind and convinced me to stay in the church.” He went on to say with a look of satisfaction on his face, “Now, I'm the Pathfinder director for my church.”

To that, I immediately said to Pastor Ron, “That’s what makes all this more than worth it. All the headaches and heartaches you’ve endured are satisfied when you meet one person that says, ‘I’m here because of you!’” It reminds me of what the Bible states: He shall see the travail of His soul and be satisfied: by Hisknowledge shall My righteous servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities… (Is. 53:11 KJV).   

Two days after the Oshkosh orientation, Sharon and I were privileged to visit the Pathfinder Bible Experience (PBE), still known by some as Bible Bowl. Again, what a logistically impressive sight to behold of great planning and execution. Two hundred teams from around the North American Division and beyond were there. They studied the Gospel of Luke and answered Bible questions posed by a moderator, overseen by a judge. When I arrived, there was standing room only as the North American Division organizers underestimated the amount of youth that would participate. A good problem, indeed! 

The worldwide Seventh-day Adventist camporee at Oshkosh is the brainchild of Pastor Ron; the Pathfinder Bible Experience (PBE) is the brainchild of Terry Dodge, a long-standing member of the Michigan Conference. These two gentlemen are responsible for the world coming to our doorstep twice this year.

Would you join me in prayer for this year’s International Camporee that all goes well there? Most importantly, pray that young people will commit their lives to Jesus in baptism.

I once spoke for a Union camporee. As I drew my message to that optimistic age of young people to a close, it seemed they were sitting on the edge of their seats, waiting for the sermon appeal before it was given.

At PBE, the young people came in droves to commit their lives to Christ, and thank God they did, as one person I visited stated none of his group had yet been baptized. Thank God for a movement that broadens our horizons, prepares us to be lifelong servant leaders, giving us many opportunities to serve and lead, many of which, we simply take for granted.

This August I hope to see that Pathfinder director, the young man that “almost left,” along with his troop. I’m here today because church members invested time and attention in me as a youth and young adult. Would you do the same? Join me in praying for this worldwide camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, August 12‒17. 

Thank God for the Lake Union Conference, the place where the Missionary Volunteer Society (now Adventist Youth) and Pathfinders were born, even as the Seventh-day Adventist Church and many other Adventist entities that are now worldwide staples of Adventist polity and culture also were birthed right here in this Union. Thank God for our Center for Youth Evangelism, Ron and Betty Whitehead, and all those who serve under Ron’s leadership in our Lake Union Youth Department. Most of all, praise the Lord for what He has wrought in giving us the Seventh-day Adventist Church! Again, I exclaim, What hath God wrought! (Numbers 23:23).