Pathfinders were on the move in August as 33,000 people journeyed in cars, buses, motor homes and airplanes to attend the Faith on Fire Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
With all the miles to travel there were bound to be some incidents. Jennifer Shearer, Kennewick (Washington) Night Hawks Pathfinder director, was driving their van and pulling a camper-trailer when, somewhere between Rapid City and Wall Drug, North Dakota, a gust of wind caused the camper to start swaying. A second gust caused the trailer to roll, taking the van with it. The trailer broke into splinters, and the van was totaled.
Fortunately, the occupants of the van escaped serious injury and after some medical attention continued on to Oshkosh, arriving a little later than they had planned. On arrival, Ben, Jennifer’s husband, quipped, “Everyone said, ‘We went bust.’ Well we might be broken, but we’re still going.”
To pass the travel time, the Hillsboro, Oregon, Pathfinders were swapping stories about how God had saved their lives or the lives of other people they knew. Suddenly, they gasped in horror at the scene in front of them.
Bob Gaede, club director, was laying on the over-the-cab bed of the pickup-mounted camper and felt the wind lift the camper to 45-degree angle to the left. He quickly climbed to the high side of the bed, and the camper settled back onto the truck.
Then another gust of wind hit, and the camper nearly left the truck. “It tilted to way more than 45 degrees that time,” says Dave Apple, camp cook and Hillsboro church elder, who was driving a car behind the pickup. “There is no way that camper should have stayed on the truck, but it did. The kids were all praying, and they believe they saw God work a miracle.” The camper rotated back up, over and settled back onto the truck.
As soon as they could, the Hillsboro group stopped and everyone gathered for a prayer of thanksgiving. “The wind had bent the mounting brackets all the way up straight on the right side of the truck and completely disconnected [them],” says Bob. “On the left side, the brackets were badly bent but had held.” Club leaders straightened the brackets as best they could, reconnected the camper and drove slowly until the wind subsided.
Other clubs had tires blow out, transmissions fail and other mechanical problems, but through ingenuity, perseverance and the Lord’s protection, everyone arrived.
To get there Pathfinder clubs worked hard to raise the needed funds. They sponsored spaghetti dinners, washed cars, held bake sales and garage sales and found many other creative ways to raise funds. Church members also donated money to help defray expenses.
Getting there was only part of the adventure for clubs from around the world. Clubs from North America hosted international clubs by providing tents, sleeping bags and food. While Alaska is a part of North America, they were unable to bring all their camping gear on the airplanes and so were hosted by mainland clubs as well. The Azure Hills, California, club hosted the Anchorage Pathfinders, and the other Alaskan clubs were hosted by clubs from Michigan and Ohio.
Once at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) campground in Oshkosh, the campers quickly settled into a daily routine. Activities included working for Pathfinder honors, exploring exhibits, visting commercial and ministry booths, and participating in off-site community service, crafts, sports, parades, air shows, evening programs and pin trading.
Pin trading may have been the biggest single activity at the camporee. Ron Whitehead, camporee director, estimates that if every pathfinder had at least 15 pins to trade, then about 400,000 pins changed hands. The pins were creative and beautiful. Some had tiny batteries which powered blinking lights, others had moving parts, and still others came as sets. Six pins were created for the Pathfinders from the Northwest, each representing one of the six conferences which, when put together, became a complete puzzle. The pins from Alaska and Oregon were in short supply which made them more valuable to collectors. Pin trading allowed campers to make friends from North America and the rest of the world.
One of the strongest supporters of the Pathfinders was Don Schneider, North American Division (NAD) president. During the opening ceremony of the camporee, Schneider had 60 seconds to welcome the more than 30,000 people and tell them about his prayer pin project. He told the Pathfinders that if they saw him with his blue backpack and they had prayed with someone they did not know, he would give them a pin.
After the meeting one Pathfinder came up to him and said, “Are you the prayer guy?” This boy couldn’t remember Don’s name, and his position as president of the church meant nothing to him, but Don said he was happy to be known as the “prayer guy.”
Another camper came up to Don and wanted a pin. Don reminded him that he had to pray with someone he didn’t know. The kid ran away, bumping into friends in his haste to find a stranger. In a few minutes he was back, having prayed with a stranger and was asking for his pin. A little while later he was back again. “I already got my pin,” he said, “I just wanted you to know that I’ve been praying with people, and it’s really fun.”
It takes a lot of prayer, dedication, energy and courage to be a Pathfinder club director. Typical of many Pathfinder volunteers is Cathy Ford. She leads the Boise Ponderosa Pathfinders with co-director Walker Roles. A busy person, she is the roadside programs administrator for the Idaho Department of Transportation and oversees the maintenance of the vegetation on Idaho’s roads. She travels a lot in her job and in spite of her schedule makes time for the Pathfinders.
Cathy has been in Pathfinders for 18 years beginning as a counselor and in several other roles. She believes that Pathfinders gives the kids role models to follow, instills Christian values, gives them the desire to share God’s love and lets them know that it is fun to be a Christian. Cathy also believes that “as the Pathfinders grow up and are given training, they become willing to help out in the churches and lead out in other youth activities.” Cathy said that she will continue to serve Pathfinders as long as the Lord wants her to do it.
“This huge camporee in Oshkosh is one way of telling our young people that the Adventist Church cares about them,” states Alphonso McCarthy, North Pacific Union Conference youth director. “It is an opportunity for them to expand their vision of the church, to see other young Adventist Christians, talk with them, realize that there are thousands of people just like them facing the same issues, and gain in the understanding that they are not alone.”
The Faith on Fire Pathfinder Camporee provided memories that will last a lifetime. •