Oshkosh, Wisconsin, United States [Ansel Oliver/ANN; CD EUDNews]. Kids are excited about meeting people from other countries. Teens are eager to climb walls and clean parks. And their chaperones are glad most smartphones will be off for a week.
The massive Seventh-day Adventist Pathfinder Camporee has begun here in the U.S. state of Wisconsin, which plays host to an event bringing 44,000 people from across the United States, Canada and Bermuda, and an additional 2,000 people from more than 50 other countries.
The event—the North American Division Pathfinder Camporee hosted by the Center for Youth Evangelism—is held every five years. Organizer Ron Whitehead says it takes four years to plan.
“I’ve never been so physically exhausted, but I’ve never been happier to be this tired,” Whitehead said. “We really care and value our young people.”
This year’s Camporee—with the theme “Forever Faithful”—is being held at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture Campgrounds. This is the fourth time organizers have held the event here, and the gathering increases the city of Oshkosh’s population by approximately 70 percent.
From now until Saturday, tens of thousands of Seventh-day Adventist youth and their friends will participate in community service projects, attend nightly spiritual programs and earn “honor” patches for their service and learning activities.
Some Pathfinders might as well receive an honor for just getting here. Today, 11 members of clubs from the denomination’s Carolina Conference arrived after biking the 830-mile trip. Other clubs have spent years fundraising with car washes and bake sales to earn their entrance fee, travel funds and supplies.
Now that most clubs are here, the walking has begun, and some of it is through mud. The event is being held at a 500-acre campground, where dirt roads turned muddy last night after wind and rain.
Still, most attendees are maintaining a positive attitude through the weather, which is predicted to improve for rest of the week and offer a good environment for the huge gathering.
“It’s been kind of challenging. Our kitchen tent flew away,” said 15-year-old Terell Rhooms from the Frontiers Pathfinder Club at Hope Adventist Church in Toronto, Canada. They’ve since tied it down, he said while waiting for the exhibits in the airfield’s hangars to open. Rhooms said he’s heard there is basketball, zip lining and an obstacle course to anticipate during the Camporee.
“I came because I heard it was fun,” Rhooms said. “Everyone said it was a good experience, good memories, and you draw closer to God.”
Tiffany Fronda, 27, deputy director of the Challengers Pathfinder Club at the Hindsdale, Illinois Filipino-American Adventist Church, said the weather “wasn’t good, but “not bad” either. “We’ve [previously] had tornadoes, we’ve had frigid temperatures, we’ve had super hot heat stroke weather. Now we get the rain. All seasons.”
“But the Lord always comes through,” Fronda said, before adding: “At least we don’t have to worry about a sandstorm,” which occurred at the 1994 Camporee in the state of Colorado.
Twelve-year-old Abigail Oré Calderon from Lima, Peru, who enjoys camping and “adventures,” said, “Even though it was raining, I’m happy to be here.” She and her group from the Orion Pathfinder Club at Villa Union Adventist Church are being hosted by a club from the U.S.
That group, the Mentone Adventist Church in Mentone, California, went online before the Camporee to choose an international group to host. Member David Guajardo, 13, said he came because he enjoys camping, and his parents encouraged him. “They said it would be a once in a lifetime experience,” he said.
Several club leaders said the best part of experiencing the event is for Pathfinders to simply interact with each other. Some are even making a rule that cameras are the only electronics allowed. At the Milwaukee airport last night, Pathfinder leader Lester Lorenson from Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, let his Pathfinders play games on their phones while waiting for a van, but his plan was for mobile devices to be shut off for the rest of the week.
“I want them to be a team,” Lorenson said. “When they’re playing games they’re not talking to each other, experiencing things, exercising, teasing each other—things kids do.”
pictures: 1. The participants (FFIC); 2. Some of the Youth World Leaders (R. Grieco); 3. Some Union College representatives (FFIC);