f you’re one of the tens of thousands of Pathfinders attending this camporee, Ron Whitehead and Japhet DeOliveira say they did all this hard work for one reason: you.
Specifically, it’s to give you the sense that you’re important: to Jesus, and to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“For me, it’s a personal calling, to make sure that young people understand and know how valuable they are to this church,” said Whitehead, known by almost all, it seems, as “Pastor Ron.”
Adds DeOliveira, who is in charge of the evening meetings themed around
a dramatic live presentation of the story of Esther, “There’s a tremendous amount of energy in working with like-minded people who are all about creating a moment.”
Says Pastor Ron of the quinquennial camporee, “In the area of youth ministries, it’s the strongest thing we do.”
Even though camporees are huge events, they’re neither easy to stage nor were they a guaranteed thing, Pastor Ron noted. Two early efforts
in 1985 and 1989 were successful but “didn’t hit all the targets,” he said. Then the Adventist Church in Canada weighed staging a camporee, but decided against it.
Pastor Ron, working in a local church conference, said he was restless over this.
“I’m in Rocky Mountain Conference [United States], and I can’t sleep at night. What I heard from the club directors in my conference is they wanted to come together en masse and celebrate Christ, celebrate Pathfindering, get together,” he said. So he asked for—and received—permission to organize an event in Colorado, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
“The first international camporee took place in 1994, and all the targets that make a large event successful were accomplished,” Pastor Ron recalled. Now, camporees are a mission.
He says camporees are “also a calling to let the local club leaders know Pathfindering is a tool for evangelism—not only for the church, but also the community. [It’s] a tool, a wedge to get into the community; [Pathfinders] offers single-parent families’ kids a way to learn outdoor skills, get Bible knowledge, and enjoy nature.”
The camporee, Pastor Ron said, is the “largest five-day Adventist [Church] event in the world,” although it is surpassed by the church’s 10-day business sessions, called a General Conference. “It is a unique thought to think that many Adventist Christians are coming together, with over 100 countries represented.”
Along with assembling a virtual “United Nations” of Adventism, the camporee will have a great impact on kids’ lives, Pastor Ron asserted.
“In the priorities of life, there are only a few times kids can experience this event, because it’s not just a memory for a few weeks or months; it’s a memory for a lifetime, whether active in our faith movement or not,” he said. “Like a cornerstone spiritual memory, camporee connects them to the church in a unique way.”
The range of daily activities—outdoors athletics, local volunteering, Honors seminars—culminates in
the nighttime presentation, which is designed to return the camporee attendees’ focus to the Bible. It’s a range of activities that rivals the breadth of noted American resorts Disneyland and Disney World, but, Pastor Ron said, “with some key differences.”
“The difference between Disney and camporee: At camporee, it’s $27.65 per day for everything, while Disney is $80 a day. At Disney they’re promoting a mouse; at the camporee, we’re promoting Jesus Christ,” he said. Youngsters will “never worship again in that size of a crowd, never see more Pathfinder uniforms than on Sabbath. It’s an amazing Sabbath-morning worship experience.”
The experience of worship and Bible understanding won’t come only on Sabbath, organizers promise. The evening programs, themed around the story of Esther, a young woman who “Chose to Stand” for God in her time, are geared to get people thinking, DeOliveira said.
“It’s the one time we bring the entire community together at camporee. It’s fun to do the activities . . . but we want to bring them all together at one point and focus on the reason we brought them there,” he said.
The 42-foot-high stage is being
constructed to resemble the palace of Xerxes in ancient Persia (present-day Iran), and is based on photos of the ruins of the original palace. DeOliveira noted, “We will try and be as authentic as we can to the look of Xerxes’ palace. On the front wall, which is six feet high, there’s this bull and lion that are fighting each other. It looks like you are entering into Xerxes’ area. [And] Esther is inside this kingdom that is not about God.”
He added, “The whole nighttime program revolves around the story of Esther in five acts. We have a speaker, Murray Hunter from Brisbane, Australia, who’ll wrap up with a thought each night.”
A journal is being printed and distributed so attendees can “journal the experience every day and bring it all together and address something powerful from Esther,” he noted.
Esther, a young woman whose parents vanish from the story early on, is raised by a relative and brought to a place where she’s a true outsider. Those are things some camporee attendees can identify with, both Pastor Ron and DeOliveira noted.
And, Pastor Ron said, there will be plenty of campers to watch the story.
“When the economy cratered [in 2008], we thought attendance would be very soft,” Pastor Ron said. “The last time we had a camporee, 31,000 attended, but [we] thought we’d do only 20,000 this year. Registration went from 17,000 in September 2008 to 22, 26, 29,000, and is now to 36,600-plus registered, nonrefundable, and coming to the camporee. We’ll definitely have more than 35,000 people attending.”
And, he said, that doesn’t include those getting “day pass” tickets that don’t include camping, but will provide access to the “more than 300 different activities, from ice-skating to swimming to waterskiing to climbing walls. Kellogg’s has a helium balloon there. [There will be] bottle rockets, [and] amazing drill and marching—the best drill and marching teams are there. They’ll blow you away. There’s a planetarium we create there . . . [where we] talk about God and His creation, how we need to take care of the planet.”
Pastor Ron said, “It’s a miracle of God. What is God doing here, why did He assemble such a crowd of people in Esther’s name?”
Answering his own question, he said, “We think that every young person needs to know that’s in their spiritual DNA, [and we] want to remind them of their heritage in Christ, or [help them to] find Him as their best friend for the very first time.”
That means a baptism on Sabbath where more than 300 are expected to make that commitment to Jesus and the church. It also means a “takeaway” of values that will last a lifetime, Pastor Ron said.
“We find that in spite of the culture moving on, if you have nature values, Bible values, self-discipline, drill and march, collect cans for the needy—all those things still have value,” he said.
Creating moments the kids will remember is part of what drives DeOliveira. “In my own life, I’ve always treasured memories,” he said. “We’ll leave here with a lot of energy to do something great.”