Southeastern Conference’s campground pavilion in Hawthorne, Florida, was transformed last weekend into a Bible-knowledge testing center for Pathfinders of the North American Division (NAD) and beyond.
The 2018 Pathfinder Bible Experience (PBE) Division Finals on April 20 – 21 drew an unprecedented number of team - 193 qualified, but only 185 of those teams participated in the testing.
“This was a historic one,” said Gene Clapp, PBE coordinator. “The most teams that we’ve ever had at the division level has been 128 teams. We were hearing of a ground-swell of the teams participating this year. I think [they were excited] because of the stories of Esther and Daniel. The kids really got into it.”
Since 2012, PBE has been a four-step process. The teams are first chosen by their clubs to compete in their local districts. Those who score within 90 percent of the highest score advance to the conference level. The same pattern continues through the union level all the way to the division.
This year, nine NAD unions were represented along with 16 teams from the British Union. Nearly 4,000 Pathfinders, coaches, and supporters descended on the Hawthorne Campground for PBE’s weekend event. The president of the South England Conference, Emmanuel Osei, was also able to attend the opening events.
The 185 teams were comprised of six members. The teams were asked 90 questions based on the biblical books of Daniel and Esther, and worth a total of 170 points. Those that scored within 90 percent of the highest score were awarded first place, which was given to 114 teams.
“I was happy when we got a first place. Putting all that we memorized to practice was a lot of fun,” said Tanupiwanashe Tsikirai from the Pleasant Valley Panthers Pathfinder Club in the North Pacific Union. Tsikirai studied at least one hour a day as her team progressed through the four stages of PBE. She and her team also met on a weekly basis to study for two hours.
“It’s amazing how much a child’s mind can retain if it’s put in the right purpose with the right tools,” said Julian Gomez, assistant coach for the Ann Arbor Anchors Pathfinder Club in Lake Union. “Believe in your Pathfinders. Sometimes we underestimate their skills and their capabilities. God has made us with such a tremendous mind to soak up information and to use it for His glory.”
Accommodating the Historic Turnout
Southeastern Conference’s property was initially chosen in January for its ability to handle PBE’s average of 100 – 120 teams and their supporters. But in March, leaders got the shocking final number – 193.
“That meant that our logistics needed to be expanded and adjusted with one month to go,” said Armando Miranda, associate director of NAD Youth Ministries. “But praise to God, He foresaw this, and the venue was able to accommodate all the teams under one roof. … We praise the Lord for allowing us to have enough space before we even thought we needed it.”
According to Southeastern Conference leaders, more than 2,300 meals were served throughout the weekend, and 400 people stayed in the campground’s cabins.
“When you’re buying a house, you always hear emphasis on ‘location, location, location,’” said Vandeon Griffin, the newest associate director of NAD Youth Ministries. “People were really excited about coming south to be in warmer temperatures. But I think what really set it apart was the excitement of students wanting to be together in this one place to talk about Jesus and the Word of God, to worship together, and to have some amazing food and fellowship.”
PBE also generated significant engagement online. NAD Youth Ministries’ livestreams throughout the weekend drew over 43,000 views on Facebook Live and reached more than 94,000 on the platform.
Decisive and Purposeful Living
The testing on Sabbath morning was couched between worship services on Friday and Sabbath afternoon.
Friday’s service centered on a message delivered by Griffin, who spoke about the dangers of indecisive Christianity during his message called, “In the Middle.” The sermon was based on Revelation 3:14-20, which contains the message to the church of Laodicea that was “lukewarm,” neither hot nor cold with their affections toward God.
“Many people like to live the Christian experience just like the Oreo cookie,” said Griffin, who linked his message to the strategic approach of eating an Oreo cookie, since many believe the filling in the middle is the cookie’s most important part.
Griffin encouraged the Pathfinders to make a firm decision to live for Christ and to live a life of integrity like that of Joseph (Genesis 39). He also urged the youth to cast their allegiance to God, even in the face of danger, like the three Hebrew boys who were thrown in the fiery furnace for not bowing down to an idol (Daniel 3).
Sabbath afternoon, NAD executive secretary Alex Bryant spoke on the subject “You are the One,” which was based on the story of David’s anointing, and the beloved promise that’s found in Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans of a hope and a future.”
Bryant encouraged the Pathfinders to live with purpose, embrace the present, and to trust God with the future. “God has called you to do what only you can do. Accept the challenge of being ‘The One,’” said Bryant.
He shared a personal story of the car he purchased when he was 16 years old. The car was in bad shape, but Bryant saw the car’s potential and was able to get it remodeled. Bryant said that it’s the same when a person is called by God but feels inadequate. He shared that before David was revealed to be the anointed king of Israel, both his father and the prophet Samuel thought the obvious choice was David’s oldest and strongest brother.
“We should not get caught up in what we look like now. As long as the inside is connected to God, he’ll take care of the outside,” said Bryant.
Worship Service Highlights
During the Sabbath service, Ron Whitehead, director for “Chosen,” the 2019 Oshkosh Camporee, reminded Pathfinders to register for the international event in Wisconsin.
“We already have clubs signed up from Cuba and Mainland China,” said Whitehead. One way to register is to use Oshkosh’s App, “Camporee,” which is available for Apple and Android devices.
Chosen is set to take place August 12-17, 2019.
Whitehead was then joined by Clapp, and Miranda in presenting a plaque to Terry Dodge, who is recognized as the forerunner of PBE.
Later in the service, participants watched a video featuring Samantha Grady, the Adventist student who was injured by two bullets during the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Grady took the stage following the video to share her musical gifts. Before singing “I Know My Redeemer Lives,” she said, “I’ve seen things no one should ever see. And I’ve heard things no one should ever hear.”
“Music really helps me,” said Grady. “This song exemplifies victory and triumph. Because He lives, I’m here today.”
PBE is made possible by a team effort, not only for the Pathfinders, but also for the clubs’ leaders.
“A great program cannot happen without great leaders and great volunteers. Our Pathfinder ministry in North America is very strong and keeps growing … We definitely are appreciative of the parents and coaches of the Pathfinders who sacrifice time, money, and resources to be at the event,” said Miranda.
“With the knowledge they are getting from studying the Bible, and the support [they’re receiving] from their leaders and parents, we know we have so many present and future leaders in our midst,” he continued.
PBE’s impact reaches beyond testing days into the daily lives of the Pathfinders. “Often times children feel they may be the only Christian in their school or the only faithful one in their church,” said Gomez. "When they come to an event such as this where there are thousands like Daniel and Esther who are ready to stand up and be counted, it is encouraging for them to know they’re not alone.”
“I really enjoyed the whole experience,” said Juan Mendez, second-year member of the Ann Arbor Anchors Pathfinder Club, which won a first prize after failing to qualify for last year’s PBE Division Finals. “It was fulfilling, exciting, and hard to believe. I worked very hard for this … it was very exciting to have such a supporting team.”
Mendez said his team had tremendous encouragement from family and church members throughout the testing levels. “They do so much to enable us to help us get this far. … There are a lot of people who contribute to this,” he said. “You see us when we walk up here and get the [certificate] but there’s more people behind us who picked us up [so we could get] the paper.”
More than anything, PBE is about leading young people to scripture so they can understand it for themselves and be equipped to help others with their faith.
“I hope they were encouraged to take the opportunity to always connect with someone else when studying God’s word,” said Griffin. “Something happens when we share the word of God with one another, it deepens the impression. When it comes to the word of God, we all win.”
Click here to view more photos of the Pathfinder Bible Experience - 2018 Division Finals.