Oh, We are the Pathfinders strong, The servants of God are we, Faithful as we march along, In truth and purity. A message to tell to the world, A truth that will set us free, King Jesus the Savior’s coming back for you and me.” Harry Bergh, who composed the Pathfinder song, said “God gave me the tune, because I am not a musician and I have never written a song before or since!” There are now millions of Pathfinders singing this powerful song at club meetings, Conference Pathfinder Camporees, Union Pathfinder Camporees, and the International Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
The Pathfinder Club is a very important organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Statistics tell us that most young people make a decision for Christ before the age of 12. That is why it is so important that we reach children and young people with the message of Jesus’ love while they are young. Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” Pathfinders and summer youth camps are powerful evangelistic opportunities to help make strong commitments to Jesus and His church.
Pathfinder Camporees have become very popular through the years: pin trading, all types of outdoor skill activities, honor classes to earn that special Adventist Youth honor badge to wear on your sash, and campfire programs that feature joyful song services and inspirational Christ-centered messages.
In the early 1980s, Pathfinder Camporees on both the conference and union level became very popular. Ideas and conversation began to center upon the possibility of organizing a North American Division (NAD) Pathfinder Camporee. The search process began with hope for a centralized location. Camp Hale in Leadville, Colorado, became a leading candidate. Camp Hale, between Red Cliff and Leadville in the beautiful Eagle Valley in Colorado, was a U.S. Army training facility constructed in 1942 for what became the 10th Mountain Division. It was located at an elevation of 9,200 feet above sea level. Soldiers were trained in mountain climbing, Alpine and Nordic skiing, cold weather survival, as well as various weapons. An elite ski corps was a national effort. The division was the only one of its size in the U.S. military to receive intense specialized training for fighting in mountainous and arctic conditions.
Camp Hale became the location for the first ever North American Division Pathfinder Camporee, on July 31, 1985. Pathfinders filled up the mountainous valley at Camp Hale. Being the first NAD Camporee, it took quite a bit of organizing to pull it off. The questions of water supply, sanitation, transportation, and first aid were all major components that needed to be addressed before the Camporee could take place. It was a beautiful location and a very successful Pathfinder Camporee! Special thanks is given to Norm Middag, Pathfinder director for the NAD, and Les Pitton, youth director for the NAD, for their vision and leadership. Leo Ranzolin, world Pathfinder director at the General Conference, was also a great supporter of the historic Pathfinder Camporee at Camp Hale. Dick Duerksen was a tremendous help in dealing with all the important logistics. “We Are His Hands” became an instant favorite Camporee theme song, and has been a popular choice for many Camporees. Decisions for baptism and renewed dedication were made for Christ in the beautiful mountain setting.
After a successful Camp Hale, Pathfinders and Pathfinder staff were hoping for another NAD Pathfinder Camporee, but cost and budget limitations became a factor in delaying the planning. After much discussion, some of the conference and union Pathfinder directors came up with the idea of an invitational Pathfinder Camporee sponsored by their union or conference. The first person to step up was Ron Streeter, Pathfinder director of the Columbia Union Conference.
In 1989, Streeter hosted the “Friendship Camporee” at Agape Campground in Shirleysburg, Pennsylvania. The main stage was a replica of Noah’s Ark. Some 12,000 Pathfinders were in attendance. “We Are His Colors” was the theme song and the message, and the music was enjoyed by the Pathfinders.
In 1994, Ron Whitehead, Pathfinder director of the Rocky Mountain Conference, hosted the “Dare to Care” International Pathfinder Camporee in Denver, Colorado, with 12,232 Pathfinders from 23 different countries. The campground at Bandimere Speedway was a commercial drag-racing track located in Morrison, Colorado, just outside of Denver. The evening meetings were held at the historic Red Rocks Amphitheater 10 miles west of Denver. This was a beautiful, majestic location for viewing the programs each evening.
These two invitational Camporees were very successful, but there still was a movement for the NAD to host another Camporee like Camp Hale. The cost and budget limitations were still a concern. Ron Whitehead was elected director for the Center of Youth Evangelism (CYE) at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. CYE, in partnership with Andrews University, volunteered to sponsor the next NAD Pathfinder Camporee in 1999. Their offer was accepted with youth directors from the Division, union, and conference represented on the Camporee Committee.
The next big decision would be the location of the Camporee. Chuck Case was Pathfinder director for the Lake Union Conference for many years. He told the Pathfinder Committee about the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) property located in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. After much prayer and discussion, and meetings with the officials from EAA, it was decided to hold the 1999 International Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh.
“Discover the Power” would be the theme of the Camporee. More than 22,000 were in attendance, 53 countries were represented, and 150 individuals were baptized. We saw the protection of our heavenly Father by splitting a major storm to go around the campground! Desmond T. Doss, the only Seventh-day Adventist to win the Congressional Medal of Honor, was one of the spiritual celebrity guests. He was also invested as a Master Guide in a special ceremony. This will always be a special moment for me to remember, because Desmond Doss was invested with my Master Guide scarf. All the supplies for his investiture were present except the Master Guide scarf, so I had the privilege of giving him my scarf.
The 2004 “Faith on Fire” Camporee was also held in Oshkosh, for the second time on the EAA campgrounds. Camporee director Ron Whitehead, Lake Union Conference youth director as well as executive director of CYE, would continue to direct the future International Pathfinder Camporees. At Faith on Fire, 31,000 Pathfinders were in attendance from 83 countries. The Camporee spiritual highlights were the 10,000 community service participants and 296 baptisms. The evening Bible story of Joseph was inspirational and highlighted his “Faith on Fire”! This Camporee was nicknamed the “Winter Camporee” because the first four days had record low temperatures.
The 2009 “Courage to Stand” Camporee was held on the EAA campgrounds, with 36,000 Pathfinders who received a message of encouragement as the story of Esther was presented each evening. Pathfinders were inspired to have the “Courage to Stand” when challenges face them. Five hundred and eighteen Pathfinders committed their lives through baptism and personal commitment to Jesus.
The 2014 “Forever Faithful” Camporee was held during a fourth visit to the EAA campgrounds. More than 50,000 Pathfinders from more than 65 countries came together for a week of fun activities, fellowship, and spiritual enrichment. Each evening, the Pathfinders enjoyed the Bible story of Daniel who was “Forever Faithful.” More than 600 Pathfinders were baptized at the Camporee, and more than 2,000 Pathfinders went home to study for baptism.
Pathfinder Camporees do make a difference! “Trust in the Lord with all your heart … and He shall direct your paths,” Proverbs 3:5, 6.
is retired Pathfinder/youth ministries director for the Southern Union Conference.
Southern Union | October 2019