What About Pathfinders? A Pastor's Story.

It seems that every August and parts of September our churches start anew with a bundle of activities. Summer is over, and school is starting. Brand- new dreams, brand-new ideas for the year, and it seems that in the church, children’s and youth ministries start anew also. With all that activity going on, parents seem overwhelmed as to what to choose for their children. There are many plans for activities and in those activities you have club ministries: Adventurers, Pathfinders!

Many of you know about two of these ministries, which are targeted toward children and youth from ages 4 to 16/17. These ministries are a staple in many churches, and some churches exist because of the life that these ministries bring into them. Yes, they bring life into the church. Let me explain:

At my first pastoral assignment as a lead pastor, I was given the opportunity to serve in a small two-church district in south Texas. When we arrived at the district, there were some signs of discouragement, but the churches were a solid group. They were looking for ways to impact the community, yet it seemed that any effort did not bring much in results. As I analyzed the situation, I became aware that we did not have much at all for our young people (it never happens that way in our churches, right?). We had a few teens and a few children under the age of 10, but there was no specific ministry that would get them excited. AYs were not as productive as we would have wanted them to be. That is where club ministries came into my mind, so I decided to ask the question “What about Pathfinders?"

Growing up in a place where club ministries were so normal, I grew up camping, enjoying the activities of Adventurers, Pathfinders, and Master Guides. How many times was I in a camp where it rained? Too many to count, but oh, so much fun! Friendships were made, memories that I will never forget, and definitely I learned some things (I still know a few knots and how to make a fire with three matches). What I also learned was a lot of Bible knowledge and SDA church history. My time in club ministries made an impact in my life for good!

When I asked the question “What about Pathfinders?” in my two churches, the response was not what I was expecting. Nobody wanted, or knew exactly how, to go about it. They had not had Pathfinders in close to seven years, and people had good memories of those times but did not have the courage to go ahead and do something with that ministry. Since nobody said much about starting it, I decided that this ministry was worth my time and that I was going to be the Pathfinder director for the club. We would have one club for both churches, and we would start working toward going to OshKosh the following year. Most of the 10 Pathfinders did not know what Pathfinders was nor knew about the camporee coming up, so we set out in faith to fund-raise all the money needed to buy tents, equipment, and tickets for the camporee, and to rent the bus to take us there and back (30+ hours each way), in basically under a year. 

The focus on ministry started to shift in both churches as they started to support the fund-raisers—the families and the Pathfinders that were trying to go to camporee. Suddenly there was a purpose, and more families became involved in Pathfinders. Parents and family members started to come to church activities that included Pathfinders. Needless to say, when we arrived at OshKosh, we had 31 people in the bus from our club and 21 from another club from south Texas. Sixteen Pathfinders and 15 staff members all the way from Texas into Wisconsin. When the Pathfinders saw that there were thousands of other Pathfinders like them, they started to feel different. They were not just the small church club that didn’t have much going on—they were part of a big worldwide family, and that made them feel proud!

After the camporee, the following month of September, we restarted our Pathfinder year, and the impact of that focus brought close to 20 Pathfinders for the second year, with kids from the community who started to come because of the Pathfinders who recruited them. Even the parents started to be more involved in not only the Pathfinder club but also in church activities. An Adventurer club started to take form in the minds of some members who had small children.

It all started with a Pathfinder club in a small district where nothing much was happening. Today both churches are still in the Pathfinder ministry together, and not only that, an Adventurer club was formed and is a ministry that is also a beneficial one to both churches. More families are attending the church, and Adventurers and Pathfinders offer a program for their children that was not there before. 

Another experience happened just this past April: I was privileged to be at the Adventurer Family Camp for the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference, held at Camp Yorktown Bay. There were close to 350 attendees, which included many Adventurers and their parents. As I talked with a variety of people at the event, I discovered someone who knew my father and me from Mexico. He was one of the leaders of the Little Rock Spanish church on Baseline Road.
 
I remember him only as “Pastor Tele” (his first name is Telesforo). An ordained pastor in Mexico, he was, here in the United States, simply helping out as a lay pastor. Even though he was not leading out as a full-time pastor, he hadn’t lost his passion for ministry and mission.
 
As we talked, Pastor Tele mentioned that a small Spanish-speaking group was meeting with the local English church, but when he started looking around, he knew their group would not grow too much. While they had a place to worship, the neighborhood was not very accessible for the Spanish-speaking community. In other words, the demographics of the neighborhood where they met did not match with the mission they had in their hearts. Pastor Tele told me that in order to grow, the group needed to move into an area where there were a lot of potential members. With a prayer and a vision, he set out with his wife and another couple to go and plant a church in a neighborhood where many Hispanics lived.
 
For months the little group met in houses and looked for interests for Bible studies in the community. They persevered and, after some time, with the influx of people that started to come, decided to start a Pathfinder Club. It brought so many people that the church plant had to start an Adventurer Club! And that is when I met him at the family camp. The group has been active as a church for a little more than three years, with an active Pathfinder Club and now a new Adventurer Club. Pastor Tele mentioned that not all the attendees to the camp were baptized yet, but that they were there involved and supportive of the club! I was amazed—their group was one of the larger clubs, and they had a lot of children there!
 
I realized that it just takes willingness to follow the vision that God has given. God will give success!
 
Pastor Tele continues supporting the local pastor, but he definitely is the force behind the club ministries. They work! They are bringing people to the church!

Do you want to bring new life into your church? Start an Adventurer or Pathfinder Club. For more information, I invite you to check the following websites:

www.adventistyouthministries.org

www.adventurer-club.org

www.pathfindersonline.org

www.tltministry.org

Also, contact your local conference youth department to see how you can start or restart a club in your church. Believe me, it is one of the best ways to restart a church and bring life to it!
 

Armando Miranda, Jr., serves as an associate youth director for club ministries for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.