Did you know that Ontario Conference traces back 120 years to a camp meeting held June 15, 1899, in London, Ontario? At this year's camp meeting, held June 8, 2019, at the International Centre, Mississauga, over 10,000 in-person and online attendees celebrated our Conference’s rich history and continued mission.
Before the mid-day service, in a newly released 120th-anniversary video, attendees went on a visual tour of places that have helped shape us into one of the largest and most diverse conferences in North America; these sites included London and Toronto, former headquarters, and Oshawa, current headquarters. Attendees were inspired to build on the foundation set by pioneers like Hiram Edson and Joseph Bates to continue our DiscipleShift in Ontario—i.e., making disciples who make disciples.
Critical to the day’s success was the underlying message that, while we’ve come a long way—from a Conference of 500 members to nearly 34,000—we can and must do more to disciple others. In the adult Sabbath School, for instance, a multi-cultural panel discussed DiscipleShift in the home, focusing on conflict management. Panellists’ answers on how to resolve conflict as disciples of Christ were biblical and practical, including seeking counselling as needed, uniting in prayer and being quick to forgive. Most compelling was their willingness to be open about challenges they or others close to them had faced.
Dr. Fredrick Russell, immediate past president of Allegheny West Conference, delivered powerful, interactive messages during both the mid-day and evening services. At mid-day, he recounted the story of the servant whose master forgave him a $100,000 debt, who then was unmerciful to a fellow servant owing a mere $50. "Oftentimes we are Adventist but not Christian,” Russell said, warning listeners to live a life congruent with the values they claimed to have.
The very engaging and amiable Russell refused to stand on the platform, instead staying on the ground, closer to the people. The audience was deeply touched as he poured himself out in ministry, one man exclaiming, “That’s deep!” as he spoke. Attendee Jennifer Alvarado, reflected, "the pastor [emphasized that] we should consider, do people see Christ in me? And I think that's a message we all need to hear."
This year, a relatively large number—five pastors and one teacher—took part in the commissioning and ordination service. Dr. Bruce Boyd, the senior pastor of College Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church, urged Pastors Sherry Augustus, Josue Manigat, Sheldon Imperio, Laurentiu Prelipcian and David James, as well as Ellen Bannis, teaching principal, to "motivate, inspire and equip [all] people to be successful in their ministry.” Boyd concluded that their special call was not to love or serve others, to confront idolatry or to do justice. Rather, he said, to great applause, “God has called you to be a discipler of disciples, which will lead to unity of the faith. This is your mission, this is your life, this is your call.”
Later, Russell focused on Philippians 4:6,7, encouraging visitors that as disciples of Christ, you don’t have to toss and turn at night. Come what may, you are in total peace. Aundrea Belnavis shared that she had been at the evening service primarily because of her role manning her employer’s (Kingsway College’s) booth most of the day. “I needed this,” she smiled. Attendee Judy Rodney added, “Pastor Russell confirmed things that I’ve been going through in my life [this week], that I need to go forward and reflect Jesus, and be anxious for nothing.”
Beyond thoughtfully selected speakers, this year’s Camp Meeting made a concerted effort to engage the audience in multiple ways. For instance, for the second year in a row, actors and musicians from across the Conference added a unique touch to the traditional mid-day service elements. In the dramatic segments, the main characters (male and female) depicted our natural resistance to God’s call. I’m too busy, argued one. I need to see a clear path to follow, said another. “You want to follow as long as you can lead?” asked James Rooney, Camp Frenda director, as the voice of God, to chuckles from the crowd. In the end, “God” assured the characters—and audience—“Come to me, and I’ll do the rest.”
Following the same theme as the adults, teen speakers—Alvea Hurlington, Luke Charles and David Machuca—shared the challenges and joys of discipleship, particularly urging young people to work together to reach others for the kingdom. For the young adults, Pastor Tacyana Nixon, currently a Master of Divinity student at Andrews University, made DiscipleShift relevant with biblical and present-day examples. Referring to the story of the men who tore down a roof for Jesus to heal their lame friend, she said, “The best way to disciple is to be a friend.”
In their section, children were also encouraged to reflect on what it means to be a disciple. For instance, older children engaged in small group discussions led by facilitators, answering questions such as—what does discipleship look like to you? And what are some ways that you think will make more disciples? Puppet shows and crafts also offered simple, tangible lessons on what it means to answer God’s call for children of various age groups and ethnicities.
Christopher Juricki, a volunteer photographer, stated, “I felt a lot of love in the different spaces, between the children and adults and everyone in between. Despite [my] being a bit tired, today was very fulfilling. I was reminded that we need to be more like Jesus. We need to act charitably. We need to love abundantly. Overall, the day was a great success, and I look forward to next year's camp meeting!"
Throughout the day, the 2019 Camp Meeting struck a balance between contemplative moments and calls to action; for instance, both the youth and adult sections featured prayer walls. Similarly, as a complement to the day’s messages, a needs board in the adults’ section offered visitors a tangible means of furthering God’s work at the Conference and local church levels. Then, in the third year of the Compassion Initiative, youth and young adults were motivated to be the hands and feet of Jesus as they distributed care packages and ministered to the local community.
Finally, the music at Camp Meeting contributed to the day’s worshipful tone, with a praise team including Tiffany Campbell-Dailey, a multi-ethnic mass choir accompanied by Pastor Evaldo Vicente and Norwill Simmons providing music of meditation. Simmons’ Spirit-filled rendition of Jonathan Reynolds’ “God is God,” effectively encapsulated what it means to be a disciple in an imperfect world.
“May your struggles keep you near the cross
And may your troubles show that you need God
And may your battles end the way they should
And may your bad days prove that God is good
And may your whole life prove that God is good.”