For Pathfinders, winter camping is often a highlight of the year, a time to bond with peers and experience God in nature. The Luso-Brazilian Church's Alliance Pathfinder Club had been looking forward to their winter camp for months, but the Coronavirus changed everything. A few weeks into quarantine, Alliance director, Silney Rocumback, conducted a Zoom prayer meeting with her Pathfinders, and their frustration was palpable. "I could see how different their faces were from the children and teenagers I was used to seeing during normal activities before COVID-19. I [knew] I had to do something," she said.
Silney prayed earnestly for a solution, and God inspired her to organize an online camp. The church had already shifted all its meetings online, including Adventurers and Pathfinders, why not camp online as well? Although this was unchartered territory for Silney, she did some research, put together a plan and convinced Pastor Dario Ferreira, her team, and the church board to buy in.
The weekend of April 24-26, Luso-Brazilian Church conducted its first online camping event, called "Faith Runner," for its Pathfinders (Alliance) and Adventurers (Little Bears) Clubs. With the assistance of other Pathfinder staff and Pastor Ferreira, Silney and her husband, the church's associate Pathfinder director and audiovisual director, worked tirelessly to execute this special weekend. A studio was installed between the church pews, from which they led the camp. Faith Runner was broadcasted on the Alliance Club's Facebook and Luso-Brazilian Church's YouTube channel, with simultaneous English translation on Zoom.
By all accounts, Faith Runner was a hit. While 158 individuals registered for Faith Runner, they had an average of 1126 viewers on the Alliance Facebook page and 700 on the church's YouTube Channel. These numbers could be tripled to account for three members per household. Moreover, as news of the event spread, they had people following from Portugal, the US, Brazil and Canada. Among those present was Edwin Martin, Ontario Conference's Adventurer, Master Guide and Pathfinder director, who offered greetings and congratulations during the opening ceremony.
But beyond the numbers was the lasting impact Faith Runner had on Adventurers, Pathfinders and their families. Silney recounted being deeply moved by an audio a mother sent of her Adventurer son post-event crying and saying he didn't want the program to end. The same young boy posted a video on the blessings of the weekend, as per one of the weekend's activities, stating, "The blessing that I will take is that I remembered what a camp is like. I liked online camping. It also made me closer to Jesus because there were a lot of things about the Bible." The combination of these two messages—audio and video, she said, "made me feel that all the effort and dedication [necessary for] this event to happen was worth a lot."
From the start, this camping event was designed for maximum engagement. Pre-event, participants were asked to post pictures and videos of various challenges, such as tidying up the house, setting up their campsite and creating a personal mission statement for spreading the gospel in their family or unit. They were asked to make a list of family and friends to invite to the camp, then pray for those individuals daily. During the event, other challenges captured on social media included Pathfinders and Adventurers reading Bible verses, singing, directing their parents in drilling, doing pledges, doing crafts, dressing in costumes, like Ellen White and answering Bible questions.
Participants were instructed to include hashtags on all their posts, such as #ontarioconference, #allianceonlinecamping, #faithrunner, #alliancepathfinders, #littlebearadventurers and the name of the challenge (e.g., #helpinghands). The hashtags made it easier to find other participants' posts and fostered a sense of togetherness, as families could go on Facebook after they posted each challenge and see what their friends and other clubs had done for the same task. The social media component also allowed Pathfinder and Adventurer families' social networks, including non-Adventist family members, to see what the Adventurer and Pathfinder ministries are about.
Online camping exceeded many participants' expectations, with participants from across the globe offering words of thanks and congratulations, and asking when the next online camp would be. The Bertoni family said, "We had no idea we would really feel like we were on a campground!" They added, "The challenges allowed us to help others and to spend quality time as a family. We were also very blessed by the powerful messages we would listen during the online service."
Feedback from others corroborated their feeling that it was an unforgettable weekend. Among those:
• "Guys, I have no words to thank you. It was fantastic." Flavia de Almeida
• "Simply magnificent! I loved every minute." Auri
• "It was a gift! A spiritual feast." Merielen Rocha
Lilian Barbosa da Silva, a participant from another club, even stated, "Maranata club has participated in three online camporees. But, this one was the best and most organized one! Congratulations."
But it wasn't all smooth sailing. Silney admitted, "During the process, I faced many challenges, getting people together to work on the project, having the right equipment to do the entire transmission, among others. However, even using what we had in [our] hands, God acted and made the whole event and the transmission itself go well. Despite some technical problems, everything went very well." She concluded, "I have no words to describe my joy at this event."
Organizers were thrilled that Pastor Marcílio Egídio and the main speaker, Pastor Marlon Bruno, both from Brazil, agreed to participate. Bruno's messages centred on the apostle Paul, his missionary career and experience with Jesus. Dressed in costume, he urged young people to similarly live for Christ's service and receive the crown of life from the Saviour. Bruno later reflected, "Participating in the #FaithRunner Online camping was enriching. Even adapted to the virtual environment, the event impacted those involved in a real and relevant way."
Pastor Ferreira concluded, "In my opinion, this online camp was a success. It has deeply touched everyone's life, not only in friendship and unity but above all spiritually, which is what we need in this moment of social isolation and general instability. God be praised for everything!"
Silney's Leadership Takeaways:
• Critical thinking and focused effort must drive all decisions.
• Leaders must be flexible and adaptable to thrive in any situation that arises.
• Do your part and let God take care of the rest.
• Networking is the secret key to success.
In this case, her associates helped bring in great singers and an excellent youth pastor to participate in the project.
• Whether online or offline, you must build a relationship with the audience, make them feel important and keep them engaged with the program organizers as well as with one another.
Follow Alliance Pathfinders on https://www.facebook.com/alliancepathfinders/ for a replay of the event in Portuguese as well as updates on their club.