It was a warm Friday evening when Pathfinders arrived at the Camp Au Sable Northwoods for Pathfinder Fair on May 13. After hurriedly setting up their campsites, campers joined the buzz of greetings with friends from across the state. Over 950 people, representing 35 clubs, attended the activity-filled weekend.
Israel Ramos, Michigan Conference director of Public Campus Ministries, spoke for the weekend. Drawing inspiration from the theme 'I Will Go,' he spoke of his journey in mission service and the many lessons he has learned. He had several goals in mind with these lessons.
First, he wanted Pathfinders to know they could go on missions within their communities. Second, he wanted people to know that serving God is one of the most fulfilling things someone can do.
"I wanted to share this with you…not just think about missions far away but to also think about missions in our local area. I hope that within Pathfinders, youth will find new strength to do this work. It's a difficult work, but it prepares for leadership…and it prepares people to ground their faith in Jesus Christ," he said during Sabbath evening worship. As a result of these powerful testimonies, many Pathfinders committed to dedicating at least one year of their life to service.
While filled with activities, the weekend is also when Pathfinders reflect on their accomplishments over the past year. Each Pathfinder club parades from their campsite to the Pathfinder Pavilion on Sabbath morning. Teen Leaders in Training (TLTs) are recognized for their leadership year, and other leaders are also recognized for their dedication to Pathfinder ministry.
New Master Guides are commended for their work and invested. Clubs are inspected and evaluated in the Pinewood Derby, March and Drill, and skill activities on Sunday. On Sabbath afternoon, Pathfinders pilot AY honors, such as the newly developed Owl honor. Most importantly, though, Pathfinders are encouraged to reflect on their spiritual growth during the past year while back at their campsites.
"The Pathfinder Fair is the annual event for closing out the year," says Craig Harris, director of Club Ministries. "We have a three-fold purpose for the Pathfinder Fair: celebrate the past year of Pathfindering through camping, baptisms, and fun activities; evaluate how far the clubs have come through the year through inspections, March and Drill, Pinewood Derby, and skill activities on Sunday; and challenge the Pathfinders to commit themselves to serve Jesus Christ fully." Harris says that their goal is always to have the Pathfinders leave with friends, both old and new, and a commitment to use their skills for Jesus.
In the past several years, over 1,000 Pathfinders have chosen to publicly acknowledged their decision to follow Christ through baptism. Ethan Fairbanks,12, from the Niles Four Flags club is one example. Early Sabbath morning, he entered the waters of Lake Shellenbarger with Pastor Harris, surrounded by friends and Pathfinder family. The event’s remarkable sense of community added to Fairbanks’ decision. When asked why he chose to be baptized at Pathfinder Fair, he simply said, "The people."
Pathfinders went home on Sunday with fond memories. "There is nothing like huddling around the fire with a vegetarian hotdog on a stick and hot cocoa in the other hand, while surrounded by people who have the same beliefs and ideals as you," said Connor Bain, a member of the Bristol Bravehearts club. "Pathfinders is like a second family to me," he said. Alexander Winkler, a member of the Ann Arbor Anchors club, said, "I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with friends." Ramos' messages during the worship services impacted both young men. Bain says he has begun seriously considering international missionary work. Winkler says, "These are real experiences that people have had, and it helps me to know that God can use anyone, no matter what."
Every Pathfinder Fair is unique. From the smells of the campfire smoke and the sounds of marching throughout the Camp Au Sable Northwoods to the sight of hundreds of Pathfinders united in worship—it has special meaning for everyone.