OO n Saturday, September 19, 2020, the Adventist Church will celebrate an important date: The 70th anniversary of Pathfinders.
“Pathfinder ministry may be the most effective evangelistic initiative in the Seventh-day Adventist Church today,” says Gary Blanchard, youth director for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (GC). “Like ‘arrows in the hands of a warrior,’ God is sending Pathfinders young and old into churches, campuses, cities, and unreached countries of the world with the Three Angels Message.”
Voted into existence by the world church in 1950, Pathfinders has grown exponentially over the past seven decades, to the point where there are roughly two million Pathfinders in 60,000 clubs in over 180 countries around the world. And this Sabbath, they will all be celebrating and honoring this long-time church tradition specifically focused on youth.
“World Pathfinder Day has been an annual tradition since 1957,” points out Andrés Peralta, world Pathfinder director at the GC. “In many places around the world, this day is an important opportunity each year to conduct youth-led evangelism and outreach into their communities.”
In some divisions, Pathfinder Scarf Week leads up to World Pathfinder Day, during which Pathfinders wear their scarves everywhere, and if anyone asks about them, the Pathfinders offer testimonies about Pathfinders impacting their lives.
Since January of this year, the youth department at the GC has been populating their website with a collection of 25 resources for Pathfinder clubs around the world; resources such as templates, animations, sermons, and activities. For this special anniversary Sabbath, they have put together a pre-recorded program featuring global Pathfinders sharing reports on their activities. The program will air three times during the day to accommodate all time zones, and its theme is “Where I Belong,” highlighting the concept of reconciliation.
“We are in the midst of an era of uncertainty and polarizing beliefs of various kinds,” Peralta says. “So for this week’s celebration, we’re utilizing the concept of reconciliation to encourage young people to reconnect with God, with each other, and with their church. This is where we belong--in the Pathfinder club, in ministry, and in God’s family.”
Belonging is an important concept for young people, and it’s an important piece of maintaining their interest in being part of the church. Peralta states that the Pathfinders program is key for youth retention within the church.
“In South America, studies have shown that seven out of ten people claim Pathfinders is what kept them in the church,” he points out. “This program is not about entertainment; it’s about getting our young people excited about and training them in leadership, service, and outreach.”
With such a positive track record, it appears Pathfinder leaders have found unprecedented ways to remain relevant over the course of seven decades. The truth?
“We haven’t changed much,” Peralta says. “Though we have grown and now offer many times more classes than we originally did, the framework hasn't shifted. We’ve stayed focused on spiritual growth, leadership development, physical activity, and involvement in the church.”
Peralta admits, though, that the areas they wish to update and improve are on the list for the near future. But he also feels that perhaps the lack of change has actually worked.
“What our founders got right from the very beginning is providing an environment in which young people can engage with peers and mentors, share their thoughts and ask questions, learn by doing, and explore their relationship with God,” Peralta points out. “Whether we’re in a post-modern era or not, we have always used Jesus’ model of creating a group--a community--and fostering relationships, and this is something that should never change. Young people are looking for deep, meaningful relationships, and Pathfinders supplies that.”