A sudden fierce thunderstorm rumbled through the Black Hills and interrupted a beautiful Friday afternoon. Pathfinders returning from their conference field trips found some tents overturned and belongings scattered. But the campers and their leaders put their skills to work restoring order before their evening program, which featured the personal testimony of Kansas-Nebraska president Ron Carlson and an unforgettable talk by Dan Jackson, president of the North American Division (NAD).

Overcoming unexpected circumstances is a core value for Pathfinders. When Sabbath morning’s participation in the town’s annual parade was (reluctantly) canceled by Custer civic leaders—there were just too many Pathfinders for such a small town event—camporee plans adjusted to the disappointment. Although campers missed the opportunity for witnessing to their hosting community, they took advantage of the extra time for worship and study. Elder Maurice Valentine II, new president of Central States Conference,  brought the Pathfinders a stirring, Christ-centered challenge to become all they can be for God.

Sabbath afternoon plans call for boarding buses to Mt. Rushmore, site of the famous presidential portraits in rock. After hiking and supper, they will remain at that inspiring location for the grand finale of the camporee led by James Black, NAD youth director.

The camporee will conclude Sunday morning, and attendees will disperse throughout the nine-state territory of the Mid-America Union. Many young lives will never be the same.

Living proof that the Pathfinder experience can be life-transforming is Brother Maranga* of United Central Adventist Church in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota (of the Central States Conference). Born in Kenya, he became a Pathfinder at age 8, and the experience shaped his life. It also broadened his view of the world around him, giving him opportunity to travel across his nation.

In 1999 he emigrated to America and put down roots in a new land. One Sabbath, another Kenyan immigrant visited his church. Jilian had a unique prayer request that day: that God would give her a husband who knew how to sing. When she walked into the sanctuary, there was Maranga on the platform, singing. “He’s the one!” she exclaimed to herself. “That’s the man I’m going to marry!”

And she did! But not so quickly.

Jilian soon learned that if she wanted to get to know Maranga, she had better get involved with him in Pathfinder leadership. So they fell in love while ministering together to the kids. They were surprised to discover that they already had a shared history across the ocean on their distant native continent.

Back during Jilian’s school days in Kenya, a band came to play from the boy’s high school. Her favorite player was whoever was performing on the bass trumpet. She couldn’t even see his face because he was in the back row and the instrument was so large, and she never got to meet him afterward because she had to rush off to class.

Fast forward a decade later to the other side of the world. Two Minnesota Pathfinder leaders, while sharing their life stories with each other, were shocked to realize that Maranga had been in the boy’s band that day at Jilian’s school. And he had been playing the bass trumpet.

And there’s more to this incredible musical romance that spans two continents. Jilian says, “When we finally decided to get married, it was our duty to inform our parents to seek their blessing. To our shock we discovered that both sets of parents were already friends with each other—and our dads even had worked together.

And yet the couple to be married had never even met each other before that shared Sabbath in Minnesota.

Jilian is a nurse and Maranga is graduating into that profession this year. So they share the same profession, the same age (32), the same ministry to Pathfinders, and and now two precious daughters: Grace and Abby, both of whom are Adventurers.

God continues to lead them, but life isn’t always easy. For example, when Maranga and Jilian arrived with their daughters in Custer, South Dakota for this camporee, they discovered that the rest of their group had been delayed. And they had all the food for the group. Now little Grace and Abby were saying that they were hungry.

The family had plenty of food—except that it was hundreds of miles away. Jilian began to quietly worry.

God provided, through the love of other Pathfinder clubs who noticed that the kids were hungry and invited the family over for lunch. Then room on the bus for the family was made available on the afternoon field trip to Flag Mountain. Someone from the Boliver Club spread the word around that this family could use some food—and every one of the Pathfinders contributed something from their own supper to the family.

Jilian says, “The love was wonderful. We had nothing yesterday. Abby and Grace had more than enough. A girl named Faith even gave us her backpack with all it contained. That’s called God’s love.”

And that’s what the Mid-America Union Pathfinder camporee was all about.

*Author’s note: I was so intent on getting the proper spelling of Maranga’s name that I forgot to ask his last name. An updated version of this story will correct that omission.

By Martin Weber, Mid-America Union communication director
Photo: Ryan Teller
To view photos of the camporee, please visit our Flickr account or watch the slideshow below.