Over 102K Learn to Connect Like Jesus During Ontario Conference’s First-ever Virtual Camp Meeting
Posted: August 6th, 2021
For most Adventists, Camp Meeting is as much of a staple as haystacks; so much so that in 2019, 7,700+ Ontario church members gathered at Mississauga’s International Centre for a full day of Camp Meeting services. Unfortunately, COVID restrictions shut down our 2020 Camp Meeting. But this year, President Mansfield Edwards and other Conference leaders were determined to continue our annual day of spiritual uplifting despite COVID. Therefore, from Tuesday, June 29, to Sabbath, July 3, Camp Meeting took on a new life with over 102,000 global visitors on YouTube streams for adults and children, youth and young adults. Themed "Connecting Like Jesus," it was our first digital multi-day Camp Meeting, incorporating Ministries Convention training for leaders and members.
Connectedness and Creativity in COVID-era Worship
This Camp Meeting looked quite different than we could have imagined pre-COVID. Instead of meeting in person, we met on the YouTube chat, which was overflowing with greetings, insights, prayer requests, encouragement and even a request for baptism. Digital exhibit rooms and afterglows were spaces for informal fellowship. Instead of the parade of nations, we viewed parade footage and members praying in different languages. Live music was replaced by a whopping 50 videos of talented musicians recorded at the Conference, in homes and sprawling backyards. And instead of a few sessions per ministry, we had 55+ sessions with speakers from North America, the UK, Asia and Australia. French, Spanish and ASL interpretation was also available for adult plenaries via Zoom.
Speaking to connectedness in this era, Sis Sam Smith stated, “It’s such a pleasure when all of God's people can tune in from all over the world! Hallelujah!” And Pastor Peter Caran (Peterborough Church) noted, “It is wonderful to celebrate multiculturalism in our church family.” This celebration included a Canada Day presentation by our administrators that paid homage to Canada while acknowledging our responsibility to seek justice for oppressed groups like our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
It was an ambitious program, taking our production team (Fifaliana Rakotoarison, Media manager, Ashton Blake, web developer, Edwin Martin, Adventurer, Master Guide and Pathfinder director, and others) a month and a half and several sleepless nights to execute. And it wasn’t without technical challenges. But God helped us avoid disaster, including power outages in Durham that didn’t reach the office. By His grace, many would concur with Cheryl Bailey – “Wow! This is the best Camp Meeting and Ministries Convention I have ever attended;” or Samanta Browne – “I am so grateful for these messages and all the fantastic training sessions.”
Lessons on Connecting With and Like Jesus
In Tuesday’s opening ceremony, North American Division (NAD) President G. Alexander Bryant stated: “Jesus [longs] to connect with us because when He connects with us, He transforms us. People look at us and see something different when He comes into our lives.”
All week, presenters like Desiree Bryant, Tony Anobile and Jose Cortes (NAD ministry), It is Written President John Bradshaw, Vanessa and Jamil Hairston (pastors, Miami Temple Church), Hope Malabrigo (student chaplain, Andrews University), Joseph Kidder (professor, Andrews University Seminary) and Peter Roennfeldt (church planter and author) added the following:
- Minimize distractions to hear God’s voice and experience His love;
- In a collapsing world, discipleship must be our highest priority;
- The key to discipleship is meeting others’ felt needs;
- Church should be an ark of safety where everyone feels loved; and
- Every member is called to contribute to God’s kingdom.
Reaching Alphas and Gen Zs
Younger generations were not left out. There were daily segments for children in the adult evening worships, including puppet shows and biblical re-enactments. Afternoons included “Connect to Christ,” a children’s show by Shawn Ellis (Pastor, Apple Creek) and his wife, Lian. Finally, children’s church and Sabbath School programs featured local children’s ministries and Rich Aguilera, “Mud Guy” (Guide). “My children are enthralled!” said Kristen Bailey during a puppet show by Grace Ayoo (Ottawa Church).
John Scott, Youth and Young Adult director, took on the challenge of recreating the Camp Meeting experience and energy virtually for teens and young adults. Highlights included:
- shorter training components, with more time for leaders to connect in their regions;
- rich conversations on music, social justice, campus ministry and Adventist education;
- an engaging musical variety show hosted by Acoustic Energy TV on Friday evening; and
- age-appropriate Bible studies—Bible Discovery for teens with Daniel Innocent (Pastor, Ottawa Church) and Deep Dive for young adults with Andre Anderson (Pastor, Shiloh Church)
Only ministry-minded young people with relevant experiences were invited to speak, including Sabbath keynote speakers George Tuyu (Youth Pastor, ReLove Church, California) and Jordane Smith (Associate Pastor, College Heights Church, Alberta). “All our speakers were timely, creative and practical, and they allowed God to use them powerfully,” said Scott. Indeed they did, offering gems like: “God sees every part of us and still loves us. Because we have received this grace, we are called to be ministers in the church and the world” (Emily Kuchurivski, McMaster University student and Adventist Christian Fellowship leader).
Here Am I, Send Me
On Sabbath, following a rousing charge for workers by NAD Chaplain James Black, Ivan L. Williams (director, NAD Ministerial Association) challenged us— “Commit to connecting with people like Jesus did. Desire their good, show them sympathy, help them when they’re down and out, then encourage them to follow you as you follow Christ.”
The week of inspiring messages and trainings elicited a strong response. David Ross reflected, “The entire Camp Meeting experience motivated me to follow Jesus in reaching out to others and in showing, better than I have, the kindness, understanding and empathy He offered to so many.”
“Each of us needs to know the voice of God and to respond by saying ‘I will serve,’” concluded Errol Lawrence (Pastor, Toronto East).
In Sabbath’s president’s message, Edwards mentioned the Conference’s purchase of a campsite near Barrie, ON. Its primary use will be future Camp Meetings, perhaps as early as 2022. However, as Rakotoarison later shared, “We need to continue reaching people virtually even when we’re able to have an in-person Camp Meeting again. People are getting used to receiving high-quality content online, so if we don’t try to achieve that, we’ll fall behind.” While the future of large, in-person gatherings is still murky, one thing is certain—connecting with and like Jesus is here to stay.