President's Blog

by Garry Graham MA, MPH, LMHC, CASAC

Member of Ephesus SDA Church

 

Every five years, Pathfinders ages 9 to 16, descend on OshKosh, Wisconsin, for the International Pathfinder Camporee. This year’s event will take place from August 12-17, 2019 as an effort to evangelize the youth. “The main focus is to celebrate the amazing organization called Pathfinders, the local church and its leaders, as well as highlighting the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Pastor Ron Whitehead, director of the Center for Youth Evangelism. Philip Wesley, pastor of Emmanuel SDA Church in Providence (Rhode Island) and Mount Olive SDA Church in New London (Connecticut), has served as a youth leader and associate youth director for Northeastern Conference while attending OshKosh. He thinks that an event like OshKosh is important for Adventist youth.

“Camaraderie is awesome,” Wesley said. “You can meet youth from all over, not only just the USA but we have several that come from overseas as well. They’re meeting people from different places and they’re exchanging pins. Every evening is an awesome play and spiritual gathering.” Wesley said that this event provides skill building and character building exercises for the youth. One of the main features at OshKosh is the march and also the drum core. They have drum core competitions. Wesley thinks that this event grows Pathfinders and encourages youth to join. “It inspires more kids to be Pathfinders,” Wesley said. “When they see other kids in uniform and they want to inspire to be that, they start getting involved and start making waves. The goal is to grow Pathfinders in each church community.”

The purpose of Pathfinders as an Adventist organization is multifold. “Pathfinders is building of your character, building of your skills and building of your spiritual growth to reinforce Christ in your life in a way where they are actively involved in the Word of God not just by status but by action as well,” Wesley said. “They also learn to be disciplined in the Word (The Holy Bible).”

The International Pathfinder Camporee was the brainchild of Whitehead and the Center for Youth Evangelism in Michigan. He worked in tandem with the North American Division (NAD) and the Lake Union Conference. At first, it was a labor of love. “No one would give us cash to start the event or advertise,” said Whitehead. “This was in 1994, so the main form of communication had to do with a DVD or a brochure and the church organization didn’t offer us any cash. They said, ‘You’re welcome to do it. You just have to find your own money.’” God inspired Pastor Ron Whitehead to create the International Pathfinder Camporee. He took over the event in 1994 and established the International Camporee in Red Rocks, Colorado. After advertising through word of mouth, at least 12,300 people showed up for the first camporee. It was confirmation that he followed God’s lead years prior.

 “I would wake up at night with the impression that I had over and over that we’re in Middle America and we can do it invitational to the West Coast, East Coast and Canada,” Whitehead said. “I talked to my wife and she said “You’re crazy. It’s not a great idea.” But she came around and I talked to a lot of lay people I work with…I was youth director at the time. I went to my officer, president. He said, “You can do it. You can work two jobs but we’re not going to be able to support it financially.” I understood that so we talked about mortgaging our home, whatever was necessary to get some cash to start the adventure of offering this invitation to all of North America and the world.”

 The Pathfinders International Camporee takes place every five years. After the event outgrew its original location in Red Rocks, Colorado, they moved to OshKosh, Wisconsin. The current site is a facility in Wisconsin where the world’s largest airplane show takes place. “We thought that might be the place because it’s so flat, nice and has great grass,” Whitehead said. “They have over 100,000 people come to their airshow event. So we thought maybe we could double the numbers we had at Red Rocks. So that’s why we moved to OshKosh, because of the property.”

Since moving to OshKosh, the camporee had more than doubled its attendance record—starting with 22,000 and increasing steadily over the years to the point where there were a little over 55,000 attendees at the last camporee in 2014. Attendees signed up through the event website, www.camporee.org, then went in there and purchased their tickets. This camporee is a six-night event. The opening night is Tuesday night. It closes Saturday night. But before they close the event, they gather to worship on Sabbath. “On Saturday morning, we have a giant worship service,” said Whitehead. “We have one of the largest stages built in the world. It takes five to six or seven days to put it up with sound support. Every 10 years, we have a brand new designed stage. So this Camporee 2019 in August, there will be a brand new stage. It’s going to be a great Camporee stage.”

Roger Wade, the Mid-American Union Youth Director and supporter of the International Pathfinder Camporee, described the activities available for the Pathfinders in OshKosh. He said that it includes a “myriad of stuff that they can learn, opportunities to learn sign language and blacksmithing.” They will learn about culture and people of other lands and the takeaway is priceless. “The biggest take away for the youth particularly in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is that they are not the only ones,” said Wade. “Many of our kids are part of programs, ministries and churches that are in small, rural America and when they come to that event, they’re able to see people from around the world. So, they realize they are not the only ones who are going through what they’re going through.”

According to Pastor Whitehead, about 1,000 people work to make this event happen. “The core staff to put together the camporee is over 120 people,” said Whitehead. “The extended staff –beyond the core staff – are called “down line directors” are almost 1,000 people including Admissions, Security, Cooks, Audio/Visual people, film crews, newspaper editors and writers.” Whitehead explained what it takes to coordinate such a massive event.

“We have what’s called ‘down line directors.’ There are seven different down line and under each under each down line is hundreds of volunteer staff,” he said. “It’s quite an operation. We rely on the down line leaders to build the coordinators beneath them and then the coordinators find people to join them to take care of lost and found…Everything it takes to run a city, that’s what we have, about 50,000 people—I think we’re the seventh or eighth largest city in the state of Wisconsin for that week. I meet with basically eight different people and their associates, which makes about 16 people total and we can manage the whole city.”

 The Adventist Church supports this event by the local church level. The membership supports the kids’ fundraisers and their travel needs, their equipment needs and help with staffing. At the conference level, the next tier up, they try to put activities and honors together that Pathfinders can participate in and join in. At the union level, they typically help organize the camping and organize the conferences within their territory to be successful as far as lay out and camping design. The North American Division (NAD) and General Conference provide resource staff for help running different activities or different special projects such as the NAD Children’s Ministry Department helping with the staff/children village. Children ages four to eight can go to the Braveheart Village where they’ll be taken care of all day. NAD Ministerial Department helps with the baptisms. The North American Division Stewardship Department is giving Bibles away to every Pathfinder baptized at the camporee.

Every night, different unions offer baptisms from 6:00 to 6:45 p.m. Different unions and different world divisions have baptisms. One time, they had over 600 baptisms. Whitehead said that they’re praying for over 1,000 at this year’s camporee. “We want to help the kids to connect to their Best Friend Jesus (Christ)—that’s the bottom line,” said Whitehead.

The registration cost is $32.50 a day for six days—that includes all the daytime activities, all your camping support, your 24/7 security and medical, as well as the evening program. “Everybody brings their own tents or RVs and they set up at their assigned place for their union and they have shower houses a walk away,” said Whitehead. “There are restrooms and a water system that they can get their water from. Most people are in RVs and tents. I’d say 90 percent are in tents and 10 percent are in RVs.” This year’s camporee has more international participation than in previous years.

 “Typically, around 60 to 70 international countries; this camporee will have over 100 countries represented from around the world. Mainland China, Cuba, we have some kids coming from Dubai,” said Whitehead. Whitehead shared what he thinks will be the most exciting part of this camporee. “The theme is called ‘Chosen.’ It’s on the life of David,” he said. “David is a young man who was chosen by God to lead God’s people as the King of Israel. He was supposed to lead his people. But if you study his life, he had one shining moment when he brought down a giant but the rest of his life, he had struggles like we have struggles. But every time he was down and out, he kept coming back to God.”

Whitehead said that though King David sinned and made mistakes, he kept returning to God, asking forgiveness and for protection from his enemies. Whitehead thinks this is a story filled with teachable moments for youth. “The young people have to understand God chose them too but we have to choose back,” he said. “To be chosen is one thing but if we don’t choose back, we haven’t found the blessing that’s in being chosen. So, we’re hoping that through this camporee, we can remind the young people that no matter where life takes you, no matter the highs or the lows, just keep choosing God. So, that’s the theme and the focus of this camporee—to help that generation always choose God.”

“I think people will see God through this event in the worship moments,” Whitehead said. “Let’s say you’re a 12-year-old and you’re worshipping with tens of thousands of other kids your age, I think there’s an energy transfer and a settling that takes place when you see so many people your age who are on fire for God.” Buddy Griffith IV, a student at Oakwood University, is pursuing a career in acting. He plans to attend the camporee in OshKosh where he has a very special role to fulfill. “So, for the camporee, I will be in the cast for the nighttime production of . I’ll be playing Jonathan, which is King Saul’s son and David’s best friend,” he said. “The thing I look forward to the most is agreeing to the task that God assigned me to do because I am a firm believer that way back in 2014, when they released a promo video about how God has chosen me just like He has chosen you, that God had put in His plan that He wanted to make a vessel out of me for His glory. So to be able to actually portray Jonathan and show God’s glory through my character, that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.”

Griffith IV explained why this event is special to him. “If anyone has been to OshKosh, they can tell you hands-down that it’s arguably one of the best weeks of their life,” he said. “The friendships and the activities that you’re doing and the worshipping together...it’s more than just a co-ed Boy and Girl Scouts, it’s worshipping and I would like to think that’s somehow related to how we’re going to be worshipping when we get into Heaven, all together and just having a great time.”

 OshKosh has its own brand and the tickets for this year’s event sold out seven months in advance. “There’s nothing in the Adventist Church that sells out seven months in advance except OshKosh does—all the international ticket sold out December 5, 2018,” Whitehead said. “All the North American Division tickets sold out February 8, 2019. So that kind of tells you for those who’ve heard about it and attended it, how special it is for them and that’s why they buy these tickets well in advance.”

Wade shared his thoughts on how he hopes this event will impact the young people. “I hope that our young people take advantage of this opportunity and that it helps them to when they go back to their local communities they aspire to be a change agent,” he said. “Just like David had the courage to stand up to Goliath, these kids will go back to their communities and stand up to the bad stuff in society—racism, sexism and all the stuff that keeps humanity down— they’ll be able to stand up and have the courage that God will place within them to make a difference.”

For more information about this event and the stage play based on the theme “Chosen,” visit www.makingofdaniel.com, where you can see behind the scenes of the work that goes into producing the evening Bible story production. More information about the camporee can also be found at https://www.camporee.org.

By Garry Graham, MA, MPH, CASAC, LMHC

Member of Ephesus SDA Church

 

Malcom and SharptonLast February 2018, Christ the King High School in New York was the center of a controversy caused by their response to one of their students.

Malcolm Xavier Combs was a senior at Christ the King High School in Middle Village, Queens, New York and he wanted to have an abbreviation of his legal name written on his high school senior jacket as “Malcolm X.” His request started a firestorm that began with the high school administration calling him out of his AP English class to the Assistant Principal’s office. “I was confused about why I was being called down because I really didn’t do anything,” said Malcolm Xavier Combs. When he reached the assistant principal’s office, she had a talk with him.

“She said, ‘We can’t put your name on the senior sweater. He’s too controversial. We don’t agree with what he stood for and that’s not somebody you want to look up to,’” said Malcolm Xavier Combs. “I was just confused as to why somebody wouldn’t want to look up to Malcolm X. Then her husband walked in and she said, “This is the new Malcolm X” and she started laughing. So then after that, I kind of felt disrespected because she just denied me my shirt and then she laughed at me for it.” Malcolm Xavier Combs went home and told his mother what happened.

“I was furious and I was confused because I couldn’t believe that you literally had the audacity to say that to him,” Myschelle Combs said. “And I’m so glad that we have that relationship where my son would come home and tell the good, bad and the ugly that happens in school because it could have gotten swept under the rug. They thought he was not going to say anything at all but it didn’t work that way.” They told his dad, Marc Combs, Sr., who became so upset that he went to the school to request a meeting with the assistant principal. He was given the run around. Marc knew that there was a deadline for ordering the senior jacket so he tried his best to explain the situation. 

“I didn’t think that in this day and age that people were still that ignorant. So I figured it’s got to be Malcolm, it can’t be them,” he said. “I told them that I need to see them as soon as possible and I want to meet them before the deadline and they just kept giving me the runaround. I felt like it shouldn’t be that hard over a T-shirt. I just didn’t get it.”

When Marc Combs, Sr. returned home and said he tried to speak to them with no avail, Myschelle called National Action Network.

“It was one of those things where I knew that if I go National Action Network, I could turn the heat up,” she said. “I didn’t know it would be strike to be that big. I didn’t know it would take on the life that it did and I’m glad that it did because it brings to light who Malcolm X really was…A lot of people didn’t really know. It started making people research, started making people understand that we’re still in an invisible type of slavery.”

According to Marc Combs, National Action Network told them to go to their Headquarters in Harlem right away. They shared their story and were told that this could be “something big or something small” and were asked if they were willing to go ahead with it. The Combs Family said yes. This story quickly took on a life of its own to the point where Malcolm X’s daughter met with Malcolm Xavier Combs and his story gained widespread media attention.

 “It became huge—made the front page of the newspapers like two days in a row,” said Myschelle Combs. “We were on radio stations, we were on ABC News, every channel known to man. We even protested outside the school on the day of Malcolm X’s assassination. The cast of Malcolm X the play actually heard about, gave him tickets and invited him to meet the whole cast. They told him (my son) that you’re the real hero because you’re standing up for something, you’re standing up for your name.”

Malcolm and FamilyThe Combs Family noted that this controversy happened during Black History Month. They worked with Reverend Kevin McCall through the National Action Network to address it. “This was definitely outrageous and absurd that in the middle of Black History Month, they would do something like this and they had no regards to respect the legacy that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. paved the way for,” said Rev. McCall. “It was disrespect.” Reverend McCall said he advised The Combs Family to speak up. “They’re a very religious family. They are Sabbath Keepers. One of the things that I told them to do was to follow their instincts in terms of being led by their faith,” said Rev. McCall. “You have to be able to speak up about what you believe in and that’s one of the things that I told Malcolm in the beginning: Do you want to be silent or speak up like Jesus did? You have to say something. You cannot be silent in this season. It is time.”

Marc Combs, Sr. said that he and his wife wanted to bring light to situation by going to the news media. “We wanted to encourage people to not stay silent when wrong is being done to you,” he said. “Malcolm, who is shy and reserved, to himself type person, a good kid. People were shocked and encouraged that if Malcolm can stand up for his rights, so can I, regardless of the situation or who it is. So even if putting his name on a shirt, it awakened the sleeping Giant in a lot of people.”

Myschelle recounted her struggles in trying to resolve this situation in person with the school administration, before going to the news. “That’s my son’s name. His name is Malcolm Xavier Combs. He just said Malcolm X for short but he was thinking about himself when he put it there,” Myschelle said. “You guys are trying to attach Malcolm X to him which is no problem because he’s one of our heroes.” Myschelle said the meeting was a bust because they refused to move and let Malcolm have his name on his senior jacket because they don’t allow nicknames.

“So we’re like, ‘It’s not a nickname, it’s his name.’ Mind you, there were kids walking around with names that were not their names and yet, my son couldn’t have Malcolm X because they said that he was someone that my son shouldn’t want to be associated with which just ticked me off beyond belief,” Myschelle said. “And on top of that, the school is predominately Black! I even said to them, ‘Excuse me. But if he were so bad as you think, why do they have stamps, streets and libraries named after him?’ Again, no answer.”

Myschelle Combs said that she told the school principal that this situation could become a moment of learning with school assemblies like one that Malcolm X’s daughter offered to do. But they refused. Myschelle did not give up. She pressed on.

“I felt like we needed to stand up and make an example because there are many Black girls and boys who are named after our people who are being penalized,” Myschelle said. “It was so frustrating to think that in 2018 at the time, we’re even having this conversation.”

Myschelle and her husband went as far as to bring their son’s birth certificate to school to prove his name. They also presented mail from the honor society that he’s on and showed that it said “Malcolm X.” “It doesn’t say Xavier or anything else. It says Malcolm X Combs and yet they made that the issue and once we clarified that then all of a sudden, there’s another issue why they can’t do it then after we deal with that, there’s another issue why they don’t do it,” she said. “It’s sad to say but I have to boil it down to race, what else is there for me to think?”

According to Myschelle, the school administration was focused on upholding peace at the school and believed that if the students saw that name on a jacket, it would cause and uprising. She shared why she did not agree.

“First of all, you don’t even teach about the man, so chances are, most of them wouldn’t even know who it is,” she said. “And here’s the kicker: How small the letters were going to be…You would think that it would be blazing across the jacket but it’s not. It was going to be across the arm of the sleeve and the letters are probably maybe 12 or 14 font size on Microsoft Word. Who’s going to see it?”

The controversy gave Malcolm Xavier Combs a platform. He was able to team up with Jesse Hamilton and get Black history put in the curriculum in the schools. The Smithsonian invited The Combs Family to see the screening of the private tapings of Malcolm X because they heard about the situation. The situation also encouraged young people like Malcolm.

“A lot of other young people thanked him,” Myschelle said. “They were like, ‘Thank you for showing us to stand up for ourselves and speaking up against injustice, not having to be quiet about it and doing it the right way.’”

Myschelle does not regret going to the news media with this story.

“When people try to say, ‘Well, why did you have to make it such a big deal?’ I didn’t have to do anything. They made me do it. I came to you and  expressed to you what happened. I came to you, sat your table and tried,” she said. “So since I tried to do what you said—go internally—but since I couldn’t get the proper respect, not just the response, the respect so everybody needs to know.”

One year later, according to Myschelle, the administration of Christ the King High School have not apologized to The Combs Family and have not had a change of heart. However, Myschelle’s son has changed.

“It changed Malcolm because he's due to go to a school upstate. But he was like, ‘You know what? I really feel like I need to be around my own and he ended up going to Oakwood University which is an HBCU.’ And he loves it there. He’s thriving there,” she said.

“They still call him Malcolm X there,” Myschelle said. “Matter of fact, the President of the school introduced him to the whole school and told them the story, introduced him as Malcolm X and he just felt vindicated by his own. So I think it’s changed him more than it’s changed me because I’m older. So I understand it. He’s young, thinking the world is one way and when you bump up against something like this, it opens your eyes.”

News of the controversy reached officials within the Seventh-day Adventist Church of which The Combs Family are members, and they too, showed their support.

“The President of the Northeastern Conference actually came out and marched with us, which also brought forth that Adventists can be involved in social justice,” Myschelle said. “I was very pleased to see that the President involved himself in it. Usually, they try to steer away from the heat. He spoke and everything. It was wonderful and to show that as Christians we still can fight a battle and be a Christian at the same time.”

Today, Malcolm Xavier is a student at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. He’s applying the lessons he’s learned from the controversy at his former high school in New York.

“He’s learned to stand up for himself because he is a quiet guy. So this gives him a little more courage to speak up when people take advantage of you,” said Marc Combs, Sr.. “People definitely take advantage of people who are quiet. So this gave him a little more courage and confidence in knowing that God’s got his back, people’s got his back as long as he’s in the right.”

This situation has turned Malcolm Xavier Combs into an ambassador. “I now have the power to be an ambassador for Black rights after what happened so that’s what I try to do on a lower scale more through social media in trying to bring awareness,” he said. Malcolm Xavier Combs shared his thoughts on how going to an HBCU helps him heal and makes him feel. “Just seeing more people who look like me—which I haven’t basically my whole life—in a school setting is kind of relieving because always seeing somebody else or not really learning about our roots, it’s kind of not annoying but it’s doesn’t feel so good all the time knowing that all you study about your people is slavery this, slavery that and not really their accomplishments outside of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.,” he said.

Now, Malcolm is studying journalism with the goal of becoming a sports journalist. He shared his thoughts on what he’s learned from the situation. “Life isn’t always fair, you don’t always get what you want in life but you don’t always have to accept it,” he said. “You always fight for your right and don’t let anybody try to bully you.”

Reverend McCall said that last year, they organized a rally, filed a complaint with the New York State Human Rights Commission but this year, they’re still investigating. “Just because he’s not in the school anymore doesn’t mean that the issue is not still being handled,” said McCall. “So there’s some investigations still going on with Christ the King High School.”

“We’re still fighting,” Myschelle said. “We didn’t sue them but we put in for them violating his human rights. We’re still going back and forth with it because they still refuse and it’s not about the shirt, it’s the principle of it.”

Despite the controversy surrounding her son’s name, Myschelle looks up to the original Malcolm X whom her son is named after. “I read that when he changed his life, that he lived with such integrity that even the FBI that as surveying him had to say, ‘What a man of character.’ They couldn’t get him with anything. He meant what he said and he said what he meant,” Myschelle said. “And when he changed his mind from his past thoughts then that was it! He was a man of character and I said if my son can be half the man that Malcolm X was, I’m blessed.”

Christ the King High School did not return calls for comment.

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