IMOTHY HYDE OF COLDWATER, Michigan, spent nearly a year immersing himself in the biblical book of Matthew, becoming familiar with every text, every story, every word Jesus spoke. Then one day while talking with a man he met in the park, he was able to share some of what he had learned.
“He was asking questions about what we [Seventh-day Adventists] believe about the state of the dead,” Hyde says. “I knew what to say because of what we’d been studying.”
Timothy is just one of hundreds of Pathfinders—a worldwide youth organization sponsored by the Adventist Church—who spent the past school year studying the biblical book of Matthew in preparation for the Pathfinder Bible Achievement program (PBA). The PBA program focuses on bringing youth closer to God, and Pathfinder leaders believe one of the best ways for young people to get to know God personally and develop a desire to share Him with others is by studying His Word.
This Year’s Event
On April 19, 2008, 45 participating Pathfinder teams representing eight unions in the North American Division met at Pioneer Memorial Church (PMC) on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, for the 2008 Invitational/Division Level Pathfinder Bible Achieve-ment. A record 40 teams earned a first-place certificate, with the remaining five receiving second-place certificates.
For some Pathfinders, the Bible stories they have been studying were actually refreshers of what they had been taught throughout their young lives; for others, however, it was an entirely new experience.
“I didn’t know anything about the book of Matthew before,” said Rhea James of the Worcester, Massachusetts, Doves of Peace Pathfinder Club. “I learned so much!”
The Doves of Peace leaders assigned older Pathfinders and Teens in Leadership Training (TLTs) who were also former PBA participants to serve as coaches and work with current team members to help prepare them for the PBA events.
“You learn skills that you need for life, like how to study in college,” one of this year’s team coaches and a former PBA participant, says. “It’s fun, and you get to travel.”
How It All Began
That’s what Michigan Conference Pathfinder director Terry Dodge had in mind—encouraging Adventist youth to study the Bible—when he developed the Pathfinder Bible Achievement Program (originally called the Pathfinder Bible Bowl) while serving as a pastor in Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1987. Dodge’s goal was to design a Bible study program that would help kids become excited about studying the Bible.
Four Pathfinder teams participated in the first Pathfinder Bible Bowl, held in 1988, on the book of Revelation. The program was such a success that Dodge presented the idea to all the Pathfinder leaders in the Rocky Mountain Conference.
“Even though there was some hesitancy on the part of some leaders about this new program, they believed it was a good way to get Pathfinders to study their Bibles,” Dodge says. “In the first three years it was rewarding to see the number of Pathfinder clubs take part and want to do their best and learn from the Bible. To watch parents, pastors, and others get involved preparing study questions for the club teams brought a special importance and encouragement to the team members.”
Dodge became the Pathfinder director for the Michigan Conference in 1990, bringing the Pathfinder Bible Bowl program with him. In the years that followed, Bible Bowl continued to grow, and in 1993 the North American Division (NAD) Pathfinder Committee voted to adopt the Pathfinder Bible Bowl program divisionwide.
“Because the program was built to have four levels, it was gratifying to see various conferences begin organizing the area, conference, and union levels,” Dodge says.
In 1998 and 1999 the Quebec Conference joined the Lake Union for the union-level event. Then in April 2000 the first division-level Pathfinder Bible Bowl was held at PMC, with eight teams from four unions participating.
“Excitement built as other conferences in the various unions began to participate,” Dodge notes. “Parents and staff members told how much the program did for their Pathfinders, not only in learning the Bible but also in improving their scholastics at school.”
It’s All in the Name
In 2003 the name Pathfinder Bible Achievement (PBA) was chosen to replace Pathfinder Bible Bowl, in order to reflect better the noncompetitive nature of the program. Since 2003 the PBA program has continued to grow.
The rules and system for judging have changed only slightly throughout the years. In the beginning, the team receiving the most points at the end of the competition was awarded first place; the team with the second most points was awarded second place, and so on. In order to shift the emphasis from competition between teams to the personal achievement of each individual team, the scoring system was altered. First place is now awarded to all teams earning 90 percent or more of the highest score attained; second place to teams earning 80 percent or more; and third place to all others.
“This way,” Dodge explains, “every team is capable of earning a first place designation if they study hard and know their material. The Pathfinders are actually striving to be the best they can be rather than competing against one another.”
Preparing for the Event
Pathfinders use a variety of ways to prepare for the PBA. Matthew Fennell, of the Spencerville, Maryland, club, called the Polar Bears, said he personally prepared for this year’s event by reading, listening to audio recordings of the book of Matthew, watching a video about the Bible book, and using flashcards.
“I was really interested in the genealogy,” Matthew says. “I’d never learned [that part of Matthew] before.”
Organizing the Teams
Each PBA team includes two to six Pathfinders, who are students in grades 5-10, plus one alternate member. One team member is appointed as captain, and another as scribe. The captain is the spokesperson for the team and also accepts the team certificate at the end of the program. The scribe is responsible for recording the team’s answers at the PBA events.
Each year Pathfinders study in depth a preselected book of the Bible, along with the introduction to that book printed in The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. This year the focus was on the book of Matthew.
How Does It Work?
“During the event, the teams are asked a variety of questions on the content of the chapters and the commentary,” Dodge explains. “Each question is projected on a large screen at the front of the sanctuary. Because of the increasing diversity of the participants, the questions are written in English, French, and Spanish, with verbal translators available for teams requesting added assistance.”
Pastors, teachers, and other Pathfinder program supporters make up the panel of judges and are responsible for determining the acceptability of the team responses and the number of points awarded. Certificates are awarded alphabetically at the end of the program.
Nonye Imo, a member of the United African Royal Knights Pathfinder Club in Houston, Texas, says her PBA team began meeting every Friday night back in November 2007 to study for the event. They also studied on their own, she says, and held practice competitions hosted by their church elders. She explained that studying with her friends and having the church members behind them, supporting what they do, make the process a lot of fun.
“I liked learning about the signs of the end times,” Nonye says. “I had heard [about the end time] before, when I was little, but it was great to study about it with my friends and really learn what it all means.”
Reaching Division Level
To reach the Invitational/Division Level of PBA, the Pathfinder teams must earn a first place standing in the three preceding levels: area, conference, and union. The successful teams then go on to participate in the fourth and final Invitational/Division Level, held annually at PMC.
A Challenge to Take Seriously
Being a PBA team member is not something to take lightly, Dodge says. “Most teams study for months, beginning as early as September, to prepare for the program,” he explains. “Pathfinders must be committed to meeting one to three times a week, studying with other team members as well as on their own.”
He adds, “By the time they have reached the Invitational/Division Level, team members have learned how to work together and utilize each member’s strengths. Support from their families, friends, and local church also helps the teams succeed. The more you support your Pathfinder team, the better they will do, and the more clearly they will come to understand the importance of committing God’s Word to memory.”
Dodge believes the Bible contains a wealth of information that every person should hold close to their hearts, and “that’s what the Pathfinder Bible Achievement program is all about,” he says. “This program is a fun and exciting way for young people to grow closer to God.”
To learn more about the Pathfinder Bible Achievement program and to view additional pictures of the event, go to www.pathfinderbibleachievement.org. The June 2008 KidsView (available as a PDF on the archives page of this site) has more coverage of this event.