Two years of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges to youth ministries of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in southeast Mexico, including the possibility of hundreds of Pathfinder clubs shutting down.
“Our numbers went from a little over 1,000 clubs to 700,” Víctor Martínez, youth ministries director for the church’s Southeast Mexican Union Mission, said. That 30 percent decrease, never seen before among the 1,226 churches and congregations in that union, alarmed youth ministries leaders throughout the territory.
“We found out that the desertion of clubs was because directors in some of the regions were not prepared to use Zoom and technological tools, and many of the children had no access to the internet,” Martínez said. Youth ministries leaders at every conference level began to look for strategies to better reach many of the dwindling clubs. “More Pathfinder leaders with access to Zoom and able to film honor classes were enlisted to reach out to club members wherever they were.” When a few activities began to take place outdoors as regulations eased last year, things began to improve.
As gatherings became possible in 2021, clubs slowly began to meet again. Recently, church leaders took the opportunity to launch stronger efforts to strengthen youth ministries leaders who oversee clubs and youth missionary activities every week, he said.
“We wanted to start 2022 with better attention to clubs providing leadership training to all of our youth ministries directors, including the areas focused on Pathfinder- and Adventurer-age children,” Martínez said. “We know that these clubs represent the best leadership school for the local church, so that was a major focus.”
Their efforts are working. The number of clubs in operation has jumped to 906 since last year.
Disciple training of children and youth is very important throughout Southeast Mexico because they represent 60 percent of the membership, Martínez added. “In just a few years, we know that they will take the positions of responsibility at the local church level.”
Youth ministries leaders redoubled their efforts in the past six months. They are emphasizing what they have coined as “I Will Go for Jesus,” an initiative designed to motivate and lead young people to a deeper communion with Christ and develop a Christian lifestyle with a stronger identity on discipleship training, Martínez said. It's about belonging to Jesus, which means cultivating a life of prayer, studying the Bible, and testifying wherever they are.
A recent regional event drew more than 700 Pathfinders in Playa del Carmen, in Quintana Roo. Pathfinders got to praise, study the Bible, and reflect on the Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844 that 19th-century Advent believers faced. Pathfinders in attendance were only a fraction of the nearly 3,000 members throughout the north Quintana Roo region who were watching online back home.
Andrés Peralta, associate youth ministries director of the Adventist Church, called young people to seek out their fellow members who had left their clubs. “God wants to restore the life of Pathfinders; He wants to bring salvation, heal, and transform them,” Peralta said.
The gathering was a significant event to let Pathfinders know in Quintana Roo and the rest of the union territory that they are valuable and strong regardless of the circumstances they have faced, Martínez said.
Before that Pathfinder event, more than 600 children and Pathfinders gave Bible studies and preached in their local congregations across the union. As a result, 437 Pathfinders decided to get baptized during a special ceremony in September 2021. The event, coined as the caravan of baptisms across the church region in Southeast Mexico, helped strengthen youth ministries, church leaders said.
Plans are underway in the coming months to hold several camporees for Pathfinders and young people who want to join the clubs, Martínez said.
In addition, youth ministries leaders are equipping and empowering their youth missionary volunteers, youth small groups, and witnessing groups to be more active in their local churches and communities every week.
It wasn’t all about negative challenges that the pandemic brought on and the goal is not just to reopen more clubs this year, but also to strengthen children and young people with a renewed purpose in the mission of the church, he explained.
“We learned that more opportunities to strengthen youth ministries came our way,” Martínez said. “We can see how God is still blessing our young people with beautiful opportunities to strengthen them in their walk with the Lord and their commitment to spreading the gospel.”