Weeks before the 5th Pathfinder Camporee of the Inter-American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was to take place in Jamaica in early April, Efrain Pérez was unsure if he would volunteer as a cook for the delegation that was going to travel from Puerto Rico. He knew what it would take. Pérez had been a cook at many camporees and church organized events before. “Cooking is my hobby, and I love it,” Pérez said. He runs his own business selling uniforms and products that carry logos and the like.
From a very young age, growing up in the church, Pérez, 48, learned to give his heart and soul to anything that came his way. Cooking three meals a day for a week outdoors for a delegation of 157 was the least of his concerns. Closing his business for a busy Easter week was pressing on his mind. “My wife and I prayed and felt it was important for me to be part of providing meals to the group during the camporee. God would know why it was important for me to be here,” Pérez said.
At the campsite, Pérez and a team of five set up their kitchen on the back side of the main large tent. Up front were tables and chairs for mealtimes. Their camp was the only one that had arranged for round tables for its delegation, David Sebastian, youth ministries director for the Puerto Rican Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said. “We do things as a family, and we wanted to make sure to have large tables for everyone to eat at and be able to connect and get to fellowship during camp,” Sebastian said.
Setting Up to Serve
While setting up the kitchen on the back end of the main tent, Pérez noticed that there was a house on the edge of the property and what looked like a small garden. He decided to reach out to the homeowner to reassure him that they would not disturb his vegetable garden. In the days that followed, Keron Young, the homeowner, helped set up the water system, the stove, and everything that was needed in the kitchen, and a special friendship began to grow between the kitchen crew and Young.
After the kitchen and food supplies were set up, other neighboring delegations began to set up camp. One of those delegations was a group that arrived from Venezuela, and because Pérez and the crew had made more than enough food, there was plenty to share. With eyes wide open, one group of Pathfinders from Venezuela told Pérez that they had a very long journey. “I could see how hungry they were, and it touched my heart to see them happy, eating with our group,” Pérez said, as he paused to wipe some tears.
‘The Fountain of Hope’
More campers came to know about the Puerto Rican tent. “Word got around that we were called the ‘fountain of hope,’” Sebastian said. “Many came to get water, which we kept cool, and a delicious hot plate made by our team,” he added.
For Pérez, each experience at camp touched him deeply. “Every day, God would reassure me about the importance of me being here,” Pérez said.
The 37-person delegation from Cuba arrived at midnight after the opening night of the camporee. “We fed them hot meals for a few days before they set up their own kitchen two spots down from us,” Pérez said. “It was such a treat to see them happy [while] eating our food.” Several of the adults in the Puerto Rican delegation had brought an extra suitcase of clothes, which they shared with the Cuba delegation.
When a small delegation arrived from Guatemala, Pérez and his team adopted them. They also took care of the Costa Rica delegation and fed many from El Salvador; even campers from Jamaica came by. “We feed whoever comes. There was never anyone who was denied food or water from our camping area, and the food kept multiplying. There was always more to share at every meal.”
Hot Meals Kept Growing
The days started with breakfast at 4:00 a.m. Then lunch at noon, which included rice, pigeon peas, salad, and vegetables. Supper included pasta, veggies, and more. “We have cooked for 250 people every day here, and it’s been a blessing to meet so many people.”
Luis Alberto Segura, youth ministries director for the Villa Perla Mission of the Cuban Union Conference, said he did not have enough words to express the gratitude he felt as he and his delegation of 37 Pathfinders and leaders arrived at camp at midnight. “We didn’t know where we would stay or eat but we trusted that God would provide, and then we find those from the Puerto Rican Union who took care of us,” Segura said. “All we had with us was a backpack, each with the little we brought, but we have been so blessed.”
Segura could not stop saying how wonderful the experience was for his delegation. “I’ve been reassured that God is above all things, that we belong to a large Adventist Church family that cares for their own and others, and God is always giving us opportunities to witness to others.”
Ministering Is Witnessing
Ministering is all about witnessing to others no matter where you are. “I have a brother-in-law who has gone as a missionary and has insisted I go out as a missionary, but what I’m learning is that you can be a missionary to anyone who you come in contact with,” Pérez said. “I didn’t know the experience I would have here in Jamaica. I wondered when I was little what talent God [had given] me, and I’ve been reminded time and time again that God has given me a gift to cook, to feed sometimes more than 2,500 [people] at a time.”
Mid-way through the camporee, Pérez could only smile and be thankful for the great opportunities and blessings he shared with his crew. Young has been put in contact with a local Adventist pastor in a nearby church in Trelawny. “He is our brother now,” Pérez said of his newfound friend. “He’s got a home and a new family in Puerto Rico, and we are going to keep in touch with him.”