On Friday, May 22, 2020, the first-ever virtual “The Tent” meeting, a collaboration between the Ruth Murdoch Elementary School and Pioneer Memorial Church (PMC) youth ministries, premiered on YouTube and Facebook. “The Tent,” as it is known, has been an evangelistic series put on by junior-high students in a large tent on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States. For the past seven years, the program has occurred every May.
This year the live event had to shift to virtual meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stay-at-home orders, and quarantine.
“When I found out things were going to be online, it was definitely mixed feelings because I really looked forward to having it in the tent, but at the same time I was a little glad that I could just speak to a camera instead of a crowd because it was less nerve-racking,” said Raygio Masengi, an eighth-grader from Ruth Murdoch.
Sophia Bourget first experienced The Tent in first grade as her father was working with various activities surrounding the programming. When she was about nine, she decided she wanted to preach at The Tent someday. This year she had the opportunity, and though it wasn’t an in-person event, Bourget enjoyed preaching from her living room.
“I think it’s especially important in a time like this because people are really scared right now and sometimes don’t know what to do. [What we’re doing] can lead them and comfort them when they're scared,” she continued. “I’d like to preach again as soon as possible.”
On the fourth night of The Tent virtual meetings, Alex Wright, another eighth-grader, preached about getting closer to God. In his sermon, he used an illustration of his own experience in deciding for baptism. At first, Wright said he was uncomfortable sharing his experience about getting baptized with an audience he didn’t know. He didn’t want to share it, but Wright ended up sharing it anyway. That night, the first decision for baptism came in via the meeting's online decision cards. Wright said, “I’m just a kid from a small town who’s never preached before … but it felt good to know that I had done something to help someone else.”
Between both online platforms, there were several thousand views throughout the ten-day series. Ben Martin, PMC youth pastor, talked about the blessings of the expanded audience and shared a story: “Because it was online, the whole world was now our audience. We could reach people that would never come into the tent. And we saw that happen this year. We heard of one person who had stopped going to church years ago. They grew up in an Adventist family, but they stopped coming to church, but when this showed up on their Facebook feed, they were curious, started tuning in and watching the episodes, and didn't miss a single one.”
“We may have to rethink how we go about things because this has expanded our territory,” said Chris Davisson Jr., a high school math and Bible teacher who also helped the students prepare to speak. He continued, “I’m so glad that God has chosen this generation to be His church right now and to do ministry right this minute. And we don’t have to wait; the kids are ready.”
Leah Reid, a seventh-grader who spoke near the end of the series, summed it up,
“I feel that as The Tent moves forward into the future, we have created this bigger opportunity, and we can begin to share with more people instead of keeping it to Berrien Springs,” she said.
Martin concluded, “It showed me that the physical building isn’t the most important part of the church. It’s the body of Christ. Getting to see the body in action, getting to see all these kids working together to share the gospel — this is what the church is supposed to look like.”