Did you know that the Ontario Conference traces its origins 120 years back to a campmeeting held June 15, 1899, in London, Ont.? And at this year’s campmeeting, held at the International Centre in Mississauga on June 8, 2019, over 10,000 in-person and online attendees celebrated our conference’s rich history and continued mission.
Before the midday service, thanks to a newly released 120th-anniversary video, attendees went on a virtual tour looking at places that have helped shape us into one of the most diverse conferences in North America; these sites included London and Toronto (former headquarters), and Oshawa, our current headquarters. Attendees were inspired to build on the foundation set by pioneers like Hiram Edson and Joseph Bates in Ontario over a century ago.
Critical to the day’s success was the underlying message that even though we’ve come a long way—from a conference of 500 members to nearly 34,000—we can and must do more to disciple others. In the adult Sabbath school, for instance, a multicultural panel discussed DiscipleShift in the home, focusing on biblical conflict management strategies (e.g., being quick to forgive, seeking Christian counselling as needed).
Later, Fredrick Russell, immediate past president of Allegheny West Conference, delivered powerful, interactive messages during both the midday and evening services. At midday, he recounted the story of the servant whose master forgave him a $100,000 debt, who then was unmerciful to a fellow servant owing a mere $50. “Oftentimes we are Adventist but not Christian,” Russell said, warning listeners to live a life congruent with their stated values.
The very engaging and amiable Russell refused to stand on the platform, and instead remained on the ground, closer to the people. The audience was touched as he poured himself out in ministry, one man exclaiming, “That’s deep!” as Russell spoke. Attendee Jennifer Alvarado, reflected, “The pastor [emphasized that] we should consider, Do people see Christ in me? And I think that’s a message we all need to hear.”
This year five pastors and one teacher took part in the commissioning and ordination service. Bruce Boyd, the senior pastor of College Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church, urged Pastors Sherry Augustus, Josue Manigat, Sheldon Imperio, Laurentiu Prelipcian, and David James, as well as Ellen Bannis, teaching principal, to “motivate, inspire and equip [all] people to be successful in their ministry.” Boyd concluded, “This is your mission, this is your life, this is your call.”
Later, Russell focused on Philippians 4:6, 7, encouraging visitors that as disciples of Christ, you don’t have to toss and turn at night. Come what may, you are in total peace. Aundrea Belnavis shared that she had been at the evening service primarily because of her role operating her employer’s (Kingsway College’s) booth most of the day. “I needed this,” she smiled. Attendee Judy Rodney added, “Pastor Russell confirmed things that I’ve been going through in my life [this week], that I need to go forward and reflect Jesus, and be anxious for nothing.”
Yet again, actors and musicians from across the conference—including a multi-ethnic choir and recording artists Tiffany Campbell-Dailey and Norwill Simmons—added a unique touch to the traditional midday service elements. In dramatic segments, the main characters (male and female) depicted our natural resistance to God’s call. In the end, the voice of God (portrayed by James Rooney, Camp Frenda director), assured them—and the audience—“Come to me, and I’ll do the rest.”
Following the same theme as the adults, teen speakers—Alvea Hurlington, Luke Charles and David Machuca—shared the challenges and joys of discipleship, particularly urging young people to work together to reach others for Christ. For the young adults, Tacyana Nixon, currently a Master of Divinity student at Andrews University, made the gospel relevant with biblical and personal examples. “Pastor Tacyana reminded us that God is a personal God [who] cares about the small issues that affect our lives. Whether it’s losing our keys or studying for a test, God cares,” said attendee Tristan Mignott of Ottawa East Church.
In their section, children were also encouraged to reflect on what it means to be a disciple. For instance, older children engaged in small group discussions on discipleship led by facilitators, answering questions such as, “What does discipleship look like to you? What are some ways that you think will make more disciples?” Other highlights for children included puppet shows, crafts, and singspiration. For many children, it was also a time of fellowship. Jayline Thompson, age 7, stated, “I felt happy and excited to meet my old friends from church.”
Throughout the day, the 2019 Campmeeting incorporated both contemplative moments and calls to action; for instance, the youth and adult sections featured prayer walls. Similarly, a needs board in the adults’ section offered visitors a tangible way to serve at the conference and local church levels. Then, in the third year of the Compassion Initiative, youth and young adults were motivated to be the hands and feet of Jesus as they distributed care packages and ministered to the local community.
Zachary Padyachy (from Sarnia church), who worked with Compassion, summed up, “My favourite part [of Campmeeting] was meeting new people and building God-centred friendships. Seeing young people who are passionate about Christ and ministry is always an uplifting experience.”
-Christelle Agboka, Ontario Conference