Evangelistic camps in Finland

Your local conference campground could become an evangelistic reaping center.

Auvo Helminen is director of the Bible Correspondence School in Finland.

Soul-winning camps in Finland operate as an outgrowth of the Bible correspondence school. In a peaceful setting by a lake, students en joy personal Bible studies and evangelistic preaching. Many are even baptized during the five days of spiritual teaching and fellowship.

For the last three decades, the Adventist youth camp at Kallioniemi has hosted these evangelistic retreats. They have become so popular that three are held each summer. Attendance has swelled since church members began bringing non-Adventist friends.

"Five-day Plan" for baptisms

The camp begins on Tuesday night and continues through Sunday noon. During those five days our ministers conduct 28 studies, covering the same range of subjects as a normal evangelistic campaign.

Bible classes last 45 minutes, leaving intervals for personal visitation. Every worker on our team is entrusted with names of students to look after with personal encouragement and biblical instruction. Informal evangelism takes place between meetings, even in the sauna. Amid the billowing steam, some make their decision to be baptized.

Each evening we have a revival meeting, complete with special music and some kind of invitation for commitment, such as an altar call. On Wednesday we give a specific appeal to accept Jesus as Saviour. On Thursday there is a call for baptism, and on Friday we invite them to join the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The main baptism follows church services on Sabbath.

During camp we schedule private workers' meetings to train younger pas tors and discuss the needs of various guests. We take time to pray for them and for each other.

Before lunch on Wednesday, Thurs day, and Friday we have an hour set apart for questions and answers. Students too restless and hungry to sit through a lecture will respond to the question box approach. This hour also provides opportunity to present supplemental information on the Sabbath, baptism, death, and Christian standards.

Saturday night is a time of fellowship when workers share how God has been leading in their lives. These personal testimonies, combined with the enthusiasm of newly baptized believers, inspire decisions for an additional baptismal service the next morning. After camp closes we offer follow-up meetings to nurture new converts and encourage those still holding back on commitment.

Inexpensive evangelism

The Bible correspondence school sends all students of its full message courses an invitation to camp. They of ten agree to attend after a personal fol low-up call. Other visitors come from Revelation Seminars or as friends of members. Though we charge nothing for accommodations and tuition, the camps remain an inexpensive method of reaping decisions. Board and lodging for five days at Kallioniemi cost the conferences less than US$100 per attendee, and we have 25-50 non-members at nearly every camp. Expenses are offset by selling literature, taking one collection, and receiving unexpected gifts of gratitude. Some students send donations later.

Many return the following summer as self-paying listeners. Some who have backslidden want a new start with the Lord. Second-time attendees often bring friends preparing to be baptized. Free room and board is offered to all Adventists who accompany interested friends. The cost is repaid when they encourage these friends in making their decision. Beyond such benefits, I have seen members become inspired at camp to begin their own personal soul-winning.

New members are also welcome. The experience serves to ground them in their understanding of the message and also to bond them in new relationships with other Adventists.

Advantages and disadvantages

Students at camp have continuous contact with pastors, Bible workers, and Christian friends, away from the doubts and bad advice of unbelievers. They are not looking at television but listening to the Word of God. They are not influenced by the noisy world but by the Holy Spirit.

People at Bible camp begin learning Adventist habits. They eat vegetarian food without coffee and tea. Many get a good start in temperate living without alcoholic beverages and tobacco. During the week they learn to pray, study the Bible, and sing Christian songs; on Sabbath they experience its sacredness in a practical way.

Bible camp is not without its risks. Five days removed from the world is a short time to begin a spiritual lifestyle. Many lacking an Adventist background find themselves confused at camp. They are unsure of their former thinking but cannot in such a short time grasp what our church offers them. Although some who have no prior knowledge of the truth are able to come to terms with it during the five days, I prefer inviting students with some previous understanding.

Some members invite to camp friends who are heavy smokers and drinkers. We clarify the importance of overcoming their addictions before baptism, and some do gain complete victory during the week. Unfortunately, the time to test them is short even in the best cases. There have been situations where local congregations could not accept into membership converts from our camps because of continuing use of tobacco and alcoholic beverages. These cases are exceptions.

Upon arriving home from camp, sometimes newly baptized persons are discouraged by relatives, friends, and others who do not endorse their new faith. The home environment is certainly different from the spiritual setting at camp, and some cannot survive the transition. This is sad, but we must remember that other methods of soul-winning also leave us with casualties.

One drawback to baptizing students at camp is that local churches want to host the ceremony. There are many ad vantages in that, but we have found it better to lead souls through the doorway of baptism while they are yet at camp. We baptize in Kallioniemi many who would not make their decision at home. Usually they are joyfully voted into membership at their local churches during the weeks that follow camp.

Occasionally, some who come to Kallioniemi just want a summer vacation and do not enjoy the meetings. We have even had two or three cases where guests accepted a free bed and meals in order to have a place to stay while con ducting business outside the camp ground. These occurrences are so rare that they do not disturb the atmosphere of the camp. Expenses being low, not much is lost.

Some students find romance during the camp, only to meet with disappointment. Others make new friends without harm to anyone. The important thing is that so many of them are falling in love with Jesus.

Significance in soul-winning

In Finland, attracting a regular audience for evangelism is a daunting challenge. Still more difficult is carrying them over into baptism. At the Bible camp, however, usually one third who attend are baptized that week, and many others take their stand later. This is impressive, especially since the Finland Union gets less than 200 new members per year. As many as 40 of these souls are baptized each summer at the Bible camp.

No wonder that the presidents of local conferences give all possible sup port for the Bible camps. They enjoy serving as speakers. They also assign their best ministers, along with new workers needing training.

Five days at Kallioniemi is not a small commitment for pastors, but it provides them wonderful fellowship in a productive evangelistic setting. As for lay members, hundreds of faithful Adventists in our churches thank God for the blessings they have received at Bible camp.

The future of Bible camps

Our task is to get the gospel into every town, village, and home around the world. Drawing evangelistic audiences everywhere may be impossible, but many are already acquainted with the Adventist message through broad casts, literature, and Bible correspondence schools. Bible camps seem one good way of reaping this interest and establishing personal contact in a setting conducive to decision-making.

Jesus Himself held Bible camps. He led people outside the urban centers and taught them in a natural setting. John the Baptist did too—people came and were baptized. Bible camp meetings were an effective evangelistic method in Ellen White's ministry. Adapted for time and place, soul-winning camps today could be a continuing blessing. Perhaps your local conference campground could be come an evangelistic center.

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Auvo Helminen is director of the Bible Correspondence School in Finland.

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