A PBE miracle for Glasgow
15th March 2019
In Mark 9:24, the Bible records the cry of one desperate parent who tearfully uttered the words, “I believe, help thou mine unbelief”. In rather different and yet joyous circumstances, some parents of the Glasgow Pathfinders who were part of the Pathfinder Bible Experience (PBE) team were left with no choice but to make the same confession.
From a purely human logical point of view, the Glasgow PBE team had no right to make it to the BUC level of the programme, let alone earn a place in the division finals to be held at the Rock Valley College, Rockford Chicago Illinois in the United States. And yet, that’s exactly what happened!! This got some parents being shockingly embarrassed at just how little their faith was. After all, we only need a mustard seed-sized faith, but this proved too big for some.
The PBE is the initiative of the North American Division and is the official North American Division Pathfinder Bible study programme. Each year, teams of pathfinders study a book of the Bible (alternating Old Testament and New Testament), memorizing large portions of God's word. For 2019, the book of Luke was chosen. There are four levels of competition; Area, Conference, Union, and Division. In April 2019, finalist teams from across the Division will participate in the final level of testing. The finals take place either near the NAD Headquarters (even numbered years) or in various union locations during odd numbered years. The Pathfinders are tested over the assigned study books as well as the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Introduction to each study book. At each level, the teams scoring 90% or higher than the highest score at their testing site, make 1st place and are invited to go on to the next level.
PBE was introduced to clubs in the South East Conference eight years ago and subsequently to other clubs in the British Union Conference (BUC). The Scottish Mission first participated in 2017 when it was represented at BUC level by the Paisley Club and then by the Aberdeen Club in 2018. This year, the Glasgow club made its debut participation in the programme to join Aberdeen who were also taking part. Without any prior experience of the programme, it was always going to be a difficult task to incorporate PBE within the already busy Pathfinder schedule, let alone be able to establish a team competent enough to have meaningful participation.
Inundated with the nuances involved in incorporating PBE within the Pathfinder programmes for the first time, it was not until September 2018 that the club started creating teams for PBE. For a programme that requires participants to memorise whole chapters, if not the whole book, saying this was too late in the day, is a huge understatement. But that’s how the journey began. Three teams of six were created but by the time of the area testing on 12th January 2019, there were only two teams left. The quiz was tough. For the first time in the process, we learnt that in addition to studying the Book of Luke, we also needed to study the SDA Bible Commentary introduction to the book of Luke- Ooops. There was no hiding the fact that the teams had a long way to go. After lengthy deliberations on whether the journey should be continued, a team of eight was selected, consisting of Tiffany Mbiba, Matthew Muvwanga, Melissa Kasowanjete, Dominic Ncube, Janelle and Jensine Shem, who made the six participants. Mwenda Mwiinga was the reserve and Anesu Mandaza was the courier.
The mission level test was scheduled for 9th February 2019, less than a month after the area test. No one expected to go beyond that; it was going to be treated as a learning experience. “It’s the first time you are doing this, don’t worry too much about the results” we told the kids. We still prayed for God’s leadership and guidance. Edinburgh Church was the stage. The young minds from Glasgow and Aberdeen were going to get tested on how well they had committed the word of God to memory. The objective for both teams was clear - meet the first place requirement and you qualify to the BUC level test on 9th March 2019 at Newbold College. Pastor Njay Ndlovu and his wife, Mthoko Ndlovu performed the roles of Quizmasters. Pastor Ivana Mendez, Pastor Gabriel Perea and Elder Lawrence Pollard were the judges to adjudicate on any penalised answers which the teams felt needed independent review. Rather than it being tense, the atmosphere was very relaxed and jovial. The Quizmasters did a good job of involving the audience to participate be it with a very few correct answers. Two hours and 90 questions later, the test was over and a diligent team of scorers and independent checkers gathered in a secret room to validate the results. For the first time, there was tension in the room as we all awaited the announcement of the results. The tension turned into jubilation for the Glasgow kids when the Quizmaster announced that they were the club to represent the Scottish Mission at the BUC level. On the other hand, shock and disbelief characterised the faces of parents and leaders. A few were literally speechless, which is a rarity for some.
However, the elation and celebrations were short lived as the work to prepare for the next stage of the programme had to start eminently - the BUC test on 9th March 2019. The kids had their work cut out if they were to gain a first place which would guarantee progress beyond this level. This was now a Scottish Mission journey and it was all hands on deck - Pastor Njay Ndlovu and his wife Mthoko Ndlovu and Pastor Ivana Mendez sprang into action immediately setting up Whatsapp groups and Zoom calls for intensive revision sessions. The Pathfinder teachers raised their efforts in the preparation work as well. Before long, it became clear that there was a special bond developing among the kids. To them, this was more than just participation - there was a determination about them and they had a way of encouraging each other as never seen before. Only later did we realise that this was nothing more than divine. Pastor Ivana Mendez recognised this and enhanced their team building by making bookmarks which had personalised messages for each child.
So it was that after about nine Zoom calls and numberless prayers, including a send-off prayer from Pastor Rory Mendez, the team boarded a flight to Luton from where they would be fetched to Newbold College. The team was in high spirits, belting song after song without any promptings. Meanwhile at the Glasgow church back home in Scotland, a group of 14, comprising parents and siblings of the team were boarding a bus to also make its way to Newbold College. The 9 hour road trip was no mean feat, but this did not phase the travelers, nor did it dampen their spirits. The family spirit, laughter, open and honest conversations was so heavenly, the group decided to dub the bus ride a mobile Church. Next time you visit Glasgow Church, be sure to inquire about the “Pakandigo arrangement”, a phrase coined during the most enjoyable 9 hour road trip you’d ever hope for.
On the Sabbath afternoon, 48 Pathfinder clubs from across the UK gathered in the Gymnasium hall at Newbold College. Among them was the Scottish mission representatives neatly adorned in their Pathfinder uniforms, distinguished from everyone else by their tartan neckerchief. The place was heaving and a resounding display by a brass band kicked off the occasion giving it an air of a coliseum getting ready for the battle of the gladiators. Except in this case, the gladiators were children and the battle was the opportunity to showcase how much they had committed the gospel of Luke to memory. There is no nobler battle than that. 90 questions were to be answered, every team that met the minimum requirement for first place would qualify for the finals in the US. At half time, the Glasgow team was beaming with confidence as they had done well even though those parents with keen mathematical minds were calculating that the team was falling just short. Nervous glances at the team during the second half were not giving positive indications. There wasn’t much fist pumping and hi-fiving as was the case in the first half. A gasp went across the whole hall when question 90 came on the screen. It was a massive eight-pointer. The tension was palpable, and even the equipment felt it as the screen went blank whilst the quiz master was still reading it out. When finally, the answer was displayed, there was screaming, fist clenching, jumping and shouts of “yes” among most teams. The Glasgow team was calm. The team leaders reassured the team that no matter the result, everyone was still very proud of them, echoing the send-off message from Pastor Rory the previous day in Glasgow.
If this whole process was teaching us faith, we had a lesson in patience as we had to wait for what seemed like forever for the announcement of the results. And when the announcements came, team after team was being called out as having achieved the requisite mark. And then, Glasgow was called as well. Could it just be? Surely not. And then the announcement came in no uncertain terms-“Glasgow, first place!!”. Shocked faces, disbelief, stomach crunches, hugs, tears, screams. The kids had made it. They had met the minimum requirements to go to the finals. However, as team after team was being announced as being first place, doubts started creeping up again. Surely, it can’t be that all the teams in the BUC had qualified to the finals. Maybe there was a mistake. Except there wasn’t. A miracle was happening right in front of our eyes. We just didn’t have the faith to see it. For the first time in the history of PBE in the BUC, every team that had participated had qualified. And Glasgow, representing the Scottish Mission, was one of them.
In the cafeteria, a shocked Lawrence Pollard sat in contemplation wearing a blank face. “The Lord is teaching us something, you know” he said to me in his distinctive Caribbean accent. I had to agree. I walked away from him, face down, the words “I believe, help thou mine unbelief” rebuking whatever little faith I still had left in me.