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Samoan generations learning together in the Pacific Northwest

A young boy joins in singing praises to God at the Pacific Northwest Samoan Camp Meeting held at Sunset Lake Camp. Youth and adults alike participated in a training session on blending faith and culture

Wilkeson, WASHINGTON — It’s praise singing time at the Pacific Northwest Samoan Camp Meeting. Adults, teenagers and children alike joined in enthusiastically singing and adding hand motions to the lyrics. It was a special bonding moment the first weekend of September as a multigenerational program began about blending culture and faith.

“The church needs youth to bring energy and elders to bring wisdom,” says Fred Toailoa, Samoan district pastor in Washington Conference. “The church needs both.”

This weekend gathering was the first of its kind in western Washington and brought 250 guests who stayed in tents or cabins or commuted to Sunset Lake Camp in Wilkeson, Wash. Where weekend programming targeted different age groups, the Sabbath afternoon program specifically brought generations together for a time of learning.

 “Second- and third-generation immigrants are developing their own culture,” explains Erika Puni, guest speaker from the Adventist seminary in Australia and previous stewardship director for the Adventist world church. “There’s a need to make the gospel and the church relevant to youth in North American Samoan churches.”

In his presentation Puni explained culture as the sum of people’s human experience (thought patterns, behavior, values and products) in a specific context. “If you are human, you have culture,” Puni says. “Human culture is complex, comprehensive and integrated.”

One of the challenges, Puni shared, is understanding where culture fits into the church. There are four differing views: 1) God is against human culture, 2) God is in human culture, 3) God is above human culture and 4) God is above, but He works through human culture. The fourth model, Puni says, is best represented in the Bible.

“God works through culture to reach us where we are,” Puni says. “No human culture is too evil or sinful that God cannot use it for His purpose. The gospel of Jesus Christ can change human values and behaviors.”

Puni encouraged older generations to impart Samoan heritage and language on younger generations and to provide Christian education that focuses on value transformation and right relationships. He encouraged younger generations to understand they are both Samoan and Adventist.

“The church needs to be inclusive of all generations,” Puni says. “Separate generational churches are not the answer. Spend time together.”

Inclusion of generations in worship experiences was demonstrated in the two-hour program, with diverse age groups of musicians sharing their God-given talent between teaching segments.

Next year’s camp meeting gathering is expected to draw an even larger crowd, according to Toailoa, with the hosting of the North American Division Samoan Camp Meeting in Auburn, Wash.