Brinn of Columbia, South Carolina, traveled less than two hours to attend a summer youth conference in nearby Greenville, but some of her teenage peers in other parts of the world logged considerably more miles to reach their area youth activities. Over 300 teenagers traveled up to 30 hours from 10 different Eastern European countries to reach their conference in Prague, while kids from 21 different geographic locations in Mexico clocked up to 15 hours en route to their destinations.
The distances they traveled seemed insignificant to the youth once the gatherings began.
Teenage members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in all parts of the world use school vacation time to join in educational workshops, cultural presentations, service activities, pioneer treks, dance festivals and spiritual discussions. At these summer conferences, young men and young women connect to learn more about each other and the beliefs they share. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides a comprehensive program for youth through its Young Men and Young Women organizations.
Many of the participating young people represent the only teenage Church member in their family, their school or their towns. All are grateful to learn there are so many other young people who espouse similar beliefs. Samuel, 14, from Salzburg, Austria, observed, “I am now much stronger spiritually because I know that in the German-speaking area there are a lot of young men and women who are striving for the same things.”
Adrian Ochoa, a member of the Church’s Young Men general presidency, noticed a similar result from the Mexico conferences. “Our youth learn there are many young people like them in the Church; they make friends other than the ones from their own units (congregations).”
The summer 2009 “Excellence in Leadership” youth conferences or conventions in Mexico provided a time of learning in 21 different regional locations. A year of dedicated preparation by youth and their leaders culminated in numerous three-day conventions. Preparations focused on leadership skills, sharing beliefs, cultural arts, service and just plain fun. From 1,500 to 4,000 individuals gathered in each of the conventions.
Elder José L. Torres, a Church leader in the Oaxaca area, expressed his appreciation for the effort involved in organizing so many meaningful events. “We are grateful for the leadership and support of President Thomas S. Monson which has enabled us to have these conferences that will benefit the lives of the young people here in Mexico.”
Elaine S. Dalton, Young Women general president, concurred.
In describing the purposes of such gatherings throughout the Church, Dalton paraphrased a recognized statement of Latter-day Saint belief (Articles of Faith 1:13): “We say ‘if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we provide these things.’ That’s the goal of all of our activities — to provide a wholesome atmosphere where the young people learn about themselves, their potential and their purposes here on earth. Every activity should help direct the young people in their spiritual education and in their preparations to attend the temple.”
Young Mormons gathered for the first time this summer in France, Spain, Italy, Finland and the Czech Republic. Repeat conferences were also held in England and Germany. Working from a basic outline provided by Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, at least 200 young people met in more than a dozen multistake conferences (a “stake” is similar to a diocese). “Each conference plan adjusts to the needs of the area and infuses the conference with the cultural expectations that make it familiar and comfortable for participants with several languages and customs,” explained Sharon Larson, multistake youth conference supervisor in the Church’s Priesthood Department. “Even though there are cultural or language differences, these young people found common goals and beliefs reassuring. And they often maintain these connections on the social networking sites, so the relationships continue over the distances.”
“Life is very difficult for these young people,” said Elder Johann A. Wondra, Church leader for the Europe Area, in describing the teenagers who attended the conference in Prague. “At the youth conference, I saw them be happy and proud that they have the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Membership in the Church makes a difference for Tyler, senior quarterback of the Bangs, Texas, high school football team, and one of two Mormons in his West Texas school. Tyler created and presented a “‘Ten Commandments for Dragon Football,’ a list of guidelines will help us make this year the best we could possibly have,” the quarterback explained. “My sister and I stand alone in our beliefs at school, but my teammates respect me, and many have some similar standards though they don’t belong to my church.”
Tyler and his sister, Arienne, found a comforting environment when they joined with over 300 young people from western Texas for a summer youth conference.
Brinn, a graduating senior from Columbia, South Carolina, agrees. Brinn participated with young men and young women from two additional South Carolina cities, Greenville and Florence, in a multistake summer gathering.
Young women from both North and South Dakota recently joined together for the first time in that area. Their camping experience was anchored by a visit from Sister Dalton.
Of these young people and others like them throughout the world, Dalton said: “They carry something inside; they know they are of great worth. There’s nobility in their spirits and they want to use their gifts and talents to make a difference … and they will make a difference in the world!”