I was lucky enough to attend a youth conference this weekend with the young men and women from my church. The conference was filled with fun activities and spiritual experiences for youth and adults alike. I was so impressed with the amazing effort that other leaders provided to make the conference such a success. I just got to show up and have fun.
On Thursday evening we kicked off the conference with a trip to the LDS Denver Temple so the youth could perform baptisms for the dead. If you aren't a member of my church, I realize that sounds bizarre. We believe that the ordinances of baptism and confirmation (as well as others) are essential for eternal life with our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Millions of people have died without the opportunity to receive those ordinances, so in temples, worthy members of the church stand in proxy for deceased persons while the ordinances are performed. The baptisms themselves are just like baptisms for a living person, with white clothing and immersion in a pool of water. We believe that people who have died live in a spirit world, and they are able to choose whether to accept or reject those ordinances. (Learn more here.) Youth over age 12 can go to the temple to do this work. It is a very sacred experience for them, and for all those who participate. Our youth get to go on scheduled trips with our ward a few times a year but can go on their own at other times.
We had dinner in Denver before our appointment at the temple. Before we went inside, our youth conference director presented each youth with a booklet explaining the conference theme: Stand in Holy Places. The booklets each contained a letter personalized for the recipient. I had a powerful spiritual experience as I wrote the letters for the girls in my class. It was neat to see them read their letters.
Everyone went home on Thursday night (returning about 10:45 p.m.) but arrived at the church at 9:00 a.m. to depart for a cabin near Hartsel, CO, where we would hold the remainder of our conference. The first thing I did on Friday morning was get lost on the road, but that's a story by itself.
When we arrived at the cabin, the youth claimed their beds and then scattered to enjoy the property and its entertaining features. There was a merry-go-round and a zip line and a tree house and a hammock, plus room to run and play and just hang out. My job was to mix with the youth and make sure everyone was enjoying themselves. How fun is that?
Starting around 1:00 p.m., the youth were divided into groups and rotated through five stations: cooperative games, Q&A with the bishop, Family Home Evening kits, obstacle course, and...one other one. Haha. I was at the FHE station with a member of the bishopric. We talked about finding holy places in our lives, keeping high standards of dress and language and morality, etc. I also taught some really fun object lessons on how high standards can protect us from Satan's influences. We had a good time, but also had moments of spiritual power.
That evening, we had a yummy dinner with Dutch oven cobbler for dessert. We roasted marshmallows for S'mores and also roasted Starburst candies, which I hear taste fantastic but didn't grab some early enough to find out for myself. We also had a hilarious talent show. Most kids shared entertaining things with no advance preparation, which made things even more fun. I shared my ability to make balloon animals and hats. That was pretty popular.
After that, the girls and boys split up. The girls spent the night in the cabin, and the boys camped outside (yay for being a girl!). I led the evening devotional. We touched on Joseph Smith, the armor of God, and people in the Book of Mormon. Those 30 minutes were very special.
That night I stayed up until 1:00 a.m. chatting with some of my girls. We had a fabulous time sharing ridiculous stories. I had really hoped that would happen. I shouldn't have waited until lights-out to ask for a French braiding lesson, though.
Saturday morning included a early hike (ahem...casual stroll) and devotional. We each got to spend time with the scriptures. We had a delicious pancake breakfast (pancakes are so much better with fresh fruit and whipped cream) and then another great devotional. There's a Book of Mormon story where a blood-thirsty and war-torn group of people converts to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and as a token of their conversion, they bury their weapons deep in the ground. An enemy army attacks them but they do not fight. The story illustrates how true conversion to the Lord manifests through a changed heart and changed behavior. To help the youth internalize this message, they wrote on a paper sword a "weapon of rebellion" in their own lives that they were ready to bury in the ground. Instead of digging a hole in the ground, they threw their swords into the fireplace. Watching them burn was quite symbolic.
The youth conference ended with many of the youth and leaders sharing their feelings and testimonies. We left the cabin with a beautiful feeling of peace. We also enjoyed the satisfaction of strengthened friendships and testimonies. The whole experience made me very excited for our stake girls camp in just three weeks!