Tom Smart, Deseret News
After recent realignments of our ward boundaries, I received a calling to teach Sunday School to the older teenagers. With the changes, I knew I’d have more youths than ever before, but I was surprised at the anomaly of five senior boys in my class. I couldn’t remember the last time we had five priesthood holders graduate together from our local high school and immediately realized my Book of Mormon lessons needed to blend with missionary preparation.
The first week, I introduced the idea and didn’t catch a single eye roll, so I knew I was on to something. Instead, students responded by sitting a little taller, making eye contact and reaching for their scriptures.
Since then, whatever the topic of the lesson, we incorporate role-play teaching moments using “Preach my Gospel” as well as quotes and inspirational stories from past missionaries. We also set a weekly group goal and ask for strength from above when we pray together to close our class.
As a former sister missionary, I make no distinction between my expectations of the young men and young women. I don’t say, “Serve if you wish, ladies,” instead I let them know they’ll all have missionary opportunities whether they wear a black name tag or not, so they better be prepared.
With this new emphasis, the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi has come to life for me and my students in a new and exciting way. He has always been the perfect example of obedience, but as we’ve read his words together, we see that his teenage commitment came after intense struggle to overcome his personal weaknesses, resist the negative influence of his older brothers and develop a relationship with his parents that was built on trust, respect and faith.
Reading Nephi’s ancient writings, we’ve had great discussions and shared insights on the chains of sin and Satan’s desire to bind us from our potential with illusions and misconceptions. We’ve talked about Adam and Eve and the necessity of opposition in this life if we want to pump up our spiritual strength. We’ve learned to appreciate Isaiah and his literal prophecies of our day. We repeatedly talk of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the importance of sharing his hopeful message with all people — that’s right, all.
Our most lively discussions have come when we practice teaching about the importance of baptism by those who have authority, like John the Baptist and my room full of priest-age boys. We’ve talked about turning their spiritual moments into sharable stories and their life experiences with service or sports into lessons of symbolism.
With their permission, I hope to occassionaly share about these lessons that may help other youths who are also preparing to serve missions and be missionary-minded.
This week’s goal comes from Jacob, Nephi’s younger brother, who also made the commitment as a teenager to follow his faith and unleash his potential.
Jacob spent his entire young life traveling with his family to the New World. What he lacked in stability of a peaceful home, he made up for in obedience and developing strong relationships. I can only imagine how his heart broke when his older brothers split from the group, taking their children who were most likely Jacob’s friends and playmates. As a young man, he became a prophet and leader, and his admitted anxieties about his family were transformed from debilitating worries to impassioned service where he pled with others to fight against the temptations of love of money, pride and immorality.
And so we will listen as well.
Our class goal for this week specifically focuses on avoiding the temptations of sexual sin. We discussed President Ezra Taft Benson’s sage advice on the topic:
• Flee from people or places that encourage sexual situations.
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