Two nights and three days, 335 sunburns and a fight with the Anti-Nephi-Lehies.
This all took place during Easter weekend.
Youths and leaders in the Klein Texas Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered on 1,300 acres of private land for their youth conference centered around “Becoming Perfected With Christ.” This Book of Mormon-themed conference gave youths the opportunity to re-enact experiences from this book of scripture, including making their own family Titles of Liberty.
Each participating youth was assigned into one of the 16 “families” that were complete with a Nano and Tano (mom and dad) and a big brother or sister who also served on the planning committee.
After a brief meeting at King Benjamin’s tower — a 26-foot tower built with telephone poles — the youths traveled through the "wilderness" where they were subjected to mists of darkness (provided by fog machines), walked in an uneven field wearing blindfolds as they held onto an “iron rod” (made of PVC pipe) to finally be greeted by Lehi (portrayed by Lloyd Stutz) standing under the Tree of Life.
A large oak tree had been wrapped with several strands of Christmas lights and illuminated with additional floodlights to stand out as the Tree of Life in the darkness of the night.
“Lehi addressed the youth in his own Book of Mormon style of language, his message one of relating the events of the vision to their current dispensation,” Stutz said. “They were encouraged to pray many times per day, search and ponder the word of God continually, and to go and make a difference in this world. They were reminded that they are here in the latter-days to do more than just to save themselves, but also to prepare the world and its people to reach their full potential before the return of Jesus Christ.”
But it wasn’t just the youths that were touched.
“I felt the warm connection to Lehi as I prayed and prepared for this event,” Stutz recalls. “Standing in the dark night next to a beautifully lighted giant oak tree was a very spiritual moment for me. The youth stayed focused as Lehi addressed them with all of the tenderness of a loving parent, who wanted only for them to partake of the love of God.”
The next two days involved various workshops where youths listened to leaders speak about missionary work, scripture study and watched several live vignettes portraying Book of Mormon scenes and events.
Split into two groups, each army was rallied for battle by none other than their own Captain Moroni as he discussed the Title of Liberty. A few battle cries later, the two teams ran out onto the open meadow where a full-fledged whacking began.
It took nearly a year of planning to pull off such a large undertaking.
“Each of the youth on our committee was chosen for a reason,” said Greg Lyman, the Klein Texas Stake Young Men's president. “They each brought their own unique skills, personality, spirit and experience that we needed to pull off an event of this magnitude. And most importantly, they all worked together to seek the will of the Lord as they prepared this conference for the youth of the Klein Texas Stake.”
"We have a prophetic priority to prepare the youth,” said Tom Kunz, first counselor in the Klein Texas stake presidency, “to deepen their discipleship; to help prepare them for the increased expectations the Lord has for them. They are the modern day army of Helaman."
“Being called as co-chair was terrifying at first,” Alyssa Stewart said. “I had no idea what I was doing, I had never been on a committee before, I was really uncomfortable speaking in front of people, and I didn't know hardly anyone on the committee. It was a bit rough and overwhelming to begin planning everything, but eventually we fell into a rhythm. We worked really well as a committee and months flew by.”
“It was a Book of Mormon youth conference, but Christ was our theme,” said co-chair Jaren Strader, “and we hoped that after youth conference was over that they (the youths) would allow Christ to be the theme of their lives.”
But when it was all said and done, both co-chairs spoke of their love of the Klein Stake youth.
“As I looked down at those kids (as I spoke from the tower) and they looked up at us so expectantly, I realized that I did love them,” Stewart said. “How could I not? After all the driving, the meetings, the tears, the prayers, the fasting. In all that service I had done for them I fell in love with them. All those kids; I didn't even know their names. And as youth conference progressed, I just came to feel that love even more. In the way they served each other, and the way they would laugh and play, and the comments they made during the rotations, I just could feel the Savior’s love for them.
“People say that the generations keep getting progressively worse,” Stewart said, adding, “but youth conference taught me that they also get progressively better. These youth are unbelievably strong and valiant. I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve them. And with Christ, we will love, convert and perfect these people.”
Ramona Siddoway is a freelance writer who has published articles in Belgium, Angola, and the United States. She lives with her husband in Houston. Read more at anauthenticpractice.com or ramonasiddoway.com