Photo Courtesy of Bonnie Herbert
Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, general president of Primary, counseled in the March 2014 General Women’s Meeting, “As individuals, we are strong. Together with God, we are unstoppable!”
At the State of Alaska Young Women Camp held June 9-14, this theme emerged as more than 900 young women strived “to become one with God [and] develop righteous desires, covenant with God, and always remember Him,” as written in the journal given to each of the camp participants.
“There was a real sense of purpose and joy in [the camp],” said Sister Neill F. Marriott, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency. Sister Marriott attended three days of the five-day camp. “Coming together they grew; they grew in knowledge and in testimony.”
Young women from all over Alaska came together at the Alaska State Fairgrounds for the camp, a feat Sister Marriott said has never been done in the large state.
The opportunity to have a member of the Young Women general presidency attend much of the camp was “such a blessing,” said Bonnie Herbert, a Laurel teacher in the Meadow Creek Ward of the Anchorage Alaska Chugach Stake, who organized the camp with the help of 20 committees. Additionally, Sister Carol M. Stephens, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, and Sister Jean A. Stevens, first counselor in the Primary general presidency, joined Sister Marriott for the final night of camp. “It was perfect. It was just the most amazing experience. They just brought the love of our Savior to these girls. It was just a real special experience,” said Sister Herbert.
In preparation for the camp, which took a year for the committees across Alaska to plan and coordinate through various Skype sessions, all of the young women were invited to read the Book of Mormon in its entirety and to memorize “The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles.”
“Everyone seemed to be invested in it,” said Sister Marriott. “They were invested in the opportunities to act, to serve, to share, to learn, to grow; they didn’t hold back. They wanted to be there and they had sacrificed to come. They were taking full advantage of all that was there for them.”
The level of investment of each of the young women, Sister Marriott said, was evident in their preparation. “They were prepared spiritually, prepared physically and they were prepared mentally to be engaged ... and it shows the effort of all the young women [and] all the leaders over the year that it took them to put it together.”
Throughout the camp, several service projects were completed. Sister Marriott said the young women planted over 100 trees and made more than 1,000 knapsacks with supplies to send to children that need them that included pillow cases, drawstring backpacks and quilts.
One of the highlights of the camp was a Christ gallery that was set up in a chapel on the Alaska State Fairgrounds and featured artwork depicting the Savior throughout His life. Each night of the camp, a devotional was held in Raven Hall, the biggest building at the fairgrounds, with topics centered on desire, covenants and remembering.
On the night after the young women spent the day hiking eight miles to the Anchorage Alaska Temple, Sister Marriott spoke, in the stake center adjacent to the sacred edifice, about the temple. Sister Marriott said all 900 young women listened attentively.
“I was touched by these girls’ natural, clear-eyed engagement with one another and with me. It was real and forthright and straightforward and interested. There was a thirst to learn and to share and to be a part of something really bigger than they had ever been a part of before. You could feel that joy and that excitement in it.”
After returning from her trip and seeing how camp transformed many of the young women, Sister Marriott said, “Camp works. It works tiny, it works huge.” Letters sent by Sister Herbert to the Church News, sharing stories from the conference, reflected this.
One young woman was struggling with her belief in Christ prior to the conference. “She had been praying for a while before camp that she would receive a witness that Christ was real, and she received no answer. As she went through the spiritual rotation, specifically sitting in the Christ gallery, she said it was like a rush of wind that went through the room and just filled it with the Spirit of Christ, and she knew that He is real and that He does live.”
Another young woman, with tears in her eyes, told one of the speakers, “I never knew Christ loved me until tonight,” while another said, “I haven’t really grown up with religion, but I now know that I want it in my life. I have loved the classes and have learned so much. I don’t know what God has in store for me, but I know I want [the] Church in my life.”
There was another girl who had been taking the missionary discussions before the camp. Upon returning home, Sister Herbert said, “she called the missionaries and committed to baptism.”
As a result of the camp, many of the young women went home with a determination to keep Christ at the center of their lives.
“We knew we could have them thinking about Christ in the year before, but we wanted them to carry it,” said Sister Herbert. “We wanted so much to have these things to have an impact to carry them through.”
Sister Marriott said camp allows young women to develop or deepen a relationship with Heavenly Father and “reach a new level of closeness to Him. They are outside and they are disconnected from the digital world. They are surrounded by nature and those things open up a place in their feelings and heart that allow the Spirit to come in.”