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Courtesy of Natalie Carley
The Carley family smiles for a photo with their sister missionaries, Sister Erinn Ward and Sister Emmari Brown, and Corrine Stokoe.

In 2014, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints launched its first Christmas social-media initiative with the slogan “He is the Gift.” In 2015, the follow-up initiative proclaimed “A Savior is Born.”

Last Christmas, the #LightTheWorld campaign flooded social media in hopes of inspiring love and brotherly kindness. This year, the LDS Church has chosen to #LightTheWorld once again.

“This year’s Christmas initiative is a sequel to last year’s, I suppose,” said Elder Brent H. Nielson, executive director of the church’s Missionary Department. “I think it’s more accurate to say it’s a continuation. Last year, tens of thousands participated in #LightTheWorld service activities around the world. It was an inspiring thing to witness. We hope this year, thousands more will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ by following His teachings and sharing His light and love with those around them."

Natalie Carley and Corrine Stokoe are just two of the people whose lives were changed by last year’s initiative.

On Day 6 of last year’s #LightTheWorld initiative, Stokoe — a successful blogger who shares deals on high-end fashion and is a member of the LDS Church in San Diego — shared her testimony of her faith's foundational scripture, the Book of Mormon, on her Instagram account. She began by explaining that until she was 28 years old, she struggled with reading the scriptures. She proceeded to recall an experience she had four years ago while serving as a volunteer at a youth camp centered around the Book of Mormon.

“I listened to all these teenagers bear powerful testimonies of that book and something inside me ached for that same testimony. I went home and got on my knees and promised God that I'd give it my best effort if He'd only help me,” Stokoe wrote in the Instagram post.

“I read the Book of Mormon like a story and fell in love with the people, a people who sort of like me, had to believe in a person they had never seen. It's another testament of Jesus Christ and a history of the people in the Americas. The part I have opened here is one of my favorites, where several believers were facing death unless they saw a sign of Christ's birth. And then, that same star that the wise man saw, saved their lives.

“At the risk of losing business, losing followers, and alienating some of my best readers, I'm testifying to you that I know God’s words are in the scriptures, and that the Book of Mormon is God's word too, a companion to the Bible. I get up every morning, while the house is dark and everyone else is asleep and I read it daily. It's my lifeline to God, my superpower that allows me to do exponentially more than I could ever do on my own, and the roadmap to living the happiest life.”

At the end of the post, Stokoe offered to send a copy of the Book of Mormon to anyone who would like one.

Over 2,000 miles away, Natalie Carley, a dentist in Pontiac, Illinois, read Stokoe’s post. Carley had followed Stokoe’s account for over four years and “shopped her deals.” But that night, Stokoe’s post caught Carley’s attention for another reason.

Carley and her husband, Ryan, had been searching for a church to call home. While they were both in dental school, the Carleys knew several people who were Mormon. She remembers them being kind and Christlike people but she didn’t know what being a Mormon meant. She didn’t know you could become a Mormon. But something about Stokoe’s post caused Carley to pause.

“I stopped on that post and I read it a couple times and something about it just grabbed ahold of my heart and I just became interested in it,” Carley recalled. “And I was like, ‘Maybe this is the answer.’”

That night she typed a response to Stokoe’s offer.

“Hey Corrine, you don’t know me. My name is Natalie. My family and I have been looking for a home church and we haven’t found anything yet and your post really struck a chord with my heart so if you wouldn’t mind sending me a copy,” Carley remembers writing.

After the copy came in the mail, Ryan and Natalie Carley began getting on Mormon.org every night. “We’d look at it together and we’d be like, ‘Yes! Yes! This is awesome...we could be a part of this.’”

But when Stokoe wrote asking if the Carleys would like missionaries to come over and visit them, Natalie Carley was quick to explain that wouldn’t be possible.

“Corrine, there are no missionaries here,” she replied. “I’m in the middle of nowhere. I’m in a farm town. There are no missionaries.”

“Trust me, there are missionaries. They will find you,” Stokoe replied.

The missionaries did find them. The Carleys were taught for four months, still occasionally visiting other churches, until a bout of strep throat kept them homebound during the weekend of the April 2017 general conference. The words of Elder Joaquin E. Costa, in particular, seemed to address the Carleys' concerns about joining the church.

“My dear investigator, friend of the Church, if you are listening today, you are very close to reaching the greatest joy,” Elder Costa said. “You are close! Let me invite you, with all the energy of my heart and from the depths of my soul: go and be baptized! It is the best thing you will ever do. It will change not only your life but also the lives of your children and grandchildren.”

Across the country, Stokoe was watching the same talk and hoping her new friends were listening.

Following general conference, Carley found herself at the family’s kitchen table crying. She knew what their family needed to do, and her husband agreed.

“When we watched that first conference, all of those silly things that we worried about didn’t matter anymore because it just felt so right,” Carley recalled. “And we were like, ‘We’re going to be blessed if we do what we’re supposed to be doing and just give these things up and not look back.’”

A couple of days later, Carley wrote to tell Stokoe they decided to get baptized as members of the LDS Church. Stokoe replied, “I want to come. Is that weird?”

On April 29, 2017, when Ryan and Natalie Carley were baptized, Stokoe was in attendance.

“Natalie and Ryan are really special people who really were searching for truth,” Stokoe said. “They were already looking for something that was missing in their lives. Someone didn’t just knock on their door and that’s what’s so cool, I think, about the #LightTheWorld campaign is that it touches so many people who maybe are searching for a greater connection with God or somewhere wholesome to take their family every week.”

Natalie says the #LightTheWorld campaign holds a special place in her heart and she is excited to participate with her sons, Chase and Rhys, this year.

“That’s where our whole journey started and I just think it’s so neat that our church has all of these different programs and things on the website to ... help us really know what is important during Christmas time, that really our Savior is what we need to focus on,” Carley said.

Today, Ryan serves as his branch’s mission leader while Natalie is the second counselor in the Young Women presidency, a calling she “absolutely loves.” The couple is attending the Nauvoo Temple for the first time this weekend and plans to be sealed in April. They have also found their own way to share the Book of Mormon.

“It’s become my personal mission to share Books of Mormon,” Carley said. “At our dental office, I keep a little stack at the front desk and any of my patients can take one and I write my testimony inside just like Corrine did when she sent me that first copy.”

For Stokoe, the #LightTheWorld campaign is something that is worthy of a repeat.

“I think social media gets a bad rap and I understand because I know there is so much trash and filth out there, and not only trash and filth but competitiveness and comparison and negativity and things that really bring people down,” Stokoe said. “I understand that completely but Light The World, first of all, our family has never had a Christmas quite like the one we had last year because every single day we were doing something that was Christlike, that was bringing us closer to the true spirit of Christmas, which I feel like people are seeking.

“But second of all, being part of somebody’s conversion and just seeing the joy, other than childbirth and marrying Neil, I’ve never been part of something more joyful in my life. And to think that that happens through an Instagram post is such an incredible thing. I just think that God has way better intentions for social media than people posting selfies. There is so much power and so much goodness that can happen and so many people just waiting to be impacted if people will just be brave enough to post about things that really matter.”

2017 #LightTheWorld initiative details

The video: This year's video launched Nov. 22. It begins with professional footage of modern-day people serving others but when it shows a man putting glasses on a boy in a foreign country, it transitions to an ancient scene that shows Christ healing the blind. In the end, it shows actual footage of people giving service last year during #LightTheWorld.

25 Ways Over 25 Days: As it did last year, the LDS Church has published "25 ways, 25 days" in English, Spanish and Portuguese (which reaches 90 percent of the LDS Church). The initiative will begin on Dec. 1. This year, each day's prompt will include a scripture. For example, Dec. 19th's scripture is "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad" (Matthew 5:12). The question associated with the prompt is, "Who do you know who could use some joy in life?" and the invitation is "Send him or her a personalized care package in the mail." There will also be a video element for each day.

Collaboration: For the first time, the church is partnering with nonprofit organizations to complete service initiatives on several days throughout the month. For example, Dec. 2's scripture will be "I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink" (Matthew 25:35). On Dec. 2, the LDS Church will release a video showing its efforts to partner with an organization to bring clean water to the Philippines.

Advertising: The church will only have one static billboard in New York City this year as opposed to the many billboards it purchased in this location in previous years. Instead, the money that has previously gone to the Times Square advertising will go to international areas of the church for their own use. There will be other billboards in other large cities throughout the U.S.

There are a couple of new pieces to the initiative this year:

1. In the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, visitors will have the chance to use service vending machines. Instead of buying a candy bar, they will have the chance to donate a goat or chickens to foreign countries. Every purchased item will produce a receipt for a tax write-off.

2. The #LightTheWorld Concert series. A number of artists, both LDS and non-LDS, have agreed to co-brand concerts they were already holding through the world during the month of December with #LightTheWorld. For example, David Archuleta has a concert on Dec. 1 in Lima, Peru, and will be talking about #LightTheWorld during the concert.

The biggest of these events is a YouTube live concert on Dec. 12 in New York City. The concert's headliner will be The Piano Guys and will also include Peter Hollens and Claire Crosby.