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In recent weeks, some 17,000 Central American youth have participated in nationwide camps organized by their respective local leaders in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Similar nationwide youth camps are planned in the coming months in Honduras and Panama. Once completed, it's expected that 25,000 young people here will have participated in an LDS youth camp designed to better prepare young men and young women for missionary service and the blessings of the temple.
The young men and young women from each of the nations participated in separate camps, allowing the boys to concentrate on missionary preparation and the girls to focus on the goals and requirements found in the Young Women Personal Progress program.
"The national young men's and young women's camps provide the youth of Central America the opportunity to understand and feel the greatness of this work," said Central America Area President Don R. Clarke, a member of the Seventy. "The youth have spiritual experiences, form friendships, make commitments to go on missions, prepare to make temple covenants and have temple marriages."
Participants in each of the young men and young women camps in Central America listened to pre-recorded messages of direction and encouragement from Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve and Young Women General President Elaine S. Dalton.
A member of the Central America Area Presidency attended camps and presided over a special fireside. Many of the youth had never participated in an encampment of such size and magnitude.
"To be with these other young men has been very special because I have only been able to fellowship with youth from my ward and stake," said Luis Diaz Ciraiz, a 17-year-old priest from Guatemala who was baptized last March. "I could not have imagined gathering together with 5,000 fellow Guatemalan young men who shared my same beliefs. It's been very exciting."
Activities in the young men encampments included hiking and other physical activities. Each day included goal-setting periods for the Duty to God Award. In the evenings, the young men would meet with their respective wards and branches and receive a message from their local priesthood leaders. Each day closed with personal scripture study.
The young women national camps were divided into smaller encampments representing the seven individual value colors of the Young Women program. The activities varied, but all included physical and cultural elements. Many featured the artistic and musical talents of the campers.
The girls enjoyed quiet time each day dedicated to prayer and scripture study. Each camper recorded her testimony on parchment that included her name and the name of the Church. The testimonies were then attached to helium-filled, value-colored balloons. The thousands of balloons were then released at the same time, carrying the testimonies to all who might find them.
Included in each of the encampments were boys and girls who were not members or may not be fully participating in Church activity. The camps provided such youth with new friends and a spirit of faith.