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Can one large youth event, filled with the Spirit, change the world? Our response, as a Young Women general presidency, is a resounding, "YES!"
Our prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, has spoken clearly and consistently concerning his hope that the youth of the Church have the opportunity to participate in large youth events. He has made reference to the importance of youth cultural events in general conference repeatedly.
In speaking about an event he attended in Twin Falls, Idaho, he said that he had been "uplifted and edified." He boldly concluded, "I am an advocate for such events. They enable our youth to participate in something they truly find unforgettable. The friendships they form and the memories they make will be theirs forever" ("Welcome to Conference," Ensign, November 2008).
Priesthood and youth leaders around the world have responded to President Monson's prophetic request. You don't need a temple dedication to hold a large youth event. Celebrations have been held around the world. There is far more to be learned in a cultural celebration than merely learning dance steps and musical numbers.
When youth participate in a youth celebration or large cultural event, they are a part of a miracle. Their testimonies are strengthened. They know that they are not alone in their commitment to live the gospel. Together they feel the joy of being members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Our Heavenly Father has given us talents and we are instructed to develop and share our talents with others as illustrated in Christ's parable of the talents (Matthew 25). Youth love to perform and parents love to cheer their youth on in happy ways. Leaders must be prayerful in order to find those individuals the Lord would want to be included in utilizing their talents. This may include those who are not members of our faith.
Such an individual was Spenser Kalnin who was a part of the "California Dreamin' " dance festival in Redlands, Calif. A local band with a talented director was found. The band practiced each week at the meetinghouse. Individual relationships were built and strengthened and many people developed genuine friendships with Spenser. Over the next year, he was invited to attend young adult activities and eventually to attend Sunday meetings. Last year Spenser was baptized and the entire chapel was filled with his supportive friends.
In 2009, Elder Donald J. Keyes, an Area Seventy in the Utah North Area, felt impressed to act upon President Monson's request. Eighteen months later, the youth spectacular, entitled, "Arise" was ready.
More than 30 stakes were divided into three regions and the creativity began. During their performance the youth used costumes and props to represent the plan of salvation. I doubt there has ever been a more creative presentation given to illustrate the blessed opportunity which is ours, as God's children, to come to Earth and gain a physical body.
Large events are inclusive in an ever-increasing exclusive world. Youth are invited to participate and make the personal commitment that they will attend the practices, learn their parts, contribute in meaningful ways, follow their leaders and be a friend to all.
At the Twin Falls, Idaho, celebration, "Living Water," this was continually illustrated. In one of the dances a young woman joyfully danced in her position on the front row. Not a step was missed. Because of her bright smile and excellent dancing, the fact that she had a prosthetic leg could have gone undetected. How fortunate that she could be included. Her strength, character and testimony were evident to all who observed her.
In a variety of ways and means, communication is essential to a successful event. A web site, e-mails, monthly council meetings, and the support and direction from all the priesthood leaders make a tremendous difference. Youth participation in the counseling process is an ideal leadership training opportunity. Norman Oklahoma Stake President Robert C. Keyes shared that their area priesthood council experienced greater unity and understanding because of the opportunity to gather and discuss the celebration, "Weaving the Tapestry of Faith in the Heartland." This increased love and unity has blessed many in innumerable ways.
When youth dance together they learn the importance of looking people in the eye, smiling and anticipating another's actions and moves. They learn that their individual performance matters. Their actions and commitment affect the entire group. The life lesson of learning to work with others carries over into daily application and blesses individuals beyond the conclusion of the event.
Above all, gratitude for the opportunity to gather with other youth fortifies each participant to hold true to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Experiences with the Spirit strengthen each testimony and bless families. It is our great privilege to do as Sister Elaine S. Dalton teaches, "if there is anything virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, we [provide] these things" (Articles of Faith 1:13).
In 1985, all of the youth of Southern California participated in a magnificent dance festival. At the time, Thomas Smith was a recent convert to the Church. Family members questioned Tom's decision to join the Church. Tom's bishop encouraged him to participate in the festival and, unbeknownst to Tom, also invited his parents to attend with him. Tom was one of the 10,000-plus youth who entered the field of the Rose Bowl Stadium to dance, sing and perform. Late that night, filled with the excitement of the evening, Tom arrived home. He was surprised to see his father waiting for him. Tom joyfully recounted his experience saying, "Dad, it was just great." His father responded, "I know, I was there. Any church that will provide such an experience for their youth is one I will support." Thomas Smith went on to serve a mission, marry in the temple, establish a gospel-centered home and he is currently serving as the president of the Murrieta California Stake. President Smith's entire family joined the Church, one by one.
Can one large youth event, filled with the Spirit, change the world? The answer is, "Yes!"