Kindling a 'fire of faith' — Young Women celebrate 100 years of camp
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During the summer of 1912, 82 young ladies from the Liberty Stake in Salt Lake City participated in a week-long rough-out camp. They slept in a cabin and learned about flowers, insects, birds and plants. With the help of 15 leaders, they cooked and ate outdoors. They built a swimming hole and waded in the cool water. At the end of the week, they entertained their parents and ward members who visited the camp.
One century later, Latter-day Saint young women worldwide carry on the traditions they started.
In fact, the Church's first recorded Young Women camp, held 100 years ago on the banks of Big Cottonwood Creek in Murray, Utah, wasn't so different than camps today.
Clarissa Johnson, one of the first young women to attend the Young Women camp at Liberty Glen, wrote about the experience: "Around the fires in the evenings, sat the camp girls ... while they danced and sang and shouted, to music from the cabin ... and they whispered and they giggled until sleep had grasped the last one."
Sister Elaine S. Dalton, Young Women general president, and her counselors, Mary N. Cook and Ann M. Dibb, say 100 years after the first Young Women camp, the activity is more essential than it has ever been.
"Camp is an integral part of Young Women, because it is at camp that youth get to learn and apply the things they are taught by their leaders," Sister Dalton said. "It is at camp that young women really get to practice provident living. And it is also at camp where young women get to establish a mini home. By a mini home, I mean that a young woman can take her tent and pitch it and, in essence, set up a place that can be her shelter, her home for three or four days. She can establish a home that is a house of order, a house of prayer, a house of God, a house of learning (Doctrine and Covenants 88:119). Right there in that little tent she can create a space where she can feel the Spirit."
All that can happen, added Sister Dalton, as the youth disconnect from the world.
Living in a very connected world creates a lot of demands for young women today, she explained. "At camp they can disconnect from all the technology, from all the peer pressure, from even the pressure to wear makeup and look good all the time. And they can connect with their Heavenly Father and with their true identity and with the Spirit and with the scriptures and with virtuous role models, the righteous women who are leading them. They can also connect with their abilities because young women are better and stronger than they think they are. And they can learn at camp that they can do hard things."
Sister Cook said young women learn many important lessons at camp.
"They experience a variety of emotions," she said. "It is fun. It is challenging. They learn to look out for others."
For example, Sister Cook attended the first Young Women camp held in Mongolia. Leaders borrowed tents, which were in disrepair, for the camp. When it rained the tents leaked, soaking the wool blankets used by the Mongolian young women. "But the girls were thrilled and so happy," recalled Sister Cook. "They didn't complain. They just pitched in and hung up their blankets and served each other. I remember the first testimony meeting. They didn't want to go home. They felt the Spirit so strongly at camp."
Another important thing young women gain at camp are leadership skills, said Sister Cook. "Because the older girls have the experience, then they can share their learning, and share their experience and teach their skills to the younger girls. ... It is a wonderful venue because they are all at one place, at one time, for a period of time."
Sister Dalton asked Young Women leaders to help the youth lead.
"If young women leaders say, 'Oh, camp is so hard, and we are so tired when we get back.' Then, I would say to those Young Women leaders, 'It is your fault. You are not using your youth camp leaders they way you should. You are not allowing these young women to rise to the occasion. You are not allowing them to be the leaders.' If Young Women leaders would adequately train the Laurels to be the youth camp leaders, we would really be doing a service to the future leadership of the Church. The young women can do it. They can do it effectively."
Sister Dalton said camp is different for young women across the globe. In Africa, for example, one of the first camps was held at a chapel, where the young women slept on the grass and learned to cook on an electric stove. In other places, camp is held on the beach or in the jungle or in the mountains.
"Wherever camp is held, one thing is sure: young women love to go to camp," she said.
Sister Dalton said young women always have the same answer when asked what they enjoy most about camp — the testimony meeting.
After spending a week cooking on a fire, it seems to be a "fire of faith" that is most often kindled, she said. As years go on, that spark becomes "a burning flame in their hearts," she said.
Sister Cook said that happens most often because camp is a "safe place" to bear testimony. "They are with leaders and friends who love them," she explained, "so they feel the confidence that they can share their feelings and their thoughts."
Sister Dibb said the objectives of Young Women camp can be accomplished as the youth feel loved and experience charity and fun.
"We remember what it was like when we went to camp," she said. "I remember looking at the stars and never seeing as many stars as I saw at camp and recognizing this is what my Heavenly Father created for me. I remember the leaders and their expressions of love and the fun we had together in a different setting."
Young women feel closer to their Savior at camp, added Sister Dibb, because camp provides a chance to be in a Spirit-filled environment for several days. At camp, young women have "a gospel-centered home for three days."
Sister Dalton said there are some who feel young women "really don't need to go to camp" or do things that require them to be rugged and tough. "But we feel just the opposite. We feel camp is a very, very important experience for girls. ...
"Ultimately in Young Women everything we do leads to the Lord and His holy house," said Sister Dalton. "So camp is a tool to help young women grow, understand their identity, have the desire to be worthy, have faith in our Savior Jesus Christ, prepare for their future roles and prepare to make and keep sacred covenants. As with everything we do in Young Women, it is not all about camp. It is really all about the Lord. Camp is a way we can help young women draw closer to Him."