POHORJE, Slovenia Youth from Slovenia and Croatia met for a conference in the mountaintops here, strengthening the 47 young people who attended, helping them return with greater faith to the multiple challenges they face in their respective worlds. Seven of the youth were investigating the Church, and two have since been baptized.
The conference was held at a tourist resort at the top of the Mariborsko Pohorje mountain range, which is noted for its alpine skiing and, in the summer, offers myriad hiking and mountain biking trails.
Within this peaceful setting, a family environment was provided for the young men and young women as they attended morning and evening devotionals, and workshops on trust and confidence that taught such needful topics as how to make and keep friends, folk and line dancing, and designing quilt blocks for a service project. A nighttime flashlight walk that emphasized keeping commitments was also held.
The youth were supported by nine local leaders and 16 senior missionaries. The adults helped with transportation, cooked, taught workshops and served as cabin parents and counselors. Communication was sometimes a problem as Croatian, Slovene and English were spoken. The youth learned to speak slower, or practice the common language of English many learned in classes taught by missionaries. Those who were multi-lingual translated for others.
The family organization was important to these youth, who typically are the only members in their families and often receive little support as they endeavor to keep Church standards. Before baptism, youth here agonize about how to get permission from their families.
"Here at the conference, for the first time, I experienced how it is to feel when all the family gets together and you can always talk to loving and calm parents," said one young woman.
Many of the youth of the mission come from families with significant difficulties due to alcoholism, the trauma of war, divorce, lack of religious values, lack of resources and lack of motivation. But the active youth in the Church seem to see beyond these difficulties, especially when Church leaders encourage them to live the values of the new culture of the Church. The young people who often yearn to have family prayer at home are learning that they have a potential for families that can last into eternity.
As they arrived at conference, the youth were assigned to a family and given a family name. Also included were senior missionaries who served as "grandparents" and shadow leaders.
Kristina Mestrove of Split, Croatia, made a two-day conference trip. Often, she and her mother, who are the only members in their family, and the missionaries are the entire congregation. From time to time, another member or perhaps investigator will attend, but baptisms are few. A returned missionary who served in England, she teaches Sunday School and takes correspondence institute classes. Association with other young adults was meaningful for her.
One who came from a shorter distance was Petra Karaklajic of Zagreb, Croatia, with five others. "She left home at 4:30 a.m. to walk half an hour from her home to catch a bus and two trains.
As a result of the conference, she said, "I've got a stronger testimony about family. Teamwork as a family, and also as roommates in cabins [helped me understand] that when we are all together we are stronger, and once again I felt very blessed to have my brothers and sisters in the Church."
In one cabin, the senior missionaries tried to quiet down two young women who were talking excitedly after bedtime, only to learn one was sharing gospel concepts with the other.
One young woman, who was baptized a few weeks after the conference, had been living Church standards. "In my home it is hard to bless the food or pray alone," she said. At the conference, "when I was listening to the youth bear their testimonies …and I saw their faces light up, you could see that they really meant what they were saying and that they had faith in it. I loved that."
One of the speakers at the conference was President Ivan Valek of the Zagreb Croatia District, who attended with his daughter, Rebecca. "Don't give up; don't lose the peace we have inside. Pray always and always go back to the path.
"Bad things have happened in this country. Our children have been killed. We are called to come here to be warriors. Don't lose anything as members, but on the other hand, lose everything."
At the conference, "we learned that we are the light of the world," said Ivona Frcek of Zagreb, Croatia. "That is what we truly are. The hardest thing for them to understand is the Word of Wisdom and the law of chastity."