UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Around the year 600 B.C. the Lord commanded the prophet Lehi to depart with his family into the wilderness. “And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 2:4).
Though this took place over 2,500 years ago, youth of the Abu Dhabi Stake in the United Arab Emirates trekked through the Arabian Desert in what might have been the footsteps of Lehi and his family. “It was a bit of a novel experience,” said Rob Bateman, the Abu Dhabi Stake president.
“To actually be out in the desert, exposed to the heat, tromping through the sand, it gave them a sense of some of the effort of following the Lord’s command in the time of Lehi.”
Planning the conference for nearly 70 youth, who are mostly children of expatriates, proved to be challenging, given that the stake covers a region that is more than 1,800 miles and many of the youth had to be flown in from places such as Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. Leaders in the Young Men and Young Women presidencies, in conjunction with the stake presidency, planned the three-day youth conference, The Liahona Quest, to provide the youth with a better understanding of the Book of Mormon and what Lehi and his family endured. “Living in a region that is unique and rich with religious history, we thought it would be a great way to bring the scriptures to life by having the youth follow a trail similar to what Lehi and his family would have experienced,” said Keith Woodhouse, stake Young Men president, via email.
Since the conference, which was in March, many of the youth have borne their testimonies and spoken in sacrament meetings about their experiences, sharing how the conference “allowed me to get outside myself a little bit” or “gain a new appreciation of the Book of Mormon and its history,” President Bateman said.
The conference was a way to bring the Book of Mormon to life, including reenactments of Lehi’s dream, visits from Samuel the Lamanite and Christ, Nephi and his brothers returning to Jerusalem for the brass plates, Moroni and the title of liberty and the final battle between the Nephites and Lamanites.
“We want ‘our youth to comprehend the importance of obedience, sacrifice, and faith in the Lord and to gain a stronger testimony of the Book of Mormon,’” said Doris Perez, stake Young Women president, in a report provided to the Church News. “‘The stories and lessons told in the scriptures did happen, they were as real as the heat we felt on our backs [during the Quest].’”
For Lehi and his family, the long journey to the promised land took eight years, and it was not without trials, hardships, or adversity, especially from two of his sons, Laman and Lemuel, who murmured because he had brought them from “the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 2:11). The youth received a taste of this, too.
“[We] learned that it might be pretty easy to fall into the pattern of murmuring, just as Laman and Lemuel did,” said Corinn Slater of the Abu Dhabi 2nd Ward, in a report provided to the Church News. “I think we might have even had a few Lamans and Lemuels on our trip. And we were only there for a couple days. Can you imagine what eight years would have been like?”
The trek provided a one-of-a-kind opportunity for the youth. “Obviously, it’s a unique environment and very close to where Lehi and his family traveled,” President Bateman said. “We are unique in that we’re pretty sure that Lehi crossed through our stake.”
Activities on the trek were full of symbolism and allowed for several opportunities of reflection and introspection. One activity found the youth attempting to reach the Tree of Life, “clinging to a thick rope serving as the iron rod and resisting the verbal and physical attempts of others to pull them from the path,” while another “brought to life the story of the anti-Nephi-Lehis [giving] each person the opportunity to ponder the thing that most interferes with his or her relationship with God [and write] on a sword their personal weapon of rebellion, [and bury] the sword in the earth” according to the report.
“We hope they will never read the Book of Mormon the same,” Brother Woodhouse said. “When they turn the pages in this book, we hope they will envision and remember their feelings as they trekked across the sand dunes.”
• Sister Emily Evans of Doha 1st Ward in the Abu Dhabi Stake contributed to this report.