If you told me that I would need to pack snow pants, gloves, and a scarf for Spring Break this year, I would have said you’re nuts.
If you told me that a couple hundred high school kids would be doing the same thing, just so they could ride a bus (some of them for 5 hours! Helllooooo Bus #3 Heroes!) up into the mountains just to hang out in the snowy hills of Sequoia National Park and listen to some random guy like me prattle on about church stuff, I would have said you’re straight-up crazy.
But I didn’t know of the incredible people in the Fresno North Stake and their tradition of holding their own private “Especially For Youth” for the past 20+ years. These folks have something seriously special going on.
I was initially contacted by their Stake last Fall, after a couple of their kids attended my classes at EFY Santa Barbara. I’ve since spent the past several months pondering what to say to them, how to present it, and trying to get in tune with their needs. I kept feeling over and over again that we should spend some time discussing the connections between the Temple, the Scriptures, and our religion’s legacy of faith as intertwined with the ancient Hebrew practices. This would be a chance to go even deeper with my “Temple Prep for Teens” class and introduce an entire new series of symbols and possible interpretations.
When my wife and I arrived Monday night, we saw that the Priests + Laurels and Stake YM / YW leadership had already arrived at the main lodge. They’d spent hours decorating, going over their last-minute plans for activities, and were well underway in preparing for the rest of the youth to arrive. The smoothness of the entire operation was a testament to the power of a well-organized youth ministry and the magic that happens when adult leaders effectively delegate responsibility, teach the Why behind the What, and then get out of the way and let the youth lead. Even when things went wrong (as they always do) and unexpected weather delayed throw off the whole schedule, they remained calm and collected and flexible and the show kept right on rolling.
During the 3 (sometimes freezing!) days we spent with them, we were constantly amazed by the quality of their preparation, the sincerity of their testimonies, and the genuine desire to be Christ-like disciples of truth. The kind welcome from everyone, both Stake leaders and youth alike, made us feel right at home and part of the Fresno North Stake family. Even though my wife and I were the outsiders swooping in to join them for just a few short hours, we became fast friends with many a good-hearted soul and were sorry to say goodbye at the end. One particular highlight of my time there was listening to the Senior Presentations and talks by the Senior Co-Chairs. “Man, these kids are going to be phenomenal missionaries. We need more people like this in the Church!” I remarked to my wife over and over again. Our hearts swelled with love and empathy for them as we listened to their stories of struggle and sacrifice, of confusion and conversion.
If this is what the future of our faith looks like, it’s in very good hands.
Their parents and leaders have clearly worked hard to nurture the testimonies and struggles of being a Saint in these latter-days, and their efforts are paying off; there is so much good fruit to be found in the Fresno valley.
If you want a taste of what Heaven could be like, maybe you should wind your way up the mountains to an old a wooden lodge in the high Sierra. It’s pretty magical in the moonlight, especially when dusted by an early Spring snow and warmed by hearts and hymns raised to the heavens. “Wherever I am there’s a beacon, pointing me home,” they sang, standing arm in arm. And if you’re lucky you may get a chance to talk of North Stars and numbers, of symbols and their significance, and you’ll get to struggle your way through learning the “new language” (some of us on only a few hours’ sleep. Holler at my 5 AM peeps! ;-) and seeing connections in our faith, our art, and architecture that have been hiding in plain sight all along. The best part of my little job is seeing their eyes open to this new language for the first time, watching them as they finally start to get it, knowing that they’ll never look at the Gospel and its ceremonies the same way again.
Sometimes you find sacred ground in the most unlikely of places, and these good people brought it with them to the mountains and invited us to join in their feast. In many ways, they didn’t really need me — they’ve had the answers all along, and it’s clear that they are in tune with the Spirit and know where to go to find answers. If I were to compare just who learned from whom during our time there, my ledger would tip in their favor. It’s not every day you come back from a conference feeling like you received more than you gave. Truly I am indebted to them.
The words of their theme song have been echoing in my heart all week long. I too can speak from experience that sometimes it does feel like I’m walking blind, that I’ll never know what I’ll find — but I know / hope / believe that where I’m going is better than where I’ve been.
So I will trust Him.
Great job, friends of the Fresno North Stake, on a wonderful EFY 2016. I can’t wait to cross paths with you again. Our lives are so much the richer for having intertwined with yours for a few special days.
All our love,
Ben + Megan
(P.S. FSN peeps, here’s the link to the slides and audio recording of our temple presentations. Enjoy!)