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Brother Thomas E. Mullen: Church-sponsored camping remains important, testimony-building activity for youth

When the Children and Youth Program was kicked off in 2019, some leaders mistakenly believed that camping was no longer important. The shutdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic did not help to correct that misconception. 

It is time now to set the record straight: Let’s go camping! 

Camping is important for both young women and young men. The Aaronic Priesthood Quorum Camp Guide says, “Young men need places where they can gather away from worldly influences, build lasting gospel-centered relationships, and strengthen their faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.”

In a recent conversation with Young Men General President Stephen J. Lund, he reminded me that camping is a powerful opportunity for young men to have fun and to learn valuable lessons. As we talked, I reflected on the impact camping has had in my own life.

As a young man, I went camping with my quorum and my family. Preparing for campouts, I learned about planning and organizing. As we worked together setting up tents, building fires, cooking meals, etc., I strengthened relationships with those I was with and also strengthened my faith. I recall many meaningful discussions that happened around campfires or under star-filled nighttime skies when there were no movies or electronic games that took priority. 

Thomas E. Mullen of the Young Men general advisory council learned key lessons of youth leadership from his mission president, President M. Russell Ballard.

Thomas E. Mullen of the Young Men general advisory council believes camping remains a fun-filled way for youth to build relationships and gospel testimonies.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In the outdoors, my fellow quorum members and I learned about God’s creations and marveled at the expanse of the universe. Adult leaders pointed out constellations and planets. They showed us how to find the North Star and how it could point us in the right direction. 

I’ll never forget the words of one leader who said, “The North Star is constant just like the Savior’s love.” He then asked us how the North Star is like the scriptures and the prophets. Those discussions sank deep in my heart.

My wife, Susie, and I started camping with our own children when they were young. We had fun together and bonded as a family. Now that our children are grown, they are still camping. We are still having fun, strengthening relationships and learning valuable lessons.

When I recently asked over 100 college students about camping, over 90% said they had been camping and planned to continue the practice with their own families and when they become youth leaders.

The Aaronic Priesthood Quorum Camp Guide can be a powerful resource to help organize fun and enriching camps: “Quorum leaders, quorum advisers and quorum specialists should use the patterns outlined in this guide to help plan and approve single-night and multinight camp activities for young men, regardless of where they live. 

Read more: Young Men general advisory council member shares 5 ways to talk to your son about serving a mission

“Camps that are planned and organized according to these principles, methods and purposes will help the young men fulfill their priesthood responsibilities, grow in the gospel of Jesus Christ, develop lasting gospel-centered relationships, and develop spiritually, socially, physically and intellectually” (see Luke 2:52).

Here are a few of the suggestions found in the camping guide:

  • Carefully select a location that facilitates building relationships and creates lifelong memories. These experiences build unity and faith, helping youth deepen their desire to follow the Savior.
  • Counsel together and seek revelation to make camping a meaningful experience that builds friendship, faith and commitment to the gospel and prepares young men for their future. Inspiration from the Holy Ghost can help the camp be successful.
  • Spiritual experiences cannot be forced, but camps can help create settings away from the distractions of life where it may be easier for young men to feel the Spirit, increase their faith in Christ and make commitments to follow Him.
  • Plan activities that create conversations or situations that will help young men become more fully converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Remember that if the faith of just one young man is increased, the camp was successful. The Lord ministered one by one, and each camp may have been created to help just one. Young men develop leadership skills as they plan and lead camps. Adult leaders can help the young men learn to lead by supporting and guiding as quorum presidencies plan the camp. The guide offers methods to help young men counsel together, identify individual needs and local resources, plan and calendar.

Start now to plan fun and meaningful camping experiences with your young men. It is an important part of the Children and Youth Program and can help young men stay on the covenant path. If your unit sold the camp equipment, don’t despair. It was probably time for some new equipment anyway. Don’t let anything get in your way. 

Let’s go camping!

— Brother Thomas E. Mullen is a member of the Young Men general advisory council.

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