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‘Your strength is Jesus Christ’ Elder Uchtdorf tells youth during surprise visit at FSY


In his first visit to a For the Strength of Youth conference in the United States this summer, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf spent time talking with youth and their counselors Thursday afternoon, July 14.

The member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles went to Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, for a few hours to hear from the youth about their experiences and to share some words of encouragement with them.

He was accompanied by Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon and Brother Ahmad Corbitt, first counselor in the Young Men general presidency. 

Surprise visit

After speaking with a few of the youth, Elder Uchtdorf said he felt the same thing with this group that he feels whenever he meets with youth around the world.

“It’s an excitement for the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “It’s an excitement for each other. It’s a love for the Church — for belonging to an organization which really builds character, builds friendships and makes you a better person for this world in which we live.”

Elder Uchtdorf’s visit was unannounced, so his arrival at the conference caught the youth by surprise. Arriving while the nearly 400 youth attendees were eating lunch, he was able to talk with many youth without interrupting their classes and other activities.

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Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon, and Brother Ahmad S. Corbitt, first counselor in the Young Men general presidency, walk to a FSY conference at Weber State University in Ogden on Thursday, July 14, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

After stopping at one table of three youth eating lunch together, two of the young women he spoke with immediately pulled out their phones to call their moms and let them know what had just happened.

Provo’s Emma Jacobs, 18, said the Elder Uchtdorf’s visit was “super unexpected.”

“I immediately called my mom because I … met an Apostle. It’s not an everyday thing.”

Emmy Sandoval, also from Provo, said her mom didn’t believe her when she explained what had happened.

“She was like, ‘No, you didn’t.’ She didn’t believe me until I was sending her the pictures,” Sandoval said.

Wesley Wride from Sandy said seeing an Apostle in person and speaking to him made it “more real.”

“You see things on TV all the time,” he said. “But it doesn’t really click unless you see it in real life.”

Unique, Christlike feeling

That feeling can go both ways. Elder Uchtdorf said he remembers coming to Salt Lake City many years ago with his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, and meeting Elder L. Tom Perry and Elder Marvin J. Ashton, late members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“It was like a prize given to us that we never had expected,” he said. “It was a wonderful experience.”

But Elder Uchtdorf insisted these types of encounters are not about “adulation” of Church leaders.

“It’s the feeling of closeness of the Apostles of the Lord to everyone because we are all brothers and sisters,” he said. “And if the Apostles of the Lord don’t have the feeling of love for everyone, then who will? That is what the Savior did, and we’re disciples of Jesus Christ and we follow Him.”

Being in a position to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost doesn’t require an Apostle to be present at FSY. President Cordon said, “The Spirit shows up at FSY regardless of location.

“The Spirit testifies of truth as youth open their hearts,” she said. “And as they do, their faith increases.”

A highlight of his visit with the youth was Elder Uchtdorf’s mention of an upcoming revised version of the For the Strength of Youth standards booklet. The last update to that publication came nearly a decade ago.

Elder Uchtdorf encouraged youth to have and review the current version to help them be familiar with the standards they should be living and aspiring to.

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Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, stops to talk with Laycee Christensen at a FSY conference at Weber State University in Ogden on Thursday, July 14, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Pioneering FSY for 15 years

While this is the first year of FSY conferences in the United States and Canada, Elder Uchtdorf said Church leaders learned a lot from the pioneering efforts of such conferences over the last 15 years.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” he said. “It’s learning by doing, and it’s learning internationally what’s best for the young people.”

What did the Church learn about youth in those 15 years? Elder Uchtdorf said one of the things proven over the years is that FSY helps youth build unity.

“There’s a love for each other,” he said. “To have them together at this age group is a blessing for the individuals because they can feel some insecurity and don’t know where life is going to take them.”

President Cordon echoed what Elder Uchtdorf said.

“All those youth, they long to belong,” she said. “They want to know they’re important.”

“In these small groups, they’re counseling together about scriptures,” she said. “They’re talking about these things, and the Spirit is going to testify of truth.”

Brother Corbitt expressed his gratitude for the pioneering of FSY conferences around the world.

“I love that this was a global program first,” he said. He also pointed out that other programs of the Church have started away from Church headquarters and outside the U.S.

“And now, FSY is an anchor of the Children and Youth program,” he said. “And it requires some faith on the part of members in Canada and the United States because they haven’t seen it work yet the way that other countries have.”

In and out of the comfort zone

While being around youth who have the same moral standards helps them feel comfortable in their companies, their classes, and their activities, FSY also provides moments that can help youth get out of other comfort zones in a positive way that also promotes spiritual growth.

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Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon laughs with April Swalberg and Savannah Hansen at a FSY conference at Weber State University in Ogden on Thursday, July 14, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Counselor April Swalberg has responsibilities at the Weber State FSY session this week that include mentoring a company and helping youth who will participate in the week’s variety show.

The nearly two dozen youth who shared their talents of singing, dancing and magic tricks during the show all had a unique experience before it started when Elder Uchtdorf stepped in to meet them.

“It was so cool,” Swalberg said. “These youth had no idea when they tried out for the show.

“They’re going to be able to remember this, and they’ll be able to step out of their comfort zones and learn more about themselves as they participate and as they have surprise rewarding experiences like meeting an Apostle of the Lord.”

Elder Uchtdorf took a moment to speak with Swalberg about her experience as a counselor, and she said those few minutes left a big impression on her.

“He was so caring about me to talk to me individually and ask about my life,” she said. “It was the highlight of my day, probably my week, possibly my best FSY moment, honestly.”

For the youth of her company, Swalberg hopes these interactions with Elder Uchtdorf will have a long-term impact.

“I hope that they’re able to realize that the Prophet and Apostles are real people,” she said. “And so when they do hear them talk in [general] conference, they’re able to have that personal connection.”

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Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, talks with Ozzy Zabriskie and Carter Hill at a FSY conference at Weber State University in Ogden on Thursday, July 14, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

From FSY to full-time missionaries

In speaking to the entire group of FSY attendees, Elder Uchtdorf talked about what he sees in the future for this group of youth.

“When I look at you, I see future missionaries,” Elder Uchtdorf said. He shared with the youth that he had spent part of the morning assigning prospective missionaries to their missions around the world.

“Prepare for this,” he said, speaking of serving as missionaries. “Don’t put anything between you and such great service.”

Elder Uchtdorf said FSY can play an important role in the spiritual trajectory of the young men and young women who participate but that they need to continue to do the things they have done while attending and that they need to remember the feelings they’ve had from the Holy Ghost when they return home.

“I give my blessing to each one of you that you will never forget this time here and the feelings you have here,” he said. “You are the strength of the Church, and your strength is Jesus Christ. Trust Him; follow Him.”

“The head of this Church is Jesus Christ,” he said. “I know Him. He is real. He loves you, and I love you.”

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