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Women of light seek learning, serve others, sustain one another

PROVO, Utah — From the 50-yard line of Cougar Stadium echoed a triumphant cry:

"The quilt is done!" yelled a delighted woman.

No applause, however, came from the stands — even though thousands filled the stadium.

It seemed the more than 10,000 women participating in BYU Women's Conference service event April 26 were all too busy. Some made stuffed bunnies and bears, or painted wooden cars to bring comfort and cheer to children with various needs, or knitted bandages for patients with leprosy; others assembled school bags and hygiene kits to aid people in developing or war-torn nations. Still more worked on family history or received gospel literacy training. In addition, many women donated blood to the Red Cross.

And then there were the quilters, who covered the entire football field, working for five hours in the hot sun during the mammoth "Sisterhood through Service" activity — an overwhelming site to spectators.

The service project kicked off BYU's Women Conference 2000, an annual event that attracted more than 22,000 LDS women to the BYU campus this year. The event, the first women's conference of the new millennium, not only marked the 2,000th anniversary of the Savior's birth, but also the 25th anniversary of the yearly conference.

The theme, taken from Doctrine and Covenants 115:5 — "Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations" — was designed to focus on the Savior's life, lessons, mission and messages, said conference chairwoman Wendy Watson.

More than 100 presenters spoke in 65 concurrent and general sessions during the two-day conference April 27-28. Conference addresses, 13 hours of which were translated into numerous languages and broadcast worldwide via the Church satellite system, helped motivate those attending to become "women of light," just as the Savior taught. (Please see highlights of some addresses on page 10.)

For many, said Sister Watson, the conference was an opportunity to "feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves."

Such was the case of Christine Randall of the Lindsay Ward, Gilbert Arizona Val Vista Stake, who came to Women's Conference just weeks after losing her sister-in-law, who died from complications of childbirth and left a newborn baby and husband behind.

"I needed to be reinforced," she said explaining that she felt hope after attending conference sessions. "It made me know the gospel is true."

Sister Watson said one of the most effective conduits of the Spirit during the conference was music, which accompanied many presentations. In addition, more than 2,000 women participated in an "instant choir" which performed during the conference's closing sessions.

A sold-out audience also attended the "Women of Light: A Musical Celebration" production in the Marriott Center April 27. The show, featuring Michael McLean, Kenneth Cope, Julie de Azevedo and other LDS artists, was then extended to include a second performance April 28.

Proceeds from the musical event will be donated to assist in building Lewis Hall at This Is the Place Heritage Park on the east bench of Salt Lake City. As the first home of Brigham Young Academy, Lewis Hall played an important role in the history of BYU.

By making the first donation to the Lewis Hall building fund, BYU Women's Conference organizers were also able to put their thumbprint on the purpose and structure of the building.

The hall's first floor will be used as an area of ongoing service, housing service projects for local agencies and relief efforts similar to those performed during the conference's "Sisterhood through Service" event in Cougar Stadium.

The second floor of the hall will house a library and the "Lewis Lectures" — a series for women seeking to teach and learn from each other, just as they did by attending women's conference presentations.

Organizers hope the combination of service and learning will perpetuate the mission of BYU Women's Conference year round.

"By helping to rebuild the two-story structure," said Sister Watson, "we plan to create a vibrant, living, breathing monument to women, one of learning and service."

However, Maureen Wyeth of the Gilbert 7th Ward, Gilbert Arizona Stake, said the influence of BYU Women's Conference 2000 will resonate much further than This Is the Place Heritage Park. Sitting in Cougar Stadium, she vowed to take what she learned at the conference to inspire her family, including a missionary son, and to help her community.

While painting toy cars to help children across the world, she expressed a desire to give service across her street. "I want to incorporate what I have learned here in my own neighborhood and do something for the Phoenix area," she said.

That is the incalculable magic of women's conference, said Sister Watson. "We can count the bunnies and bears, we can count the quilts. . . . But we cannot count the influence this has had in the lives of women."

Sarah Jane Weaver can be reached by E-mail at [email protected]

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