Spring vacation for school-age children in the Philippines usually means visits to relatives and trips to beautiful beaches and countryside. For youth in the Church, however, a new tradition has been born, a tradition of service projects, scripture study, workshops, dances, devotionals and making new friends.
All of these activities were found in regional youth conferences during April and May of this year, the second year they have been held.
More than 29,200 young men and women, from 163 stakes and districts, were involved in 55 regional youth conferences throughout the Philippines Area this year. The conference theme, "Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations" (Doctrine and Covenants 115:5), voiced a message to the youth that they could indeed, "Arise and shine forth" in any circumstance in their lives.
Regional youth conferences are an area initiative that supports the area presidency's 2006 Area Emphasis to "Establish Youth Activity." The purposes of the conferences are to strengthen testimony, increase love for others, develop friendship, and to fellowship new and less-active members.
Prior to each conference, young men and young women performed community service projects within their wards and branches.
Then the youth conferences began on the first of three days with activities including team games and a dance. Workshops on missionary preparation, career development, seminary and institute were held on the second day, which was capped by a talent "spectacular." An Area Seventy or a member of the area presidency spoke during the devotional, which was the highlight of the third day. His message set the spiritual tone for the testimony meeting and goal-setting activity that concluded the conference.
As a result of their involvement in last year's conferences, several young men came back into Church activity, and enthusiastically participated again this year.
One was Richard Castillo of Mangaldan District, who had not been active for several years before being visited last year by his branch leaders who invited him to attend youth conference. Richard responded and, as a result, became active in his branch and is now serving in the Young Men presidency. This year at his regional youth conference, Richard related that he felt at home in his first conference because of the friendship extended to him by the other young men. He happily noted that even more young men were reactivated as a result of this year's youth conference.
As Richard came back to Church, his testimony of the gospel grew, and he gained a desire to serve a full-time mission, despite the possibility of losing his college scholarship.
"I know that the Lord will bless me much more if I obey His will first," he said.
Franc Portin, 15, Adrian Bautista, 16, and Harry Aquino, 14, all of Pozorrubio Pangasinan 2nd Ward, Urdaneta Philippines Stake, expressed with equal fervor their desires to serve missions. They said that regional youth conference activities helped them realize the importance of preparing now to do so, and each is saving money in a bamboo coin bank that he made in a ward Young Men activity. But, more important, they said that youth conference helped them remember that spiritual preparation is foremost as they look forward to the time when they will be called to serve.
For one year prior to this year's conference, 15-year-old Raisa Laica Ferrer of San Fabian 2nd Branch, Mangaldan District, had been investigating the Church. She was thrilled when she was invited to attend a youth conference in her region. Raisa said the activities strengthened her testimony and prepared her for baptism.
"I know the Church is true; I'm looking forward to my baptism," she said. "I'm grateful to be here and to participate in this conference. It teaches us and helps us to cultivate our talents. I know that a lot of spiritual things that we can apply in our daily lives can be learned here."
Also contributing: Jennifer Segre and Felvir Ordinario