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Philmont's miracles

Annual Scouting Leadership Conference in New Mexico designed to bring youth closer to Christ

PHILMONT SCOUT RANCH, N.M. — It's easy to spot miracles at Philmont — just open your eyes then fix your gaze in almost any direction.

Witness deer grazing under the ranch's turquoise skies or, perhaps, the landmark Tooth of Time mountain peak accepting the sun's first morning rays. Indeed, the physical miracles of creation help define Philmont. Spend a few hours here and never again ask why New Mexico's been dubbed "Land of Enchantment."

Young Men General President Charles Dahlquist picks out a song on his banjo during a family home evening program at Philmont. The Scouting Leadership Conference allowed time for families to be together for worship, fun and entertainment. Highlights included Sunday services, a family banner parade and a buffalo barbecue dinner.
Young Men General President Charles Dahlquist picks out a song on his banjo during a family home evening program at Philmont. The Scouting Leadership Conference allowed time for families to be together for worship, fun and entertainment. Highlights included Sunday services, a family banner parade and a buffalo barbecue dinner. Photo: Photo by Jason Swensen

Participants in the recent LDS Scouting Leadership Conference at Philmont returned to their homes with plenty of postcards and scrapbook-bound images of the ranch's miraculous landscapes. Yet it's Philmont's less visible, lasting spiritual miracles that can change lives. The lives of the many stake presidents, bishops and Young Men advisers from across the United States who donned Scout uniforms and came together at Philmont for instruction and testimony. The lives of their wives and children who joined them. And, they hope, the lives of countless LDS young men, and women, who may never step foot in eastern New Mexico — but will be educated, inspired and enabled by Philmont's special lessons.

Philmont Scout Ranch again hosted the Church's annual Scouting Leadership Conference in two sessions — July 1-7 and July 8-14. The hundreds who participated enjoyed a week of fellowship and instruction from, among others, Elder John B. Dickson of the Seventy, along with members of the Young Men and Primary general presidencies and members of their respective general boards.

Philmont faculty, participants and their families gathered for classroom training, priesthood meeting, firesides, Sunday worship (including Primary, Relief Society and priesthood classes) and plenty of outdoor fun. Throughout the training, "Philmonters" were asked to look for those small, spiritual miracles existing alongside the ranch's remarkable physical beauty.

Philmont "was a Zion-like experience," said Elder Dickson, who attended the first session with his wife, Delores, and several grandchildren. All who attended Philmont, he said, were gathered for one common purpose: the cause of youth. That shared location and purpose helped spark a miracle of desire in each participant's heart to better serve young people.

Linda Smith of Sandy, Utah, teaches a gospel doctrine class outside the Villa Philmonte Home. Conference participants were called to teach Primary, Relief Society, Sunday School and priesthood lessons.
Linda Smith of Sandy, Utah, teaches a gospel doctrine class outside the Villa Philmonte Home. Conference participants were called to teach Primary, Relief Society, Sunday School and priesthood lessons. Photo: Photo by Jason Swensen

Other miracles were found at Philmont.

"This has been a bit of heaven," said Young Men General President Charles W. Dahlquist during the second session's closing testimony meeting. "We have caught a glimpse of Zion."

Participants at Philmont have been given the sacred charge of helping the young men of the Aaronic Priesthood arise and become men of Christ, he added. Such a miracle often occurs in the lives of youth when Priesthood, Scout and Primary leaders and teachers first offer prayer, persistence and perspiration.

"When we've done all we can and we still can't quite reach them — it will be then when the windows of heaven will open and miracles will occur," Brother Dahlquist said.

Miracles also happen when parents and youth leaders enlist the scriptures to meet life's day-to-day troubles, said Primary General President Cheryl C. Lant during Philmont's adult fireside. "Every issue that faces families can be addressed by the scriptures."

On the Sunday afternoon of the conference's second session, Dean R. Burgess, first counselor in the Young Men General Presidency, climbed into a well-worn utility vehicle and traveled up a mountain dirt road to preside over an outdoor sacrament meeting for a small group of mountain men. They weren't real mountain men — they were teenage boys, Aaronic priesthood holders who had left their families at the Philmont Training Center below to embark on a weeklong trek through the backcountry.

Pack-laden LDS girls depart for a weeklong trek in the backcountry. The treks were rich with adventure and spiritual reflection.
Pack-laden LDS girls depart for a weeklong trek in the backcountry. The treks were rich with adventure and spiritual reflection. Photo: Photo by Jason Swensen

There, beneath a simple pine shelter, they gathered with Brother Burgess and Allan F. Packer of the Young Men General Board for sacrament meeting. Also attending were Sister Annette Burgess and Sister Terri Anne Packer, along with Philmont's LDS chaplain, Elder David Wilson. Similar sacrament meetings for young "mountain men" and "mountain women" were happening in high country locales throughout the ranch.

The young men who gathered with Brother Burgess and Brother Packer were grimy from hiking. Many wore shorts and muddy boots or tennis shoes. Yet the miracle of reverence was evident as the boys — despite their woodsy dress — blessed and passed the sacrament and bore testimony with dignity and respect.

Stand tall and don't give in to the madness of the world, counseled Brother Burgess. He encouraged the boys to use their time on the mountain to think about the Savior and serving a full-time mission. "That won't be much longer away."

Meanwhile, Brother Packer spoke of the miracle of tongues that can visit all full-time missionaries, regardless of their assignment.

"No matter where you go on a mission, you will have to learn the language of the Spirit," he said. "That's the language Heavenly Father uses."

The mission of Philmont's Scouting Leadership Conference is simple: to inspire and prepare priesthood and Primary leaders to perform the miracle of retaining, reclaiming and converting young people to the gospel. By doing so, Scouting-age LDS boys can develop and grow into faithful Melchizedek Priesthood holders, and countless families can be blessed.

Young Men General President Charles Dahlquist greets a group of Scouts involved in a national leadership training program.
Young Men General President Charles Dahlquist greets a group of Scouts involved in a national leadership training program. Photo: Photo by Jason Swensen

The Scout Slogan implores doing a good turn daily. Each simple turn by a wise youth leader — learned Philmont participants — might be another's small miracle.

Despite life's challenges, "there are those little miracles that lift us up and move us on," Brother Dahlquist said.

Scouting's oldest national high-adventure base, New Mexico's Philmont Scout Ranch has hosted an LDS Conference for local priesthood and Scout leaders for decades.
Scouting's oldest national high-adventure base, New Mexico's Philmont Scout Ranch has hosted an LDS Conference for local priesthood and Scout leaders for decades. Photo: Photo by Jason Swensen
Conference faculty member Bradley D. Harris enlists Robert Blotter of Marquette, Minn., to demonstrate a push-up during training session.
Conference faculty member Bradley D. Harris enlists Robert Blotter of Marquette, Minn., to demonstrate a push-up during training session. Photo: Photo by Jason Swensen
The Tooth of Time mountain peak is Scout ranch's defining landmark.
The Tooth of Time mountain peak is Scout ranch's defining landmark. Photo: Photo by Jason Swensen
Hikers gather at the summit of Philmont's Lovers' Leap to watch the sunrise.
Hikers gather at the summit of Philmont's Lovers' Leap to watch the sunrise. Photo: Photo by Jason Swensen

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