During a fireside originating from the Dixie Center Burns Arena Jan. 14, President Gordon B. Hinckley pled with nearly 10,000 youth to "choose the right," promising them that "the Lord will bless you as you do."
More than 6,500 packed the arena for the meeting, attended by young people from 19 stakes in southwestern Utah and southern Nevada. Overflow congregations were seated in the nearby Cox Arena, Dixie College Stake center and St. George Institute. Local radio and cable television stations also broadcast the fireside.Youth lined up for the meeting hours in advance of the 7 p.m. starting time. While many waited hopefully for seats as the arena quickly filled after the doors opened at 6 p.m., a plea was made for adult leaders to relinquish their spots to give the youth priority seating. Loud applause erupted as hundreds of leaders stood and moved to the concourse level to watch and listen from portal entrances or re-seated themselves in the overflow areas, allowing additional youth to enter.
Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Seventy, president of the Utah South Area, conducted the meeting. He and his wife, Sister Joanne Tingey, spoke briefly, as did Sister Marjorie P. Hinckley. All 19 stake presidents and their wives were seated on the stand.
"Thank you for being here and thank you for what you are," said Sister Hinckley, who spoke of her love and respect for the priesthood. She spoke of her mother, who grew up in a family without a priesthood holder in the home.
"She was so excited when she married my father, who held the priesthood," she said. "Her excitement was contagious. We thought it was the greatest thing in the world to have a man in the house who held the priesthood, and it was. What a wonderful blessing.
"I'm so grateful for the love that my mother developed in me for the priesthood of God. It's the most powerful thing on the face of this earth. I think you young men don't realize the power that you have. When I look at you I can see stake presidents, I can see bishops, I can see elders quorum presidents, and I can see just good Latter-day Saints who come to Church every Sunday and who live a good life. I'm thankful for this."
She emphasized the importance of doing what is right, reminding the youth that they are the ones who will carry the Lord's work forward, and expressed love for them and confidence in their goodness. "I'm thankful for all of you because I know you have testimonies in your hearts. I can feel them, and they increase and magnify my testimony."
President Hinckley held the rapt attention of the youth for the 50 minutes he spoke. He called them a "wonderful looking group, . . . young and smart and bright and clean and all shined up to be here tonight.
"I know why there are 1,800 in that choir. They knew they could get a reserved seat if they sang in the choir. Thanks for your music, wonderful music."
The prophet said he had received a stack of letters from seminary students in the St. George area. "I suppose you thought I'd never read them, but I did. Some of you should have taken another class in penmanship," he said, as the youth laughed. "It wasn't easy."
He went on to read a thoughtful letter from a young woman in attendance at the fireside, without sharing her name. In the letter the youth related her testimony of the repentance process and struggle to make right choices.
"I do want you to know that I am a darned good kid," the letter said. "I am so proud of my Church and my standards, which come from the Church. I am going the right direction. I don't know how much faith you have in the youth of the world today, but you can count on me. I will be on the front line when the time comes to fight the great battle, the final battle, because of my love for the Savior. I love you and all you stand for. I'll keep trying to do my best."
Said President Hinckley: "That's a great letter from a wonderful young woman, and she's in this hall and I want to thank her for writing it, and all of the rest of you who wrote letters."
He referred to remarks Sister Tingey had made concerning making choices. "That's the substance of our lives, making choices. That's the great thing that the war in heaven was fought over, making choices. That's the great battle that still goes on in the world, making choices. What the adversary would have us do
on one handT and what the Lord would have us do, making choices."
He asked how many wore CTR rings. Many raised their hands. "Wonderful," he said. "CTR: Choose the right. Choose the right when a choice is placed before you. That's the whole essence of life when all is said and done."
President Hinckley noted that many in the congregation were in high school, and recounted going back through his yearbook recently and contemplating the paths some of his former schoolmates' lives have taken due to their choices for good or ill.
He reminded the youth that small choices often have great impact on life's direction. To illustrate, he related a story – told previously in a general conference – about a baggage car that was lost when President Hinckley worked for a railroad company early in his career. He had received a telephone call in Denver from an official in Newark, N.J., trying to trace a lost baggage car. There were 300 angry passengers in Newark without luggage.
President Hinckley said he traced the car from its origination point in Oakland, Calif., across the country. He determined that a careless switch operator in a St. Louis railroad yard had inaccurately moved a rail several inches, sending the lost car to New Orleans, La., 1,400 miles from its intended destination.
"It began with a little thing, the moving of a switchpoint. That's the way our lives are," President Hinckley said. "The penitentiary up in Salt Lake is full of people who chose the wrong thing, who moved a switchpoint in their lives just a little bit. But they were soon on the wrong track, going to the wrong place. That's the way it is with our lives."
He described how a large farm gate moves very little at the hinge, but very far at the end of the gate. "A very small movement at the hinge brings a long movement out at the end of the gate. So it is with our lives. Now, watch what you choose to do."
He spoke candidly of choices related to tobacco, alcohol, drugs and sexual purity, and of the heartache and missed opportunities resulting from poor choices in these regards and of the blessings awaiting those who choose correctly.
"Choose the right. I don't have to tell you what that means, you know what it means. Choose the right. Your opportunities are so tremendous, so wonderful. You've come on the scene of the world in the greatest age in the history of mankind. Nobody else who ever lived on this earth has had quite the advantages that you have. It's marvelous to be alive in this day and time."
President Hinckley continued, encouraging the youth to take full advantage of the educational, career and spiritual opportunities that lay before them. He related personal examples from the lives of each Church president he has known, from Heber J. Grant forward, that exemplified positive choices and have influenced his own life for good. And he told of his recent interview with CBS News reporter Mike Wallace, which is scheduled to air on 60 Minutes in February.
When asked by Mr. Wallace, "How does Jesus speak to you?" President Hinckley said he told him the voice of the Lord doesn't come in dramatic fashion, but as with the prophet Elijah "through the still, small voice."
"It is the voice of the Spirit which speaks, and which will speak to you concerning your own problems, if you will seek for wisdom and understanding in prayer. There is no doubt in my mind that that voice speaks and is heard."
The prophet concluded with his testimony, a challenge and a blessing: "I plead with you, each of you, to choose the right. The Lord will bless you as you do so. I love you. I want you to know that I have a great feeling of love for you. We pray for you. We know that you pray for us, and we thank you.
"I leave my blessing upon you that you may grow in faith and faithfulness as you go forward with your lives, making the right choices at all times and in all circumstances, and invoke every good blessing upon you."
As the meeting concluded, many dabbed at moist eyes as the choir sang "I Am a Child of God" and then "We Ever Pray for Thee" as the prophet departed following the benediction.
"It felt pretty special being here," said Bradley Lystrup, 12. "Not many people get to see the prophet."
Earlier in the day Sunday, members of the St. George Utah Pine View Stake also got to "see the prophet" as the Hinckleys and Tingeys dropped in on their stake conference on a brilliant, blue-skyed Dixie day.
Members were visibly surprised as President and Sister Hinckley entered the chapel a few moments before the meeting. Quickly standing, they sang the first verse of "We Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet." The general session went ahead as planned, with the stake presidency cutting short their addresses so Elder Tingey and President Hinckley could take the latter portion of the meeting.
The prophet recounted the messages of the previous speakers, calling them "wonderful talks" and adding, "I hope we all listened very attentively to what they said.
"I'm grateful to be here this beautiful Sabbath morning. I've never seen St. George look more attractive, dangerously so. We need moisture, and we need to pray for it. I hope we are doing that, that the heavens might smile upon us."
He encouraged stake members to remember the sacrifices of those who had established the area, and to pattern their lives after their faithfulness. He specifically encouraged them to honor the Sabbath, and to avoid foul or profane speech.
The conference was the first for stake Pres. Leo G. Richardson since his call last June, and he called it a "baptism by fire," albeit a pleasant one.
"To have the privilege and honor of having our beloved prophet with us is truly a historic moment," he said. "We are so excited to have him and his wife in our presence today."