Thousands gather for historic Guatemalan camp

Young women encouraged to live high standards of virtue

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — For the first time in the history of the Church in Guatemala, more than 4,000 young women gathered for a two-day national LDS girls camp. The camp was titled "Women of Virtue" and was centered on the Young Women theme to strive constantly for that which is virtuous.

Coming together from 432 wards and branches from Guatemala's 40 stakes and 36 districts, the girls and their leaders arrived Nov. 27 at a campground in Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles outside Guatemala City.

More than 90 buses filled with enthusiastic young women traveled from all points of the country to the camp site. Many traveled more than six hours to reach their destination. The first caravans began arriving at eight o'clock in the morning, Nov. 27.

"It's taken more than two months of work to prepare everything, and we didn't have any previous experience with a camp of this size, but it's been worth it," said Virna de Rodriguez, one of the camp leaders.

Graciela de Melgar, director of the girls camp, commented on the preparations: "After many long training sessions to prepare, and after the many trips we have made to plan the camp, we are being rewarded by seeing the joy in the happy faces of so many young women coming together who believe in and live the same principles and values."

One young woman, Paola Fuentes, said her excitement about participating in the national camp increased as the camp date drew near. She left her native town of San Marcos in western Guatemala, traveling about 100 miles to the capital. During the trip, she and the other young women sang and had a wonderful time together.

"Experiences such as these help us to have more confidence in ourselves, and we remember that we are not alone in our beliefs and goals," added Paola.

One of the 94 girls who arrived at camp from the Quetzaltenango Guatemala West Stake, Maritza De Leon, said: "I'm excited to now have friends from many parts of the country who believe in the same values. In addition, I learned to tie knots and build things that I could not do before. These things will be useful to those of us who live in the country."

Preparations for the national camp were made under the direction of priesthood leaders at the stake and ward levels. More than 500 such priesthood leaders were present at the camp and enjoyed the experience. They helped pitch some 850 tents, served 10,000 meals and organized 500 workshop groups.

The workshops included training in camping, orientation, water purification, building refugee shelters and knot tying.

Melissa Badilla Aguilar, a Laurel from the Tierra Nueva Ward, Guatemala City Guatemala Bosques de San Nicolas Stake, said: "This camp surpassed all our expectations. It was wonderful. Apart from all the fun, we fortified friendships. This type of program is inspiring."

Jenny de Sulecio, a leader from the Guatemala City Guatemala Mariscal Stake, expressed hope that the camp activities would help the young women learn to work together — especially those who are more timid and not as easily accepted.

Included among the campers was a group of indigenous young women from the Kekchis region of Guatemala's Polochic Valley. These young women left their homes at one o'clock in the morning to make the trip. They expressed their joy in participating in the camp and said they were grateful for the many leaders who made them feel comfortable even though they did not speak the same language. Such feelings were also expressed by a group of young women from Ixtahuacan, where the indigenous language Mam is spoken. The Ixtahuacan young women may have needed interpreters, yet said they all enjoyed their camping experience.

Elder Enrique Falabella, an Area Authority Seventy and a camp director, expressed his hope that the camp would help strengthen the youth in Guatemala and their friendships with one another.

Elder Spencer V. Jones of the Seventy and president of the Central America Area, said similar camps would be held in countries throughout Central America next year. Women from each of the other countries of the Central America Area came to the camp to observe.

At the end of the first day, the young women came together to sing hymns and enjoy a fireside message. In his fireside talk, Elder Jones told the young women that they were each special creations of their Heavenly Father. He added that each is a beloved daughter of God.

"Satan wants to take away your agency, to control you. He even wanted all of the Father's power," Elder Jones said. "That's why God chose His Son (to carry out His) plan, so we can come to earth with agency. With this gift we are ready to make decisions and take responsibility. We can progress and return to live with Him."

Elder Jones' wife, Sister Joyce Jones, counseled the young women to dress modestly and resist the styles and influences of the world.

"You don't need to do what the popular stars do, because you believe in yourself," Sister Jones said. "You are not dictated by the standards of the world. You know that the Lord hopes the members of the Church live a higher standard."