For Sandra Atsou, participating in the first youth conference in the West African nation of Senegal with 12 other youth was “unforgettable.”
“This conference helped me to understand what it is like to be unified one with another,” said Sandra, a member of the Parcelles Branch, Dakar Senegal District, in a release on the Church’s Africa Newsroom. “I especially appreciated our youth leaders who guided us, and each of the young adult counselors who were always by our sides throughout the conference.”
Senegal has a population of over 17 million, 97% of whom are Muslim. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offered a prayer on the land and people of Senegal in 2017, and the Church was given legal recognition in 2018. Since then, the Church has grown to 257 members in four branches, according to the release.
The youth conference held April 20-23 gave the youth in Senegal — many of whom are the only Latter-day Saint youth in their branch or school — an opportunity to strengthen faith in Jesus Christ, participate in uplifting activities and make new friendships.
Despite differences in ethnicity, socioeconomic background and even language, “they all just yearned to be together,” said Rebecca Armstrong, Young Women president in the Ouakam Branch.
“Those things didn’t seem to matter. … They taught me through their examples that the gospel of Jesus Christ truly transcends all and how as children of our Heavenly Father, we really are just one big family. And when these young people all sang together, it was a little glimpse of heaven,” she said.
The theme of the conference was the 2023 youth theme found in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” During the conference, the youth hiked to the westernmost tip of the continent of Africa and built a giant cairn to help them remember the theme.
Other activities included reviewing the youth guidebook and making personal goals, reading the book of 1 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, preparing and sharing short devotionals with one another, and learning a medley of songs they sang together at church on Sunday.
“Our goal was to help them make reading the scriptures a daily habit,” said Denise McCollaum, Young Women president of the Dakar Senegal District.
The youth participated in a race solving clues from scripture stories and executing challenges such as a FamilySearch activity and dancing at the African Renaissance Monument in Dakar. The race began at the Dakar Lighthouse, where Elder Bednar had blessed Senegal in 2017.
The conference culminated with an activity of holding onto the iron rod while traveling a path leading to a symbolic tree of life. When the youth reached the tree, they were welcomed by their branch presidents and the district presidency. The activity ended with a testimony meeting.
McCollaum said the youth were not hindered by speaking different languages. “We witnessed the gift of tongues,” she said. “We seemed to understand each other easily because of the gifts of the spirit, without which we would have stumbled in our efforts to communicate in two languages.”
Also during the conference, the youth were joined by Patriarch Kohou Don Paul, who happened to be on assignment as the first visiting patriarch for the district in Senegal. Some of the youth were able to receive their patriarchal blessings.
Timothé Ameke, a youth from the Parcelles Branch, said of his experience at the youth conference: “I still have the conference in my heart, and I can’t stop thinking about it. It has helped me to remember to read the scriptures every day. In each of my actions, I will always remember the lessons and principles learned.”