How the history of the Church is a ‘movement of young people’

During the Saturday evening session of the historic 190th General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — commemorating the 200th anniversary of God the Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, appearing to Joseph Smith — two teenagers addressed Latter-day Saints worldwide.

Laudy R. Kaouk, 17, and Enzo S. Petelo, 15, spoke on “How the Priesthood Blesses Youth.”

Just a few years older than was 14-year-old Joseph Smith when he experienced the First Vision two centuries ago, the youth joined a handful of other speakers who have addressed a general conference audience without being a general authority or general officer of the Church. 

Enzo explained that Joseph Smith was a young man who was called of God to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ, “and for that purpose was given the priesthood which he used to bless all mankind.”

Laudy R. Kaouk speaks during the Saturday evening session of the 190th Annual General Conference on April 4, 2020.
Laudy R. Kaouk speaks during the Saturday evening session of the 190th Annual General Conference on April 4, 2020. Credit: Screenshot, ChurchofJesusChrist.org

Laudy said: “Just like God blessed Joseph Smith with the priesthood so that the blessings of the gospel could be restored, we can receive the blessings of the gospel in our lives through the priesthood.”

Not without precedent

Although it is unusual to have youth speak during a general conference session, it is not without precedent.

Matthew Holland, sustained Saturday afternoon as a General Authority Seventy, spoke in the April 1983 general conference.

Then the teenaged son of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he spoke about the influence parents and the family have upon the youth in the Church.

Sinqobile Mkhize and other youth listen as Elder Ronald A. Rasband, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks during a Durban South Africa Temple youth devotional in Durban, South Africa, on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.
Sinqobile Mkhize and other youth listen as Elder Ronald A. Rasband, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks during a Durban South Africa Temple youth devotional in Durban, South Africa, on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“I want to bear my testimony of the responsibility we, the priesthood brethren of this Church, have to spiritually teach and edify our families,” Matthew Holland said.

Devin Durrant, who would later serve in the Sunday School general presidency, spoke during the priesthood session of the April 1984 general conference. A returned missionary and BYU basketball player, he talked about “Missions.” 

“I pray that the Lord will bless us in all of our decisions — decisions about missions, decisions about marriage, decisions about character, about dedication, about morality,” he said. 

A year later in 1985, Peter Vidmar, a young adult and a participant in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, spoke in the April general conference.

Speaking on the topic of “Pursuing Excellence,” Vidmar said, “Let’s always try our best. Let us decide now what type of person we want to be, and when a difficult situation comes along we will be prepared to pass the test.”

Temple dedications and youth

Youth have also participated in other important and sacred events in the Church.

During the rededication of the Oakland California Temple, youth were invited to speak in the sessions, noted President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, who presided at the rededication.  

The newly renovated Oakland California Temple, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, May 6, 2019.
The newly renovated Oakland California Temple, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, May 6, 2019. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, Deseret News

Temple dedications after the June 2019 rededication have also included youth speakers. 

“The young people are going to the temple in greatly increased numbers,” President Oaks said, “so we felt it would be a good thing to have them represented at the dedication.”

The Church has always relied upon the energy, strength and testimonies of youth and young adults.

Church history

This Del Parson painting depicts Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery inquiring of the Lord.
This Del Parson painting depicts Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery inquiring of the Lord. Credit: Artist Del Parson

During a devotional at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, on Jan. 27, 2019, Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke about the young people who labored for the Lord in the early days of the restoration. 

Joseph Smith was just 23 years old when he completed the translation of the Book of Mormon, with Oliver Cowdery as his scribe, in Harmony, Pennsylvania. At the time Oliver was just 22; those assisting them were also young — Emma Smith, 24, David Whitmer, 24, and E. B. Grandin, 23.

“Isn’t it remarkable that the Lord chose this age group to introduce the dispensation of the fullness of times,” said Elder Stevenson.

“The early Latter-day Saint movement was a movement of young people,” said Matt Grow, managing director of the Church History Department, in an interview in Nauvoo, Illinois, before a worldwide Face to Face event in September 2018.

Noting a similarity between the generation of early Saints and today’s young adults, Grow explained it was young adults who “converted to the Church in the 1830s and the 1840s. It was their age group who built the Church. … All throughout our history, it is the young people doing extraordinary things to bring the gospel to the world.”

Latter-day Saint youth arrive at the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Nov. 17, 2019, to participate in what was described as the largest Face to Face event ever hosted by the Church. The broadcast introduced a new Children and Youth initiative that will replace the Church’s existing children and youth programs on January 1, 2020.
Latter-day Saint youth arrive at the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Nov. 17, 2019, to participate in what was described as the largest Face to Face event ever hosted by the Church. The broadcast introduced a new Children and Youth initiative that will replace the Church’s existing children and youth programs on January 1, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Elder Quentin L. Cook, who also participated in the Face to Face event, spoke of the history of young people in the Church and of youth today.

Like the Saints of old who opened missionary work in the United States, Canada, the British Isles, Scandinavia and the Pacific, young adults today have entered missionary service in record numbers, he said. Nearly 600,000 of them have served full-time missions; that is over 40 percent of all the missionaries who have ever served in this dispensation, he said.

“We are going to see this generation do great things,” Elder Cook said.