NAUVOO, Illinois — On a beautiful Midwest U.S. evening, with the Nauvoo Illinois Temple on the hill and the sun setting over the Mississippi River, youth heard messages of the gospel’s joy from Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund.
The outdoor gathering on Saturday, Sept. 24, included youth and their leaders from 17 stakes around Illinois, Iowa and Missouri watching in person and virtually. Nauvoo performing missionaries sang and danced during the fireside as well.
Ben Thomas, 17, of the Nauvoo Illinois Stake, appreciated being with other Church members his own age and loved the spirit he felt. “It was meant to bring us a feeling of happiness and joy but also to help spread the word of the gospel.”
President Cordon and President Lund and their spouses — Brother Derek Cordon and Sister Kalleen Lund — spent two days in Nauvoo ministering and training missionaries, youth and adult youth leaders.
When speaking with current missionaries and potential missionaries the day before, the two general officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke about the why of the gospel and strengthening testimonies of the Savior. Saturday’s meetings with the youth and their leaders included an emphasis on joining the Lord’s youth battalion and building spiritual momentum.
Esther Vernards, 12, from the Nauvoo Illinois Stake, took that message to heart. “President Lund said we are not called to be leaders in the future, we are called to be leaders now,” she said. “We are here to serve now, not in the future.”
Penelope Sowell, 16, of the Mount Pleasant Branch of the Nauvoo Illinois Stake, took notes on her phone. “My favorite part about it was when they were saying that you may walk away from the Savior, but He will never walk away from you, He will never leave you. He will be with us.”
At the beginning of the meeting, the youth stood to recite the Young Women theme and Aaronic Priesthood theme. President Lund reminded them of their divine identity outlined in those themes.
“Never let anything get between you and the temple. Never let anything get between you and your willingness and your worthiness to serve a mission,” he said. “You are sons and daughters of God. You are bigger than life.”
President Lund also told the youth to be brave. “Read your scriptures, go to seminary, pay your tithing, do the things you need to do to build a relationship with the heavens,” he said. “That relationship will empower you to go out and do miracles.”
When President Cordon took the stage, she had the Nauvoo Brass Band help her punctuate and emphasize the words in this year’s youth theme in Proverbs 3:5-6 — which she said comes with an invitation, a warning and a promise.
The invitation is to “trust in the Lord with all thine heart.” The warning is “not to lean unto your own understanding.” And the promise is that “the Lord will direct your paths, and it is paths plural. He will direct you over and over again,” she said.
She told the youth to have confidence to testify of Christ. Because they are on earth today, they testified of Christ in the premortal existence. “We can have confidence that we can do it again.”
Training for youth leaders and adult youth leaders
Saturday morning, members of Young Women class presidencies and Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidencies attended a training meeting in the Nauvoo Visitors’ Center along with adult youth leaders.
With Elder Jeremiah J. Morgan, an Area Seventy, moderating, President Cordon and President Lund held discussions on the stage with youth and adult youth leaders about leadership principles — like being set apart, planning activities, meeting weekly in presidency meetings, seeking revelation and working in councils.
President Cordon told the youth not to wait for adults to give them something to do, but to lead out in their callings in their classes and quorums in the work of salvation and exaltation.
“No matter what your calling, we all have the same purpose … to strengthen our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and help others come to know the Savior.”
“This is the winding-up scene,” she said. “This is your time. The Lord knows who you are. He called you for a specific purpose.”
President Lund expounded on the principles of live, care, invite, unite and how the Children and Youth program is a part of the work of exaltation and salvation.
“Our testimony to you is, if you want to find joy in this life, if you really want to be happy, this is the pathway. Follow the Prophet into the Lord’s youth battalion and give it your life,” he said.
Youth leaders in the training meeting left with a renewed purpose. Jesse Trost, 15, who is a secretary in her class presidency in the Macomb Ward of the Nauvoo Illinois Stake, learned to take part more in meetings and meet more often to discuss the needs of the youth in her ward.
Gabbi Jackson, 15, a second counselor in her class presidency in the Nauvoo 1st Ward, said she felt the Spirit in the meeting and was especially grateful that President Cordon and President Lund could come.
“I really like how they explained that we need to be more interactive and social instead of being on the phone all the time,” she said.
The interactive teaching during the meeting helped Cedric Seaman, 16, learn principles in a new way. He is the first assistant in the priests quorum presidency in the Quincy 1st Ward, and he hopes to now bring more young men back to activities and meetings.
Insights from Nauvoo
As they visited historic sites around Nauvoo on Saturday, President Cordon reflected on the life and example of Emmeline B. Wells. Wells arrived in the city in May 1844, just before the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed. Her young son passed away and her husband left to find work and never returned.
“She found herself a stranger,” President Cordon said. But Wells had an opportunity to look around and connect and gather with people that became her new family.
“That’s much like us. We have an opportunity to reach our arms out wide and connect with people so they can be a part of our circle, our family.”
After visiting the historic home and office of Nauvoo Temple architect William Weeks, President Lund stepped across the street to view a display of tools and stone like those used in the building of the temple.
“They dug down to hard foundational limestone rock and then stacked stones like this one onto that firm foundation,” he said. He remarked that not only was that a great way to build a temple, it’s also a great way to build a life.
“Go down to the foundational elements, and that foundation, of course, is the Savior and His Atonement and the plan of happiness. … I hope we look for ways to ground ourselves more firmly to the foundation of our Savior.”
Brother Cordon told the youth on Saturday night about his great-great-grandfather Alfred Cordon, who had a plot of land in Nauvoo not far from the Sunset Stage where they were gathering and later dedicated the southwest cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple.
But before that, he was a young father who lost his baby and turned to alcohol to dull his pain.
Alfred Cordon’s neighbor was a young woman named Mary Powell, who had been baptized into the Church and told the Cordons that the gospel of Jesus Christ would heal them.
“He accepted the message of the missionaries. It saved his life,” Brother Cordon said. “To this day, we remember the name of Mary Powell, a young woman who opened her heart and shared what was most important to her with a young man who was in a crisis.”
Sister Lund said she was impressed with how much the youth in the area volunteer, take part and get involved. As she spoke Saturday night, she told the young men and young women, “I believe you really are the hope of Israel and the hope of Zion. … Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm with us.”
Elder Morgan and his wife Sister Rebecca Morgan spoke of “spiritual memories” — remembering the spiritually defining moments in their lives, like this weekend’s meetings and For the Strength of Youth conferences over the summer.
“Build upon those memories, because the Lord needs you,” Elder Morgan said.