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Young Men and Young Women general presidencies share how to strengthen ‘Zion’s youth in latter days’

At BYU Education week, President Steven J. Lund, President Emily Belle Freeman and their counselors share how to bring youth closer to Christ and let them lead in gathering Israel

2308-85 YM-YW Presidency Education Week 06 2308-85 YM/YW Presidency Devotional President Steven J. Lund and President Emily Belle Freeman speak on the youth of the church on 8/22/2023 as a part of BYU Education Week. August 23, 2023 Photo by Abby Shelton/BYU photo.byu.edu Abby Shelton, BYU
2308-85 YM-YW Presidency Education Week 02 2308-85 YM/YW Presidency Devotional President Steven J. Lund and President Emily Belle Freeman speak on the youth of the church on 8/22/2023 as a part of BYU Education Week. August 23, 2023 Photo by Abby Shelton/BYU photo.byu.edu Abby Shelton, BYU
2308-85 YM-YW Presidency Education Week 32 2308-85 YM/YW Presidency Devotional President Steven J. Lund and President Emily Belle Freeman speak on the youth of the church on 8/22/2023 as a part of BYU Education Week. August 23, 2023 Photo by Abby Shelton/BYU photo.byu.edu Abby Shelton, BYU
2308-85 YM-YW Presidency Education Week 34 2308-85 YM/YW Presidency Devotional President Steven J. Lund and President Emily Belle Freeman speak on the youth of the church on 8/22/2023 as a part of BYU Education Week. August 23, 2023 Photo by Abby Shelton/BYU photo.byu.edu Abby Shelton, BYU
2308-85 YM-YW Presidency Education Week 39 2308-85 YM/YW Presidency Devotional President Steven J. Lund and President Emily Belle Freeman speak on the youth of the church on 8/22/2023 as a part of BYU Education Week. August 23, 2023 Photo by Abby Shelton/BYU photo.byu.edu Abby Shelton, BYU
2308-85 YM-YW Presidency Education Week 53 2308-85 YM/YW Presidency Devotional President Steven J. Lund and President Emily Belle Freeman speak on the youth of the church on 8/22/2023 as a part of BYU Education Week. August 23, 2023 Photo by Abby Shelton/BYU photo.byu.edu Abby Shelton, BYU
2308-85 YM-YW Presidency Education Week 61 2308-85 YM/YW Presidency Devotional President Steven J. Lund and President Emily Belle Freeman speak on the youth of the church on 8/22/2023 as a part of BYU Education Week. August 23, 2023 Photo by Abby Shelton/BYU photo.byu.edu Abby Shelton, BYU
2308-85 YM-YW Presidency Education Week 65 2308-85 YM/YW Presidency Devotional President Steven J. Lund and President Emily Belle Freeman speak on the youth of the church on 8/22/2023 as a part of BYU Education Week. August 23, 2023 Photo by Abby Shelton/BYU photo.byu.edu Abby Shelton, BYU
Young Women General President Emily Belle Freeman with her father, McKinley Oswald, at the Marriott Center. Mary Richards, Church News
2308-77 Education Week 313 2308-77 Education Week Sister Tamara W. Runia and Brother Bradley R. Wilcox of the Young Women’s and Young Men’s General Presidency speak during Education week at Brigham Young University. August 24, 2023 Photography by Nate Edwards/BYU © BYU PHOTO 2022 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322 Nate Edwards, BYU
2308-77 Education Week 322 2308-77 Education Week Sister Tamara W. Runia and Brother Bradley R. Wilcox of the Young Women’s and Young Men’s General Presidency speak during Education week at Brigham Young University. August 24, 2023 Photography by Nate Edwards/BYU © BYU PHOTO 2022 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322 Nate Edwards, BYU
2308-77 Education Week 341 2308-77 Education Week Sister Tamara W. Runia and Brother Bradley R. Wilcox of the Young Women’s and Young Men’s General Presidency speak during Education week at Brigham Young University. August 24, 2023 Photography by Nate Edwards/BYU © BYU PHOTO 2022 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322 Nate Edwards, BYU
2308-77 Education Week 345 2308-77 Education Week Sister Tamara W. Runia and Brother Bradley R. Wilcox of the Young Women’s and Young Men’s General Presidency speak during Education week at Brigham Young University. August 24, 2023 Photography by Nate Edwards/BYU © BYU PHOTO 2022 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322 Nate Edwards, BYU
2308-77 Education Week 352 2308-77 Education Week Sister Tamara W. Runia and Brother Bradley R. Wilcox of the Young Women’s and Young Men’s General Presidency speak during Education week at Brigham Young University. August 24, 2023 Photography by Nate Edwards/BYU © BYU PHOTO 2022 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322 Nate Edwards, BYU
2308-77 530 2308-77 Education Week Sister Andrea Muños Spannaus and Brother Michael T. Nelson of the Young Women’s and Young Men’s General Presidency speak during Education week at Brigham Young University. August 25, 2023 Photography by Nate Edwards/BYU © BYU PHOTO 2022 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322 Nate Edwards, BYU
2308-77 534 2308-77 Education Week Sister Andrea Muños Spannaus and Brother Michael T. Nelson of the Young Women’s and Young Men’s General Presidency speak during Education week at Brigham Young University. August 25, 2023 Photography by Nate Edwards/BYU © BYU PHOTO 2022 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322 Nate Edwards, BYU
2308-77 556 2308-77 Education Week Sister Andrea Muños Spannaus and Brother Michael T. Nelson of the Young Women’s and Young Men’s General Presidency speak during Education week at Brigham Young University. August 25, 2023 Photography by Nate Edwards/BYU © BYU PHOTO 2022 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322 Nate Edwards, BYU
2308-77 561 2308-77 Education Week Sister Andrea Muños Spannaus and Brother Michael T. Nelson of the Young Women’s and Young Men’s General Presidency speak during Education week at Brigham Young University. August 25, 2023 Photography by Nate Edwards/BYU © BYU PHOTO 2022 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322 Nate Edwards, BYU
2308-77 544 2308-77 Education Week Sister Andrea Muños Spannaus and Brother Michael T. Nelson of the Young Women’s and Young Men’s General Presidency speak during Education week at Brigham Young University. August 25, 2023 Photography by Nate Edwards/BYU © BYU PHOTO 2022 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322 Nate Edwards, BYU

While Joseph Smith asked which church to join at age 14, today’s youth are asking, “How can I be happy?” said Young Men General President Steven J. Lund

“The youth need to know that Jesus Christ is the means of taking people home,” President Lund said during BYU Education Week.  

Speaking with President Lund on Wednesday, Aug. 23, Young Women General President Emily Belle Freeman explained that Jesus’ role in the plan of salvation must be emphasized more clearly in lessons and teachings. 

The program for the youth is to help them to become disciples of Jesus Christ, she said, during a presentation named from the hymn, “As Zion’s Youth in Latter Days.

President Freeman pointed out how the Aaronic Priesthood quorum theme and Young Women theme both have three phrases in common: 

  1. Become a disciple.
  2. Improve each day.
  3. Stand as a witness.

The two themes are different but teach the same truths, added President Lund.

“What a value for these young men and young women to have these truths embedded in their soul, so that in the middle of the night — when they wake up with some of the anxiety that comes with being a young person — those words will come to their minds and be powerful for them,” he said.

Young Women General President Emily Belle Freeman and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund speak in the Marriott Center.
Young Women General President Emily Belle Freeman and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund speak during BYU Education Week in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. | Abby Shelton, BYU

President Lund said the youth program is at its strongest when the Young Men and Young Women organizations are working together.

“Think about ways that you can work together,” he urged the audience, which included parents, grandparents, ward and stake young men and young women leaders and even youth.

President Freeman taught from Acts 8, when Phillip introduced the man of Ethiopia to Jesus Christ.

“Our goal is to have them [the youth] enter into covenant relationships. That is our goal. If we want that, we have to introduce them to Jesus,” she said.

President Lund said some youth might feel like “they are tourists in their parents’ church.” But they can recognize that they are needed, valued and important right now — in fact, today’s youth have a special gift of gathering and empathy.

Partaking of the sacrament, reading scriptures, praying and attending meetings are all crucial.

“There are certain holy habits and righteous routines that really matter. … All those things will help us draw closer to the Savior and become more like Him,” he said.

Parents set the example, said President Freeman, of prayer and scripture study. “I find it is really important as we are working with the youth for them to see us invested in deepening our conversion if we are going to ask them to be invested in deepening theirs.” 

Young Men General President Steven J. Lund speaks during BYU Education Week.
Young Men General President Steven J. Lund speaks during BYU Education Week in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. | Abby Shelton, BYU

She explained that parents, youth leaders, other family members and others can all understand that the youth program is really a mentoring discipleship program.

“It is something we will do little by little. We will grow and become more like Him. And it is my hope that we will bring as many with us as we can. Little by little improving each day, standing as a witness — all of us.”

Youth can gather Israel

The first counselors in each presidency — Sister Tamara W. Runia and Brother Bradley R. Wilcox — focused on gathering Israel in their remarks on Thursday, Aug. 24.

While it could be said that everyone on earth is a child of God, and many are disciples of Jesus Christ, the youth in the Church are children of the covenant. This gives them responsibility to gather Israel.

Brother Wilcox explained that in the Old Testament, a birthright was an extra portion of the inheritance, and it came with extra responsibility.

“A birthright gives you the responsibility to live better so you can help everyone else,” he said. “That’s what sets us apart. Now we understand why God can ask us to live differently from the world so we can make a difference in the world. And He asked us to gather Israel.”

Brother Bradley R. Wilcox uses a family on stage to explain a concept during BYU Education Week in the Marriott Center.
Brother Bradley R. Wilcox, first counselor in the Young Men general presidency, explains how a birthright works using the example of a family behind him at BYU Education Week in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2023. | Nate Edwards, BYU

Sister Runia said she wanted to put her hands on the shoulders of all the youth in the audience and tell them the Lord is counting on them. “You are known, you are numbered, and you are needed. I want you to catch that vision.”

President Russell M. Nelson invited youth to join the Lord’s battalion. A battalion is sometimes referred to as a force, Sister Runia said. 

“The youth of this generation can be a force for good as they bring the love of Christ into every circumstance and every place they enter in.”

While the work may not always be easy, it can be joyful, she emphasized. She also testified about never ignoring promptings from the Spirit — “Acting on promptings is part of gathering Israel.”

Brother Wilcox said when the youth are set apart for callings in their quorums and classes, they are acting with authority. It is not unrealistic to ask them to have a presidency meeting every week, he said. “They are not too busy to do the work.”

He showed the audience how to find youth leadership lessons on the Church website or app, by going to the Youth section, clicking on Quorum and Class Presidency Resources and then selecting Leadership Lessons.

“Sometimes we are holding the youth back and not letting them do what they are uniquely qualified to do — to gather Israel,” he said. They are not the future leaders of the Church, they are leaders right now, he emphasized.

Sister Tamara W. Runia speaks at BYU Education Week in the Marriott Center.
Sister Tamara W. Runia, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, speaks at BYU Education Week in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023. | Nate Edwards, BYU

Sister Runia bore testimony that the gathering is happening. “I am so excited for what is ahead.” 

Covenants with Jesus Christ bring joy

The second counselors in each presidency — Brother Michael T. Nelson and Sister Andrea Muñoz Spannaus — expounded on how the youth enter a covenantal relationship with Jesus Christ at baptism during their remarks on Friday, Aug. 25.

As people partake of the sacrament regularly, they renew covenants — and make a new covenant. In return, the Lord promises His Spirit will always be with them.

Sister Spannaus said it is impossible to talk about this doctrine without mentioning repentance.

“I am continually grateful for the opportunity to repent daily,” she said, “Repentance is the process of turning to God and turning away from sin — changing direction and returning to Him, His goodness and His peace.” 

Sister Andrea Muñoz Spannaus speaks in the Marriott Center for BYU Education Week.
Sister Andrea Muñoz Spannaus, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, speaks in the Marriott Center for BYU Education Week in Provo, Utah, Friday, Aug. 25, 2023. | Nate Edwards, BYU

While Satan tries to stop people from looking to Christ, the youth can receive assurance that through forgiveness, they can become better — little by little — and be rewarded with feelings of peace, hope and love. 

“Without a doubt, the priesthood ordinances of baptism, confirmation and sacrament are ordinances of love, ordinances of hope and ordinances of joy. As we receive them, and remain true to the faith, we can experience the power of godliness in our lives,” Sister Spannaus said.

Like Sister Spannaus, Brother Nelson also remembers his baptism day and the feelings in the room. During a Young Men overnight campout, he distinctly felt the assurance of the Holy Ghost that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.

Those experiences sustained him at the beginning of his full-time mission to Chile, when he was homesick and could not understand the language. 

He shared how on one Sunday in Chile, in a small room with only bars on the windows and street noises outside, he read the sacrament prayers in Spanish to himself. The Spirit filled him with a witness of Jesus Christ’s Atonement, Crucifixion and Resurrection.

The sacred ordinance of the sacrament offered Brother Nelson covenant belonging. “That damp, cold room will always be a sacred grove to me.”

Brother Michael T. Nelson and Sister Andrea Muñoz Spannaus speak in the Marriott Center.
Brother Michael T. Nelson, second counselor in the Young Men general presidency, speaks during BYU Education Week in the Marriott Center with Sister Andrea Muñoz Spannaus, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023. | Nate Edwards, BYU

Brother Nelson and Sister Spannaus both emphasized joy in their remarks as well as finding joy in their callings, in their efforts and in small, everyday things.

“The gospel is a gospel of joy because Christ is joy,” Sister Spannaus said.

Brother Nelson said the world will present all kinds of happiness — and happiness is found in the gospel. “But what we really seek is joy,” he said. “... There is a direct correlation between a relationship with Jesus Christ and the joy He puts into us.

Leaders and family members “are those who are called now to encourage the youth in that direction,” he said.

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