Sarah Jane Weaver: Celebrating a balloon launch, a promise and 150 years of Young Women

On Oct. 11, 1986, I stood in the parking lot of my stake center clutching a balloon. I don’t remember the weather that day. Or the balloon’s color. Or any part of the testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that I wrote on the paper tied to the balloon’s string.

With my friends, I was told I was part of a “rising generation” who had an important message for the world. We were told our balloon messages would travel thousands of miles for a day or longer.

Still, I had no expectation that anyone would find my balloon or send a letter to the stake center — the address I left on my paper.

However, the moment my balloon floated away 34 years ago is seared in my memory. I was filled with the knowledge that I was a part of something bigger than myself, something that mattered — a lot.

A year later, Young Women leaders would introduce the Young Women theme, age group mission statements, motto and logo. Two years after that, we would participate in another worldwide celebration for Young Women — this time ringing bells. Again, I attended the event, called “Stand for Truth and Righteousness,” with other young women in my stake.

Years later, after coming to work for the Church News, I met Sister Ardeth G. Kapp, the Young Women general president who planned both events. A member of the Deseret News board, Sister Kapp stopped by my desk. I told her about my balloon and the message that no one found, but that sunk deep in my heart. I was newly married and did not have children. Still, Sister Kapp promised me that my daughters would one day deliver my message to the world as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ.

Years later, on Oct. 29, 2010, I attended a luncheon where members of past and present general Young Women presidencies and boards had gathered to pay tribute to Sister Kapp and the late Sister Elaine A. Cannon.

The two former Young Women general presidents laid a foundation that Church leaders continue to build upon today, said then-Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve.

During his remarks, Elder Nelson said his message was symbolized by his grandfather’s watch. Holding the watch, he explained his grandfather died when his father was in high school. “I never met my grandfather,” he said. “But I have his watch.”

And, he continued, grandfathers — without the apostrophe — watch.

“This grandfather watches what you do for our young girls,” he told the former and present leaders.

As the grandfather of 26 granddaughters, Elder Nelson said he was grateful each was taught about faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, integrity and virtue. He said it brings him peace to know that “in this world where values are questioned or ignored, there is a source to which they can turn to learn these choice values, introduced under Sister Kapp’s administration. 

“Grandfathers watch with gratitude for what you have all done,” he said.

Sister Kapp recalled working with her counselors and board to create the Young Women theme and identify Young Women values 25 years earlier.

The women, Sister Kapp said, worked as hard as they could and then took their recommendations to their priesthood leaders. Before the meeting, Sister Kapp said they knelt in prayer and asked the Lord to open the Brethren’s ears to their recommendations, if they were right and if the time was right for them to be unveiled.

At the end of the meeting, Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve stood up and said, “’Sisters, today you have not only opened up our eyes, but also our ears,’” recalled Sister Kapp. “We know Who is in charge.”

This year the Church’s Young Women organization is celebrating its sesquicentennial anniversary. Originally known as the “First Young Ladies’ Department of the Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Association,” the Young Women organization was organized on May 27, 1870 — 150 years ago today.

To celebrate President Bonnie H. CordonSister Michelle D. Craig and Sister Becky Craven of the Young Women general presidency invited young women around the world to join them in a Face to Face event on Nov. 15 to mark the 150th anniversary.

“I hope you will join us as we celebrate 150 years of Young Women, as we add our names to the long and glorious list of young women committed to follow our Savior, Jesus Christ,” said President Cordon. “The Young Women sesquicentennial celebration will be a beautiful reminder of what has been and a sacred rejoicing in what will be.”

Read more: Celebrating 150 years of Young Women with an invitation from the general presidency

For me, it will be an opportunity to remember a sweet promise given to me by Sister Kapp years ago. In fulfillment of that promise, my oldest daughter completed missionary service in December and her sister will embark as a missionary in the fall.

They are now numbered among 16 million Latter-day Saints worldwide and add their testimony to Sister Kapp’s and my own.

As a young woman, I didn’t understand the words of then-Church President Ezra Taft Benson — which became the theme for the balloon event. Now, however, as a mother, they mean everything to me. They also symbolize 150 years of young women coming to understand they are part of something much bigger than themselves.

“We say to you, ‘Arise and shine forth,’ and be a light unto the world, a standard to others,” President Benson said 1986. “You can live life joyously, beautifully. … ‘Look to this day, arise in all your splendor, and bear the standards of a world-to-be.’”