Beginning in 2022 youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world will have a unified experience as they participate in For the Strength of Youth conferences as the anchor to the Children and Youth program.
The unified experience comes later than expected thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the delay doesn’t diminish its importance or role.
A slow but strong start
Youth outside of the United States and Canada have already been participating in FSY conferences for years. Some youth inside the U.S. and Canada participated in pilot FSY conferences in both countries to prepare for next year’s launch.
One group attended an FSY on the campus of Brigham Young University this past August. Members of the Young Women general presidency and the Young Men general presidency joined the conference to both teach and learn from the youth.
“It’s fun to watch over those five days, as they grow in their understanding of the Savior,” said Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon.
In contrast to traditional youth conferences, FSY allows young men and young women to attend conferences during the same year as peers from their ward or stake, but does not require them to attend together as a ward or stake.
“This means they’re going to connect on a different level when they are together as a ward,” President Cordon said. “They’ll ask each other what they learned and share unique experiences.”
The right expectations
Whitney Fillmore is originally from Ghana and now lives in Utah. The 18-year-old young woman had cousins who attended FSY and encouraged her to attend, as well. She said she saw it make a big difference in their lives.
“After FSY they wanted to share more things in our family home evenings and when we were with our extended family,” she said. “They were better examples of living the gospel than they were before they went.”
President Cordon said it doesn’t take long for youth to recognize the Holy Ghost when they are in the right environment.
“It’s humbling to see how quickly the Spirit can open hearts as they choose to act on those promptings that they’re getting,” President Cordon said.
The setting is one part of the success of FSY. The patterns taught in that setting are another, according to Brother Bradley R. Wilcox, second counselor in the Young Men general presidency.
“Many of these young people have never read the scriptures consistently for more than one day at a time,” Brother Wilcox said. “To have that chance to read from the scriptures and share what they’re learning in a group of their peers sets a pattern that they can continue.”
Cooper White, a 15-year-old young man from Draper, Utah, agreed with Brother Wilcox when asked what part of FSY would be most impactful for him when he returned home.
“I really like how much we studied scriptures like every morning for a whole hour,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed that so much. I’m going to take that home with me.”
Being asked to study the scriptures wasn’t a new concept for White. But doing so with peers and hearing their perspectives on what they studied helped him see the scriptures differently.
Brother Wilcox said this type of learning comes in addition to the classes, devotionals, service and other activities the youth participate in during FSY.
“They have a chance to not only learn from dynamic teachers and counselors, but they have a chance to gain a pattern of personal study throughout the week,” Brother Wilcox said.
An integral part of Children and Youth
Fillmore wanted to be in an environment where she could appreciate the scriptures more by attending FSY.
“I wanted to learn how to study the scriptures more and understand the purpose of studying them,” she said.
Each young woman or young man comes with personal goals and hopes. Brother Wilcox said that their personal growth is about more than achieving goals, though.
“A lot of young people think that personal development is just about goal setting,” he said. “At FSY they learn that it’s about receiving personal revelation. It’s not, ‘What does the book tell me to do?’ It’s, ‘What is God telling me to do?’”
That is the reason FSY plays such an integral role with the Children and Youth program, Brother Wilcox said. It is why parents and leaders need to give it the proper emphasis with their youth.
“This needs to become a priority over all else because it will then affect all else,” he said. “Parents need to see this not just as an offering in the buffet. No, this is the main course. Parents need to encourage attendance.”
While FSY only happens once every two years for most youth, it helps lay the groundwork for participation in the program.
“FSY is not an addition to the program,” Brother Wilcox said. “It is literally the center of the program. It is the core of the program.”
Individual strands knit together
When they enroll, each young man or young woman is assigned to a company of other youth for the week. In studying individually and as a group, the youth have many chances to share their feelings and thoughts about what they read.
“I’ve noticed that for some, the first day of sharing was kind of scary for them,” President Cordon said. “But by day four they realize it’s a safe place, and people are sharing how they know the Savior and it’s so sweet.”
After a week of studying, learning, serving, singing, praying and dancing together, each group is more than just a handful of individual youth.
“Their hearts start knitting together,” President Cordon said. “And they’ll all be in tears on Saturday as they leave because they have gained new friends, they’ve laughed a lot, they’ve played a lot, they’ve understood the scriptures better, and they’ve listened to the voice of the Lord.”
Fillmore said she saw youth sharing experiences with each other even when they didn’t know each other before FSY.
“We’re all here for one purpose, and that’s to draw closer to the Spirit,” she said.
President Cordon said she sees this as part of each individual’s personal journey with help from other individuals with similar goals.
“More than anything, they’ve journeyed to the Savior with new friends for five days,” President Cordon said.
Fillmore said she sees that bigger purpose after a week at FSY.
“Heavenly Father actually wants us to come to FSY because He loves us and He wants us to expand our knowledge of the things we already know,” she said.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s so fun, very spiritual.”
As for White, he wasn’t sure what to expect from FSY.
“I kind of just pictured it as like Sunday School all day,” he said. “By the end of day one, I was like, this is not what I was expecting. This is way better.”
And for those who, like he was, aren’t sure if they should attend?
“I definitely recommend doing it — 100%.”