How a ‘miraculous’ river crossing at the Johannesburg FSY taught youth to ‘trust in the Lord’

Over 500 youth made it across the flooded river, either on the backs of YSAs or on their own with the help of safety ropes

The night before more than 500 youth would travel to a For the Strength of Youth conference in South Africa in December 2022, there was an intense rain storm.

Lightning, thunder and a tumultuous downpour went through the night and continued into the morning.

To reach Konka — the venue of the Johannesburg FSY conference — buses needed to travel some distance on dirt roads and cross a river using a low-water bridge to enter the facility. However, due to the storm, the river had risen so high that it was not possible to use the bridge.

The venue of a For the Strength of Youth conference at Konka, near Rustenburg, South Africa, is shown flooded due to heavy rains on Dec. 12, 2022. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“We began praying that the rains would subside soon or there would be no accessing the facility when the youth were to begin arriving at 11 a.m.,” wrote Lee Wright, Johannesburg FSY session director, in an article on the Church’s Africa Newsroom.

“As we prayed to know what to do, the words of President [Russell M.] Nelson kept coming to mind — ‘Seek and expect miracles.’ Yet as we prayed it seemed the rain was simply becoming more intense.”

The year prior, on the day FSY was to begin, the conference had to be canceled because the omicron variant of COVID-19 was quickly spreading. Session leaders did not want to have to cancel FSY again at the last minute.

With the help of young single adult counselors who had arrived the day before, Wright and others inspected the bridge to see if it would be possible for youth to cross by foot.

“We observed that most of the bridge straddled the river, but if we were to use it, the youth would still have to cross a portion of the river in at least knee-deep water that was running swiftly for the last 30 meters,” Wright wrote.

“We asked the Konka staff to begin setting up ropes across the bridge, emphasizing that we would not take any risks with the youth, many of whom do not swim at all. If it was clear we could cross the river safely, we would go forward with this plan.”

A few hours before the youth began to arrive, Wright reminded the YSA counselors of the story of the Martin handcart company crossing the Sweetwater River in Wyoming on Nov. 4, 1856. A few members of the rescue party — all young adults — volunteered to carry the entire company across the frigid river.

“I then asked, ‘Who is willing to carry on this tradition and carry our 530 youth across the river this morning so a different kind of rescue can continue today, right here?’

“The YSAs leapt to their feet volunteering in excitement to be a rescuer for the 2022 FSY and carry our youth across the river. They ran to their dorm rooms and changed into suitable clothing, knowing they were about to get very wet and dirty in the river and mud,” Wright wrote.

As the youth participants arrived, they removed their shoes and socks and pulled up their pant legs as far as they could. They held onto ropes while crossing the river. YSA counselors carried suitcases and bedding across the footbridge.

Bags are handed across a flooding river on Dec. 12, 2022, to get to the venue for a For the Strength of Youth conference held at Konka, near Rustenburg, South Africa. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“Over 500 youth made it across the river, either on the backs of YSAs or picking their own cautious paths across the river whilst holding onto the safety ropes,” Wright wrote.

“A few hours later, the rain began to lessen. We had made it, and the FSY experience could go forward.”

Throughout the week several analogies were made to the river crossing relating to the theme “Trust in the Lord.”

“The YSAs acting as counselors not only carried and guided the youth across a literal river, but then spent the week teaching and strengthening the youth in a way that has had a deep and meaningful impact — teaching them and sharing tools for navigating an increasingly difficult world. Lives have been forever changed,” Wright wrote.

Brother Ahmad S. Corbitt, first counselor in the Young Men general presidency, joined the FSY via Zoom. Reflecting on their river crossing, he spoke about the symbol of holding tight to the rope, trusting leaders, working together hand in hand, and how marvelous things happen when trusting in the Lord.

“I hope you will be forever changed and take home a commitment to be permanent. And if you slip along the way, repent and still be permanent,” Brother Corbitt told the youth.

Read more about the Johannesburg FSY river crossing on the Church’s Africa Newsroom website.

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