Episode 121: The Young Women general presidency on how youth are proving they ‘can do all things through Christ’
President Bonnie H. Cordon, Sister Michelle D. Craig and Sister Rebecca L. Craven talk about implementing the new ‘For the Strength of Youth’ guide
Episode 121: The Young Women general presidency on how youth are proving they ‘can do all things through Christ’
President Bonnie H. Cordon, Sister Michelle D. Craig and Sister Rebecca L. Craven talk about implementing the new ‘For the Strength of Youth’ guide
During the October 2022 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced a new “For the Strength of Youth” guide, reminding the rising generation that Jesus Christ is their strength.
This episode of the Church News podcast features the Church’s Young Women general presidency, President Bonnie H. Cordon, Sister Michelle D. Craig and Sister Rebecca L. Craven. They talk about the strength of Latter-day Saint youth, the recent worldwide devotional with Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the 2023 youth theme “I Can Do All Things Through Christ” and the lessons learned during their nearly five years of service in the Young Women general presidency.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: I have loved this year’s scripture theme, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” I love that the Lord honors our agency where He says, “I can do.” It is a choice. And I love the fact that the Lord will strengthen us, as we just try — as we strive to just be about His business, and it’s the small and the simple things where we really do see the miracles in our life. I hope we remember, and I’ve noticed this more in the youth, they expect miracles, and I hope that you will all expect miracles. And as they’re coming to know who they are, as sons and daughters of a living God, it’s remarkable to watch miracles unfold.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
During the October 2022 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced a new “For the Strength of Youth” guide, reminding the rising generation that Jesus Christ is their strength. The Young Women general presidency, President Bonnie H. Cordon, Sister Michelle D. Craig and Sister Rebecca L. Craven, join this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about the strength of Latter-day Saint youth. Welcome, ladies.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: It’s a delight to be here.
Sister Rebecca L. Craven: It is, thank you.
Sister Michelle D. Craig: We’re excited.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, thank you so much for making the time. I want to start with President Cordon, because just two days ago on Sunday, we were able to see a wonderful broadcast with you and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and President Steven J. Lund, who is the Young Men general president. Tell us a little bit about that.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: Well, it was a remarkable broadcast, and hopefully the whole world has seen it. And if you haven’t, it’s not too late. Gather your youth, and gather all them around you and enjoy an incredible opportunity. It was remarkable to go over this year’s scripture theme, which is so simple, and so powerful. And if you think that the first five words in the scripture theme, it’s kind of aspirational, “I can do all things.” And as we had this wonderful broadcast, we realized that I can do all things and if it stops right there, we fall short. But the last five words, which really does bring peace and purpose and promise to everything in our life, “through Christ, which strengtheneth me.” And so this broadcast was a wonderful time with youth, with Elder Gong, as we talked about, “What does it look like to have Christ in our lives, so we can draw strength from that in everyday settings?” And so it was really a remarkable experience.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And while taping the broadcast, you actually took a little hike.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: We took a big hike in the snow.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You know, when we see the theme and the representation of it, we see a picture of a cairn, tell us what that is.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: A cairn, which is a stack of rocks, and you see this in nature, but you see a lot of markers in nature that help kind of denote, “hey, this is where you’re supposed to be going” or a warning, “don’t go here” or “avoid this.” And so this year as we use cairns, we hope that people realize that there’s a lot of spiritual markers. So as we were hiking the mountain, which was Ensign Peak, in the snow, there was actually a few cairns that we had not placed there, that we were all taking pictures of, helping us realize where to go on the trail. So it was kind of fun to see in nature that it just happened.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And Sister Craig and Sister Craven, I’m hoping you’ll tell us something that you enjoyed about the broadcast.
Sister Michelle D. Craig: One of the things I really enjoyed about the broadcast was the variety of youth that participated. This was the first time that Sister Craven and I had seen the broadcast, so it was brand new. But I was so impressed with the youth who were actually very vulnerable and shared challenges that they’ve had in their life — a young man whose father passed away, a young man who had a speech impediment his entire life. You never would have been able to tell, but I thought of the courage of this young man now speaking in a worldwide devotional. But young women and young men who shared how they have overcome loneliness, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, death, things that are very difficult. But they’ve been able to overcome those challenges through Jesus Christ, which was very inspiring. The Lord loves these youth and He trusts them.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: Just to jump on that. Also, there was one girl that moved from Venezuela. And …
Sister Michelle D. Craig: Oh, yes.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: To hear her story, now, I wish we could have expanded on all of their stories, but when she talked about coming here, and not even speaking English, and just trying to fit in and society. There’s a lot of our young people throughout the world who are displaced. And it just brings this hope that you can draw strength from the Savior in all situations.
Sister Rebecca L. Craven: I spoke to a myriad of youth after the broadcast. And really, they said exactly what Sister Craig just mentioned. They loved the variety of youth. I think every youth could see themselves in one of the youth that were there. As adults, we can teach and preach and we can try to steer and direct our youth in a variety of ways towards the Lord. But to hear them, to hear these youth, who hopefully they could see themselves there, to talk about things that were everyday, things that were challenges, but that they heard from the youth. They heard them from youth that were a little bit older than them, or maybe a little bit younger than them, and saw how as they pointed their focus towards Jesus Christ, as they looked for those spiritual markers, that they were able to sometimes overcome a challenge. But sometimes they learned how to live through the challenge, or to get around that challenge. But they thought, “Wow, if they could do that, then I could probably do that, as well.”
I spoke to the young man that you mentioned, the one who had lost his father, talked to him afterwards and his mother. And I said, “You know, that was very vulnerable of you to share that. But do you have any idea how many youth or families can relate to that?” And his mom says, “You know, he’s really not shared that with very many people, only his close friends know. And he wasn’t going to share it. He didn’t want to share it.” She said, “But I encouraged him to. And it was a difficult thing for him to do, but because of Jesus Christ and the strength that he derived from that, from Jesus Christ, to be able to share something that was difficult, something that was very personal, others around the world will benefit from that.” That’s what I loved. I loved hearing youth talk about what the youth during the broadcast said, and how it made an impact on them.
Sister Michelle D. Craig: Can I share a scripture that I thought of when we were talking about the symbol — the cairns — and overcoming adversity? Whether it’s something big or little, we all have it, but we overcome the same way we did the life before this through Jesus Christ. But I was thinking of a scripture in Helaman 5:12 that kind of brings this together, I think. “And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation.” And then it goes on. But when we talk about the symbol of rocks, and spiritual markers, that if we keep Jesus Christ at the center, and at the foundation of what we believe, we’re going to be OK.
Sister Rebecca L. Craven: I was in Alaska this summer, during the break, and I knew that the symbol for this year was going to be the cairns. It hadn’t been announced yet, but while we were in Alaska, I found these cairns there that are in the form of a man. They’re called “inukshuk.” And I thought that was really significant. They’re really beautiful. They’re stacked and they’re very ancient. And you can get online and you can see these cairns that are, you know, 20, 30 feet tall that’re very, very ancient, but are used for the very same symbols to guide away from danger or a directional marker to get to where you need to go and back then and even marked where the good hunting was in the good fishing was. I thought it was really remarkable that they stacked these rocks in the form of a person. I thought, how symbolic was that? That really our marker is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, a man who is everything to us. He’s given us everything. He’s pointed the way. He’s provided a way back for us. So cairns are very significant to people from the beginning of time, I guess. So certainly, Jesus Christ is the Marker from the beginning of time.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: You know, it’s interesting last year’s scriptural theme was in Proverbs in the Old Testament, which was, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” So the youth have really pondered that promise of having the Savior direct thy path. And as we talk about this year, having this spiritual marker and having the Savior be our strength, it leads us into our FSY guide, “For the Strength of Youth” guide, that was announced in October, which will be a huge help for our youth, as they learn, “What is the process of drawing strength?” and what’s out there for them. We hope that as they watch, and maybe rewatch the broadcast that they had on Sunday, is that they will also ponder what the Spirit teaches them. It may not be anything that was spoken during that night, but the Spirit will impress on their heart and their mind specific things that maybe they need. And I hope they write those down and actually act on them. Because it really is a remarkable opportunity for them to receive personal revelation through the broadcast.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And we actually will talk more about the new “For the Strength of Youth” guide coming up. But one of the things that I loved about the broadcast was it modeled on a general level what is happening so effectively on a local level. And that’s that youth were teaching youth, that you had youth sharing their testimonies with others. And they can do that, and [have an] impact on each other that we can’t have on them as adults.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: And they weren’t scripted. This is from their heart. When Ammon told us, “My father passed away,” we had no idea. He told us this on the mountain. And we all just paused, and we peppered him with questions. And he was very open about his experience and how hard it was and that the only way he really was able to work through this was turning to the Savior. So we drew strength — we knew the Savior better — because of his experience he shared.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, now, let’s jump right to this new “For the Strength of Youth” guide. I think there’s still a lot of questions about this guide. Certainly, we’ve moved to a higher and holier way. What are some things you’ve learned in the few months since this has been announced?
President Bonnie H. Cordon: OK, I love what you started with, that we’ve moved to a higher and holier way. As you know, we were hiking a mountain for the broadcast. We went up Ensign Peak. And I have pondered, “What does this look like for all of us? What is a higher and holier way?” We say those two words, but I thought, “What does that look like? Can we unpack what a higher and holier way is?” So as we were on the mountain, I asked the youth, “What do you see here?” Now, Ensign peak, to get to the base is pretty high up. And they looked around and they said, “We can see so much.” And as we continued to hike, we got to probably mid mountain. I said, “Do you see anything different?” And they said, “Our perspective has increased significantly.” And as you’re climbing — as you’re working — you’re getting higher.
And I think there is a lot of symbolism when we talk about higher and holier. This new “For the Strength of Youth” guide is an opportunity for the youth to climb and understand the perspective of what the Savior wants them to know about them and their standards. And so, just like the mountain when we stood on the top, the youth were amazed at what they could see. And I think the same thing will happen as they use this “For the Strength of Youth” guide. Because it will be higher. They’ll understand, “Oh, I have more power. There’s promises that come. My impact with others changes. I am joyful. I have more friends. The things that are important to me in my life have meaning.” Because they’re climbing this higher and holier way of living. And so I think, when you said higher and holier, it just reminded me of that climb of the mountain. And sometimes we don’t see the whole perspective until after the work is done. So the Lord has asked them to come and do some work to understand how you can live these principles.
Sister Michelle D. Craig: I think it’s important to know that it’s not a relaxing of standards, that it’s not, “The rules are gone and do whatever you want.”
President Bonnie H. Cordon: They can always do whatever they want.
Sister Michelle D. Craig: And President Cordon is so good about reminding us that, that they’ve always had their agency. They’ve always been able to make their own choices. But now we hope that they’re very intentional about getting on their knees and praying to find out, “What does this look like in my life?” I love a quote from our Prophet, President Nelson, who said that, you know, we need to be disciples of Jesus Christ. And disciples of Jesus Christ talk differently, they act differently, they dress differently than the world. So as we are trying to be disciples of Jesus Christ, we find out what is the higher and holier way. And I think there are things that parents and leaders of youth can do, and conversations that they can have with youth, as they help them process this. And that it’s not just license to do anything they want.
Sister Rebecca L. Craven: It really is about, not just making choices, but making the right choice. And we have heard our Prophet over and over in the last few years, just plead with us to connect with heaven. And to know what the voice of the Lord sounds like in our lives, that we can make good choices, that we can stay on the covenant path. I think about these youth as being a chosen generation. And I remember even hearing that when I was a youth, “a chosen generation.” And I love that word, you know, “chosen.” It comes from “choice.” I think they’re a chosen generation, because of choices they’ve already made, starting at pre-councils in heaven. They made a choice to follow Heavenly Father’s plan, and therefore made a choice to trust Jesus Christ and that He would provide a way back for them.
And so this is about continuing to make good choices. And they will continue to be a choice generation as they continue to do exactly what Sister Craig just mentioned, to get on their knees and not just feel good about something, but to really, to study and to really ask Heavenly Father, “What is really the right choice? This is what I want to do.” I think Heavenly Father wants us to talk to Him about what we want to do, but we have to be, then, willing. And our youth need to be willing to listen for what Heavenly Father wants them to do. And that sometimes is a little piece that they’re missing. “This is not about what I want to do. This is what I’m going to do, what the Lord wants me to do.”
And so therefore, it’s going to take a little bit of effort, isn’t it? It’s not that simple. It can be a wrestle with the Lord to find out that some answers come easy, some don’t. But it’s the process and it will be wonderful. Because as our Prophet says, we’re not going to be able to survive spiritually without that constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. And why do we need that? So that we can make good decisions, and we can build our testimony and stay closer to the Lord.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: That’s such good insight. You know, I’m always intrigued that our Prophet knew this was coming up. When he gave that monumental address to the youth, the “Hope of Israel,” 2018. I love his piece on the “For Strength of Youth” pamphlet. And he said, “Set a standard for the rest of the world.” You know, he always has this vision that’s grander than what we, we think of it as just our personal, but he always has us looking outward. And then he said, “Embrace being different. The booklet entitled ‘For the Strength of Youth’ should be your standard.” And he says, “It is the standard that the Lord expects all his youth to uphold.” Now, he was speaking of the past booklet. But note this, he gives them counsel, “Prayerfully read it like you’ve never read it before.” Now, would that not be fabulous counsel for this one? And he says, “Mark it up. Talk about it. Discuss the standards with your friends. Decide how you can live the standards.” Now, do you notice how he puts the choice in there? And then he says something that I think is fabulous. So he says, “Decide how you will live the standards, your standards, with even more exactness.”
Now he is such a visionary. He probably knew that we were going to have this booklet that talks about principles and teaches us how to use the principles to make choices. And so, I love the confidence he gives in them to really make this your standard and live it with exactness. But do we realize that we’ll make mistakes? Absolutely. So as leaders, I hope we’re wise in allowing these youth to unpack their decision.
So once a decision is made, and they’ve carried through with this decision, I hope a week later, a month later, a couple months later, that you come back to visit this decision and say, “How has this impacted you? Has this brought you closer as a disciple of Christ to the Savior? What have you felt? What power have you brought from this choice?” So that the youth have a chance to learn how to process their decisions and listen. I hope we listen louder than we speak as we’re hearing what they are experiencing.
Sister Rebecca L. Craven: I asked a young woman after the broadcast, she was 14 years old, said, “What were your impressions of tonight?” She said, “I loved it when the youth talked about repentance.” I thought, “For a 14-year-old girl, that’s what stood out to her.” And we hope that this guide is motivating for our youth to move forward and to make some changes if they need to make changes, because repentance really is a cherished gift. We declare that in the Young Women theme and that it’s not a scary thing.
One of the youth on stage said, “Oh, but we do this every day.” And she loved that, not that she hadn’t been taught that, I’m sure she had been taught that many times. But to hear somebody else say, “We repent every day.” I thought, “That is also what this guide is about.” It’s changing to come more like our Savior, Jesus Christ. My favorite scripture about repentance is in Alma. And it’s simple. It’s part of the scripture that just says, “If ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.” And I love that doesn’t always mean we’re going to be immediately forgiven, but what it does mean is as we turn our hearts and with a sincere heart to repent, that immediately, the Savior, like the Great Marker that He is, is right there, pointing the way with us, with them, to make the changes in their lifestyle and make them happier. So I love that. I love that word “immediately.” Immediately the help is there.
Sister Michelle D. Craig: I’ve been thinking about what parents and leaders can do, as they help youth come to understand these principles, and what it means to repent and what it means to increase their spiritual capacity to receive revelation. And a week or two ago, we got an email from a very inspired bishop, who heard a young woman speak at a stake conference, about the new “For Strength of Youth” guide. And the instruction she had been given from an inspired stake president was you need to write this yourself. Don’t have your parents write this for you and be honest. And with her permission, he sent a copy of her talk. And she gave some very practical, very inspired ideas.
But one of the things that she said was, she said that, “I think knowing how to feel the Holy Ghost is very important. I have a hard time feeling spiritual things and an even harder time talking about spiritual feelings. I get embarrassed and self conscious. And I worry when I’m put on the spot to talk about it. So what can leaders do? They can maybe help us learn what it’s like for you when you feel the Holy Ghost. Talk to us about that and tell us specific stories about it. It’s not that I don’t want to feel the Holy Ghost, I just don’t know how. I think the whole point of ‘For Strength of Youth’ is to learn this lesson so we can make choices based on what the Holy Ghost is telling us. Help us take something mysterious like the Holy Ghost and help us see it as something real.”
I thought that was beautiful insight. And as parents and leaders who love youth, as aunts and uncles, we all love youth, you know. It’s all hands on deck. But maybe something we can do is help them understand what the Holy Ghost feels like. And He speaks to each of us in a language we can understand. I may feel very different than you, Sarah Jane, from President Cordon, from Sister Craven. But if we can give the youth practical, specific examples of what it’s like and help them recognize when they feel it, and maybe when they’re not feeling it. They’re probably feeling it more often than they think. That’s something we talk about.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: And one of the things — I love this — on the Holy Ghost is to help them realize that by finding truth, you can recognize [truth because] the Holy Ghost [testifies] of truth. So if you read in a conference talk, and there’s counsel from one of the prophets about a standard, there’s truth, and that the Holy Ghost is bearing testimony of that truth. It doesn’t have to be a big thing or a big feeling. It can be something that we understand or that impresses on our mind.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And, now, I’m going to do a Sarah Weaver confessional, because I like rules. And I liked the old “For Strength of Youth” guide. And I liked, as a mother, being able to scapegoat the general leaders and the Prophet. I would say, “Well, this is how it is and this is what the Prophet says. He’s asked you to dress this way and so, this is what you need to do.” And it felt very simple to me and very straightforward in parenting. And now, it feels a little more complicated. And it’s taking so much more effort, and so much more preparation and so much more prayer. So can you give me a pep talk? Tell me how to do this.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: I love how many “so’s” you had there. “So much more time,” “So many more…”
Sister Michelle D. Craig: “So much more prayer.” That’s a good thing.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: But, you know, so it’s interesting as we are being prepared as a people to greet the Savior and His Second Coming. We need a people that are prepared and [in] the Savior’s Church. And I think these youth are so much more prepared and have the capacity for this, “so much more.” They have a capacity to understand spiritual things, but they also have everything that has been thrown at them in this society. So the opportunity to learn how to stand against the wind is so important to them. Instead of having, “Here’s just the checkmarks and do this for this week,” they need to learn how to stand in this society for a lifetime.
And so I love all your “so’s.” And I hope we’re doing all of them, because I think in the long run, they’ll make those decisions over and over again. And then hopefully, they’ll put a stake in the ground and say, “This is my decision, and this is where I’m going.” But parents, we need to be all in. This is not something that you say, “Oh, so you felt you wanted to do this. Alright, go ahead.” Some of these decisions will be lifelong decisions. So we need to be there, counsel together, help study with them, be on our knees together, notice what the prophets have said, and have a standard in our homes.
Sister Michelle D. Craig: We hope that youth counsel with their parents and with their leaders for some of these big decisions, that they’re still under their parents roof and there may be guidelines that parents feel strongly about. But in the process of going to the Lord and studying it out for themselves we hope, like President Cordon said, that they internalize these decisions, that it doesn’t become their parents’ decision for them, that once they leave the home, they’re maybe going to act differently than their parents would have hoped. But through this process, and it’s harder, and it requires more effort, but in the process they gain a testimony of things that will last a lifetime.
Sister Rebecca L. Craven: Yeah, it doesn’t take away from anything prophets have said, or the Lord has said, or parents have said, or schools have said. There are some boundaries, and there are rules that are already set. And I think that’s an important distinction that I think some of the youth are saying, “Oh, it’s totally my decision.” And some of those choices are already made, because of what they’re choosing to do. If they’re on an athletic team, there are choices that are already made for them that they want to be there and they follow those rules, as well. But this generation is really different from previous generations, in that they don’t really want just to be told what to do. They want to be part of the conversation, the decisions, the talking points.
I think one of the things that made the broadcast so successful, is that our adult leaders asked the youth really inspired questions. And then let them be part of that conversation and bring up things that were difficult and personal and there was this beautiful conversation that went, because of good questions that were asked. And so I think that we need to be very aware of how this generation thinks. They’re solution-seekers, but being part of this situation allows them to own that decision. And as they move away from home, then yes, the decisions are theirs. But we hope even one step beyond that is that as they learned to make decisions and grow closer to Heavenly Father, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jesus Christ’s restored Church, becomes their church, and not just their parents’ church, because they have sought the answers that are promised in the Book of Mormon. If you seek, you know, you will find. You can know that this is true. Your parents don’t have to always be the one to tell you. Parents do need to share that, yes, but it’s important they need to know on their own and then go out into the world and live that message and share it.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: You know, it’s an interesting season. We need these youth to step up. And the reason why is because there’s a lot of families that are struggling, and these youth have the capacity to help bring light and truth to their own homes. There’s a lot of chaos and crazy things that are happening. But these youth, as the Prophet has said, they have the capacity to be smarter, wiser and have more impact than any previous generation. That’s a remarkable statement about these youth. So we believe in them. And we believe that this pamphlet, as they have an opportunity to dive in, that they will help lift this world in a remarkable way. And so as we’ve talked to youth, some of them are rule followers, like the little Emily that was in the broadcast. She said, “I just about died when I realized that my rules were gone.” But she has realized that she has had wonderful opportunities to fill the Spirit as she has studied and jumped into the booklet.
So we would encourage everyone to open it, mark it up, read the scriptures that are listed there. Really look at what the temple [recommend] questions are, and understand for yourself. Usually, it’s because we don’t really open and study that it’s not part of us. But these youth, I think will strengthen our homes. I always love asking the youth, “How can you help your father or your mother know Christ better?” And I always love the faces of the youth, like, “Do you think I could? Could I possibly do that?” And the answer is, “Yes.” And then when I give them a space to think, “What could you do?” They’re always like, “You know, I could help our family have ‘Come Follow, Me.’” “You know, I could smile more when my father comes home from work,” things that just bring light into the home. So we have complete confidence in the youth, and so does the Lord. And the Prophet has given us that vision of who they really are.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, Emily and I are kindred spirits. I do like rules too. But when we talk about “For Strength of Youth,” and we look forward to some fun things ahead, we also have FSY conferences. First year was last year, and ...
President Bonnie H. Cordon: Remarkable, by the way.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And now we’re getting ready to gear up and get people registered for another summer of these conferences. Talk to us about why those are exciting. What can we do to prepare youth for that experience?
Sister Michelle D. Craig: Well, for those of the listeners who may not be familiar with an FSY conference, they’ve been held internationally for years. And last summer was the first summer in North America, that youth, 14 through 17, were able to attend a five-day conference on a college campus, which is a remarkable opportunity. Five days of gospel learning, of fun, it’s a lot of fun, of personal study, goal setting. I think what makes it so successful is that there’s a wonderful combination of gospel learning. It’s spirit-filled and it’s so much fun. They meet other youth from all over that have similar standards. And there’s a great sense of belonging.
Each of us had an opportunity to visit an FSY conference outside of Utah. And then during the summer, different FSYs closer to home. The beginning you would see youth who are so anxious and nervous and are there because their mothers are dragging them and clearly wanted them to be there. But by the end, these same youth, with tears in their eyes, didn’t want to leave, and felt that they had been changed because of the experience they’d had at FSY.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: Well, it is remarkable. FSY has really given the youth a glimpse of the power of youth. And the power that they draw also from the young single adults. So our young single adults are our counselors. And so this might be a moment to just plug for our counselors. This is an opportunity to have a job over the summer to work as a counselor. So we would encourage men, women to apply, apply to be a counselor and change lives. You know, so many people come back from their missions and they say, “Oh, I just would love to have the Spirit again that’s in the mission.” So many of our counselors after their summer said, “I felt like I had a second mission, as I saw every week, hearts change.” And just like Sister Craig had said, it is crazy. Because this scenario that she painted is almost every week. The youth don’t want to get out of the car. They don’t want to come. “Mom’s making me.” Your mom’s kind of pushing them out and quickly shutting the door.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I feel really happy that mothers can do that. I want you to know I feel very validated in the fact that it’s OK to push them to that conference.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: Don’t you love that? And what I love is how the Spirit gently helped them to stay. Some of them said, “OK, I’m only staying one day.” Then they’d call their mom and say, “OK, maybe I’ll stay two days.” But at the end, the sweet opportunity to hear them just express how the Spirit has taught them, and [they are] completely different. And where they felt the Spirit, in that whole week, depended on an activity. Sometimes they were playing a game, and they knew that they belonged, or they were in the quiet of their own dorm room. But throughout the United States, throughout the whole world, these youth are coming to know their Savior. And I think that’s the power of FSY, is that they have an opportunity to realize, “I can stand with the help of my Savior, and come work may in my life, He will walk with me through my trials.” And that’s a pretty powerful understanding. I think that’s why they’re so grateful they came.
Sister Rebecca L. Craven: I think one of the great blessings of FSY, this feeling of belonging that the youth have as they come together. Last year, after one of the first sessions of FSY, I talked to a 14-year-old young man, just wanted to have his impressions on FSY. I asked him some questions and he responded and I asked him about the dances. I said wasn’t that fun?
President Bonnie H. Cordon: Oh the dances ...
Sister Rebecca L. Craven: The dances. So he said, “Oh, the Tuesday night dance was really lame.” I said, “Well, what about the Friday dance?” He says, “Oh, the Friday dance was so fun.” I thought there was no difference. The same people were there. It was the same music. It was the same DJ. So what was the difference? The difference was the Spirit. The difference was the friends that he had made there. So dance to dance, there was nothing technically different between the two, other than time spent together with youth that are trying to do the same thing as all the youth are doing there, trying to find a place to belong and trying to find others who are maybe struggling a little bit, as they are the only youth in their school or the only youth in their family, that are trying to live the gospel, or those with questions. But at the end of the week, you start asking the youth you know, beyond the dances, which by the way, you can feel the Spirit in a dance and you can feel the Spirit in the game. But what was that they were taking home? And how many youth, probably a good majority, would say, “I want to keep studying my scriptures that way I learned to read and study my scriptures at FSY.”
So amongst all the fun, by the time they go home, they have learned better how to feel the Spirit by praying and reading the scriptures. And it means so much to them, that it’s a habit that they want to take home. This was a lot like EFY was. We had a couple of children that go to EFY. And, boy, they’d come home on Friday, and we were just, “OK, here they come.” And we knew that they were going to call us to repentance. They’re going to call the whole family to repentance, because they’ve had this spiritual week. And we hope our youth are doing that. We hope our youth are going home and just saying we can do better at home. We can study the scriptures, we can do “Come, Follow Me.” We need to get up and go to sacrament meeting. We need to be kinder to each other. So we hope that they’re carrying this home and strengthening their families.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: Yeah, so good. Yeah, it’s interesting. I have noticed that the youth really draw different things from FSY. What I have noticed is they’re drawing actions that they’re taking away. They’re bringing things home, like, “I need to get my patriarchal blessing. I need to have that signpost that will help me continue through my life.” Or, “You know, now I’ve decided I’m going to go on a mission.” So I have been intrigued on how the Spirit has helped them make choices. And we see that, because they’re fighting answers as they’re reading their scriptures, in things that have been near and dear to their heart, or a prayer or a friend has lifted them. So FSY has given them a little bit of a microcosm of what a mission might be like, and what life is as you just gather people together.
And I think that’s why our Prophet has said, the gathering of Israel is the greatest thing we can do. And I think they feel that as they’re gathering together as youth, they’re realizing, “There is power and gathering in unto Christ.” And so it’s been a remarkable summer. We look forward to 2023. I hope that every mother who’s listening, every grandma who’s listening and grandpa, and brother or sister, help your youth sign up, because it will be one of those monumental things in their lives that will help them move forward.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I also want to talk to you about the time that you have served as a general Young Women presidency and had an opportunity to have these youth influence and strengthen you and your testimonies. Can each of you share some of the highlights of the time that you have served in this capacity?
Sister Rebecca L. Craven: I think one highlight that I think all three of us share is just that greater sense, not that we didn’t know before, but this greater sense of how much the Lord loves His youth. You think about all the things that have just happened in the last little while, different changes that have been made, just this “Strength of Youth” guide that we’ve been talking about, this greater trust in the youth to make good decisions. Heavenly Father loves them. The Lord loves them. And I think a highlight that goes along with that was the writing, the creation of the new Young Women theme. It was, like the scriptures say, “a wrestle with the Lord.” He really wanted them to know some very specific things for this time that they’re living in.
That was a spiritual journey for me. As we fasted and prayed, as we continued to go to the temple, as we sought help from heaven and great people, it was remarkable where it ended up. And it really was just a very tender, sweet thing to me. And even looking back at it now, just discovering things there that may not have been intentional at the time. But the Lord knew that they needed to be there. We’re recognizing great things there. It is packed with doctrines and principles of identity, purpose, belonging. To me, that was one of the highlights, is recognizing, with no intentions of changing the theme to start with, but recognizing that the Lord needed something adjusted for these great young women of the time. That’s a favorite.
Sister Michelle D. Craig: That’s a special one. I think one of the things that personally has really come to settle on me and when I think about our service, as a Young Women presidency, and I think really just want to bear a testimony that President Cordon has been called by a prophet of God, and to see the Holy Ghost rest on her as she has received very specific revelation and impressions. And Sister Craven and I tried our best to keep up with her as she tries to keep up with the Prophet. But a feeling that has come very strongly too is the importance of having our youth be actively engaged in the work of salvation and exaltation. And to have that focus, that is what will save our youth, being involved in the work of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, the work of salvation and exaltation.
And I think the focus on class leadership, not that every single girl in that ward is not loved and valued and needed. But like was mentioned earlier, our youth have a great capacity to gather in their peers. They have to know what it is to feel the Holy Ghost, to get on their knees and seek revelation for others. And so I think, as we have focused on leadership, and class leadership and mentoring adults who can help these young, powerful leaders know what it is to bring others to Jesus Christ. That has been a wonderful emphasis and learning from me just how needed our youth are, and how, as adults, we have the responsibility and the privilege of mentoring and guiding and helping them come to Jesus Christ. It’s why we do what we do. It’s why everybody does what they do. Because we love Jesus Christ, and we are trying to prepare a people that will be ready when He returns.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: I love your question. You know, it’s been a remarkable almost five years. And as we stop and think about, we were put in at the same time as President Nelson was in that April conference of 2018. And what a blessing it has been for our presidency. President Nelson runs, and so it’s been a delight to run. And these youth have responded so great to see all of the adjustments. Now you think of Young Women’s, we used to have all these names. We have our Beehives, Mia Maids and Laurels in English. And in other languages, it was totally different. But now they have a unifying name of “Young Women.” And it has been powerful for them to divide their classes how they see fit in a ward.
We’ve asked them to step up and lead their classes. And for them to understand, “What does it look like to have priesthood authority, when hands are laid on your head to be over a class as a president and counselors?” And they’ve been on their knees, I mean, little 11-year-olds. It’s just remarkable. I had one little 11 year old, I was there when she was set apart to be a counselor and a presidency. After her setting apart, she came with beautiful, crocodile tears in her eyes. And she said, “President Cordon, I just want to be a help to the Lord.” I thought, “Of course you do.” What I loved is her young women leader was standing right by her. And she said, “And I will help you. I have some five leadership lessons that will help you so that you’ll know the scaffolding and understand how this works.” And that little girl turned to her leader and said, “I knew you would.” I just thought, “Bless your heart.”
You could see them, you can see the leader realizing she has been given the priesthood authority for a class. And now I can help her have success in her calling. But it’s really she was helping her come to know the Savior, as this little girl helps everyone else come to know the Savior. So these five years, what we’ve learned probably more than anything, is the Lord knows His daughters of God. He knows them.
And in the Young Women theme we have been truly amazed.As this process happened, like Sister Craven was talking about, it was a process and a wrestle. And as everything finally got settled, and the Prophet and the First Presidency put their stamp of approval on the Young Women theme, months later, as we were studying it, you notice what we found, which was remarkable? The doctrine of Christ is in the Young Women’s theme. And that’s how we know it’s from heaven. We would never have even dreamed of putting the doctrine of Christ. But faith is in there, repentance, covenants, the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. So the Lord is doing His work through very imperfect people. And He is preparing His people so that when He comes again, we will be ready to receive Him. And so we love the young women. And these five years have been five years of a lot of change. And the young women have been glorious in what they’re doing to change homes, change lives and to build their testimony on the Savior.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m glad you mentioned, so much has happened in the Church in recent years. And you know, before the COVID-19 pandemic, President Nelson traveled to 35 countries in just about 19 months. And he would speak to the members in large and small settings. And he would usually meet with a group of youth before. When he was in Colombia, there was a group of youth that had gathered, and they were waiting to meet with President Nelson and it was kind of chaotic, and people were in and out of the room and, and I had been assigned to go on that trip, and I was in and out of the room. And I remember turning around at one point, and seeing all of these 12 youth kneeling in a circle, praying for strength and guidance as they were preparing to meet the Prophet. And the faith that they had is something that I’ve never forgotten that strengthened me, because they knew that they could do all things through the Savior, and that He would strengthen them, just as the theme in Philippians teaches them.
And so as we conclude today, I’m hoping each of you can answer the same question that we have everyone asked at the end of the Church News podcast, and then share your testimonies. We always give our guests the last word. And so we’ll go in reverse order and start with Sister Craven and then go to Sister Craig and end with President Cordon. But as you contemplate the theme for 2023 for the youth, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” what do you know now?
Sister Rebecca L. Craven: Every now and then, somebody will ask, usually a youth, “What did you do to prepare yourself for the calling that you have now?” And the answer is really simple. I didn’t do anything different than what they are doing right now. I said my prayers. I read my scriptures. I attended my meetings. And I said, “yes,” you know, at a young age, to say that scripture in primary, or to give a talk in sacrament meeting, or even at the time Sunday school, we did those little two and a half minute talks, was just saying, “yes.” And for a pretty shy girl, that was really hard for me. But what I learned is, if I said, “yes,” the Lord would make it possible for me to fulfill either the responsibility or the invitation that I was given, to serve or do something that innately was very, very difficult for me.
And so as I have pondered this scripture, this theme for this year, it’s actually been a huge reflection on my own life, and my inadequacies and my weaknesses, but realizing that I can trust in the Lord, as last year’s theme so beautifully states, and that He will strengthen me to do things that I’ve never done before, or things that might test, you know, feelings of anxiety, because they’re new. But I do have a testimony that we can trust in the Lord. As we hope for wonderful eternal blessings, that we trust Him, that we gain this confidence in Him, that He will help us to do all good and righteous things. That’s not just in the Church. That in our communities, in our homes, in our jobs, in our schools, whatever it is, that is good and right, that the Lord will help us to do things that are, beyond our capacity, help us to build a little confidence, not necessarily in ourselves, but confidence in Him and in the Holy Ghost.
And we can do remarkable things. Anybody can do remarkable things, because He works with the simple and the weak. And I raised my hands twice on that, because I fit that category. So as a preparation, we do the small and simple things. And as we do that, the Lord can strengthen us to do the hard and complex. I know that He is our Savior. I know that this is His Church. I know that there’s great joy here, as we continue to follow Him, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Sister Michelle D. Craig: I love Sister Craven and President Cordon. They are remarkable disciples of Jesus Christ. And that truly has been a sweet blessing of our service together, learning from each other, and they are wonderful disciples of Jesus Christ, who are just as good on the inside. What you see is what you get. They are remarkable. But I love how Sister Craven was talking about just saying, “yes.” And I think that when I think about the theme found in Philippians, “I can do all things,” that first part. It’s action. It’s moving our feet. It’s faith made visible. We’re doing those good things that we are asked to do. And we can do them, because of Jesus Christ. That is grace, His grace that enables us to do and be more than we ever could on our own. And I am grateful for the grace of Jesus Christ, and have seen miracles.
The Lord will find us when we’re doing our duty, when we’re doing the things that we have been asked to do. And we live in a beautiful, wonderful time. There are a lot of complexities and a lot of difficulties, but it’s a beautiful time. And our Prophet, I loved hearing him say again, in conference last October that in coming days, we would see some of the greatest manifestations of the Lord’s goodness that the world has ever seen. And we are blessed to be part of that. And we know that the youth will be part of that.
And I know that Jesus Christ lives, that this is His Church, that there is a prophet who leads us. And I don’t know that better just because of my calling the last five years. But I know that because the Holy Ghost has borne witness to my heart and my soul that this is God’s Church, that Jesus Christ lives, that He has a prophet on the earth, that the Book of Mormon truly is the word of God translated by a young boy prophet. And what a privilege it is for all of us to be engaged in this work in our different capacities. Christ lives and I say these things in His name, Jesus Christ, amen.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: Now, do you see why I have the best counselors in the world? They are remarkable. And it has been a joy. When we recalled, everyone realized that we all had “C” as our last name, you, there’s a Cordon, Craig and Craven, and it was alphabetical. So I think the hand of the Lord was in there, because I think He does like to have fun with all of these things. As I think about these last five years, joy. This has been a joyful opportunity to serve. And it’s been joyful, because the gospel of Jesus Christ is really joy. And we have seen this manifested, no matter where we are in the world. I have loved the scripture this year, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” I love that the Lord honors our agency, where He says, and in this scripture, “I can do.” It is a choice. And I love the fact that the Lord will strengthen us, as we just try, as we strive to just be about His business. And it’s the small and the simple things where we really do see the miracles in our life.
I hope we remember, and I’ve noticed this more in the youth, they expect miracles. And I hope that you will all expect miracles. And I think, as we think of that theme, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” it is the small and simple things that we really do see the miracle of His hand in our lives. I just bear testimony that the Lord lives, and that His work will continue to roll forth. And it has hastened in this last little bit and will continue to hasten. We have watched with eyes of wonder, as these youth have gone on missions, as these youth are going on missions, as these youth are stepping up to love each other, as these youth are having the courage to come into Young Men and Young Women, as they get their first necklace of belonging, as they memorize a theme. And as they’re coming to know who they are, as sons and daughters of a living God and their divine potential to become like Them.
It’s remarkable to watch miracles unfold. And I just bear testimony that Christ lives, that it is through Him, through His grace through His infinite Atonement, that we can return to His presence. I’m grateful for a prophet that sees and knows and understands the will of the Lord. I’m so grateful that as we open up our scriptures, that answers come, comfort comes. And we can be blessed with extra support through our scriptures. And most of all, I’m very grateful for prayer, where we can fall on our knees in simple prayer, and be heard by a Father in Heaven, who loves us and we can end our prayer in the name of the Savior. I know the Savior lives. He loves us and He is our Redeemer. He makes it all possible for us to return back to our heavenly home. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor, Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.