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Episode 144: Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon on the lessons learned while serving children, youth

President Bonnie H. Cordon reflects on her historic time in general Church leadership — including the COVID-19 pandemic, the creation of the ‘For the Strength of Youth’ standards guide and the implementation of the Children and Youth program

Weeks before Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon completes her calling as a general officer of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she joins the Church News podcast to share the joy of service, recent inspired changes to Church organization and the peace that comes by turning to the Savior Jesus Christ.

Since being sustained as a member of the Primary general presidency in 2016 and then as Young Women general president in 2018, she has served through an important time in Church history, including responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the implementation of the Children and Youth program and the creation of a new Young Women theme and “For the Strength of Youth” standards guide.

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Transcript:

President Bonnie H. Cordon: I love looking at a ward youth council. I love sitting there with the bishop and hearing those youth counsel together, the power that they come with these ideas; they are fresh, I am like, “I would never have thought of that.” So, you can see that they have been uniquely prepared before coming here. I also love their energy to be part of a cause. And when they realize their cause is the cause of Christ, they truly are lifting. So, the power of these youth, their capacity to change the world, is great. And as we give them spaces and places for them to know the Savior, and they are seeing that in a world of chaos, there is a peace in Christ.

1:00

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.

1:19

Sarah Jane Weaver: On March 31, 2018, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sustained President Bonnie H. Cordon as Young Women general president. She joins this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about her time serving the youth of the Church, which included a worldwide pandemic, new age group progressions, changes to what youth can do in the temple, involving young women in ministering, FSY camps, the rollout of Children and Youth, and so much more. Thank you so much for joining the podcast.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: It is such a delight. What a remarkable season to be able to serve.

The Young Women general presidency — from left to right, Sister Michelle D. Craig, President Bonnie H. Cordon, and Sister Rebecca L. Craven — participate in the 2021 BYU Women’s Conference on April 29, 2021, at the BYU Marriott Center in Provo, Utah | BYU Photo

1:55

Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, this has certainly been a historic time. I want to start and just have you reflect on some of the annual youth themes that have taken place during your time in the Young Women, because I love these themes, this idea of going and doing and trusting in the Lord and that we can do all things.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Don’t you love those taglines? And, you know, they actually come from scriptures. So every year, what we do is, whatever scripture we are studying that year — like this year, we are doing New Testament; next year, it is Book of Mormon — the theme will come from a scripture there in the Book of Mormon or, like, in the New Testament. So, you know, just as a few: 2018, when we started, it was “Peace in Christ.” So many people loved that song, and I hope you listen to it often. 2019, “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” 2020, “Go and do.” 2021, “A great work.” 2022, “Trust in the Lord”; that was one of my favorites. And 2023, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” We love that last one because it is only 10 words. We can do that one.

3:06

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and during your time, we also unveiled a new Young Women theme. Talk to us about that.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Yeah, that was a revelatory experience. We were so grateful to be part of that experience. Heaven was very near to that theme. As we started, it really was just to adjust the theme to take out the listed virtues — you know, choice and accountability, and knowledge, and all of those that were listed — because now it was open to all of the virtues and all the attributes of Christ, and what we are going to do with the new Children and Youth. But as we started, I was so touched with how impressions came and revelation came of “It needs to be personal.”

“I am a beloved daughter of heavenly parents.” We mirrored that after the family proclamation, and it is an important doctrine that the young women need to know. But what was really remarkable is it tells not only their identity as a beloved daughter of God, or as a disciple of Christ, or being a witness of God; it also tells her purpose. And probably a couple months after it was out, I started studying the theme. And I was amazed at — the doctrine of Christ is embedded in the theme. So faith, repentance, covenants, baptism, Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. And I thought, “That is so amazing how the Lord inspired and placed those pieces in the theme.”

And so, as those young women say the theme, I hope it does not become just rote, but they understand and unpeel some of the layers and say, “What does this mean to me, and who am I, and what is my purpose?” So, it has been a really remarkable opportunity to be part of that theme.

5:00

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and one of the changes that have happened in the last five years is one that I think is so important. My husband just returned from an Aaronic priesthood activity. They were river rafting in rafts down a river. And I was kind of giving him a hard time because he was a little tired. And he said, “Look, I had four 11-year-olds in my boat.” And he kind of reminded me they feel kind of young. Talk about this idea that now children progress the year they are going to turn 12, so there are some young men and young women who are involved in youth activities for much of the year they are 11.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: That is true. So we had age group progression that started. And so, what that means is everyone in January, if they are going to be turning 12 or 13 or 14, that is when they progress, in January. So if you turned 12, you know, in that last month, December, you would still be going at the age of 11. But what is remarkable is these youth are ready. And some of them have been, even at age 11, are called and set apart to be class or quorum presidents.

In fact, I was at a setting apart of a young woman, and she was 11. And when the brethren put their hands on her head to set her apart to be the second counselor in this presidency, I could not even see her cute little head. And afterwards, she came up and said, “Oh, I just want to serve the Lord and do exactly what He wants me to do.” And I thought, “That is a heart, a vision.” And so, I was so grateful that she had that, and she had leaders right there ready to just help her know what she was going to do.

So these young people, age progression has been really helpful because they go with their friends. Instead of going one by one on their birthdays, now they get to go to the next age altogether, and that is very helpful. It also allows Young Women leaders in a ward to look at all of the young women and say, “How many classes do we actually need?” For our ward, we just need one class. Some other wards, they need five classes because there are so many young women. And they know that on that January calendar, they can all be a group.

President Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president, speaks during the Saturday morning session of the 191st Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Oct. 2, 2021. | Cristy Powell, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

7:27

Sarah Jane Weaver: And since we are on this topic, we ran an article several years ago in the Church News that was just so funny for people who are familiar with our culture, because it was a man who had attended sacrament meeting for the first time and was listening to a story of a Young Women leader who had taken her Beehives to the beach. And, you know, so now we no longer use those names that are so near and dear to us but actually had some confusion or could cause confusion, especially in a worldwide Church.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: They were endearing, weren’t they? And for that season, so needed. But since we are a worldwide Church, they did not translate very well. You know, in Brazil, a Mia Maid, they did not know how to translate Mia Maid, so it just became “Girl Girl.” In Russian, they became Constellations. And so, the challenge of translation was hard. Plus, we realized that our Young Women classes are not always in three buckets. So the opportunity for them to structure their young women in each unit, according to what they need, has also been helpful. So for this season, those special names for three buckets have kind of been put on pause, and they are known as young women. So, someone who is 11 and someone who is 18 can come together unified as young women, similar to what we do in Relief Society.

8:51

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I love that. I want to talk a little more about the international Church and especially women’s organizations. During your time of service, the special calling area organizational adviser was instituted. Tell us what that is and how that helps general leaders.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Well, first, I’ve got to step back and praise COVID. COVID has been our friend, and it has actually been the youths’ friend, also. I think COVID was for a lot of things that needed to help the international Church and all of us kind of move forward in a way that we could communicate.

So — we had been talking for years — so the last seven years, as I’ve sat in a general officer chair, we have been talking about the need for women who live in a certain culture to be able to really train and give resources to Primary and to Young Women’s and to Relief Society that come into a stake calling. And that stake calling is then going to be the resource for the wards or the branches. But we really did not have that, and it was difficult to get from a general level right down to that stake level. So, this area organization calling are sisters that actually report to the area presidency in their area. And then we are just resource for them to do the training.

So, our council members will work with the sisters in Asia on “What does Young Women’s look like? How do you make it simple?” And they also work with them on the other organizations. So, these sisters are all over the world, depending on the area; it depends on how many there are. In Mexico, there are only three, but in the Pacific, there are over eight. And they have this impact to be able to be that resource for those sisters, and they also counsel with the area presidency on the needs in the area that they can help move forward as needed.

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10:52

Sarah Jane Weaver: I am glad that you mentioned that you have actually served in general Church leadership for seven years. Before becoming Young Women general president, you spent two years as a counselor to Sister Joy D. Jones in the Primary general presidency. And so, you have had the opportunity to sort of contemplate the journey of a young woman from the time she is in Primary to when she is turning 8, getting baptized, making covenants and beginning her journey on the covenant path through Young Women. What has that been like?

President Bonnie H. Cordon: You know, it has been fun to see the lens of Primary and see some of the things that we could do to move that forward. One of the things that we adjusted in Primary in that, was it used to be Priesthood Preview; you know, the young men used to come, the little boys, and talk about what it was going to look like to go into Young Men’s and be — and the priesthood conferred upon them. Now we have the Temple and Priesthood Preparation. So now the young women, or those wonderful Primary girls, have a chance to come together and talk about, “What does it look like to be able to attend the temple and come into Young Women’s?” So, that was one of the things, you know, six years ago, we put in place so that the Primary would have some stepping stones into Young Women.

12:14 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I am so glad that you mentioned that some really great things came out of the COVID pandemic, because we did learn to communicate; we learned that the world is very small. Suddenly, as we were all facing the same foe, which was this global pandemic, we felt more united with brothers and sisters in countries in many, many places. This was also a time when so many of our youth were isolated, when they dealt with the loss of loved ones, when they missed out on a lot of really great events — high school graduation, prom, different sporting events that they may have prepared for. What do you think our youth learned in this time that had so many trying things?

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Well, you bring up a good point that probably the youth suffered the most, I would say, during COVID, because it was very isolating. And this is a time when you start looking outward and developing those skills to include others into your world. So, it was isolating. In fact, as we started FSY — again, throughout the world; now FSY is worldwide — many of them were anxious to go, to be in a gathering of so many youth. And we saw that 2022 was our first full-blown FSY.

There were many conversations with Young Women leaders, with bishops: “What does this look like? How do I actually go and participate in something so big?” And I am noticing now in 2023, we are having less of that. So they are rolling out, but it was a challenge. This was one of those hard things. However, the opportunity in their families to do and have sacrament meeting was very impactful, to a point where I think many of them realized they could have a voice in their family, that they could actually teach and be part of it.

In fact, FSY, I had one mother say, “When my daughter comes home, how can I really understand and move forward what she learned?” And I said, “I would encourage you that you could learn from her. And you might ask the question, ‘How did you come to know Christ, and how can I know Him better? Teach me.’”

14:40

Sarah Jane Weaver: I could talk about FSY all day. FSY is For the Strength of Youth conferences. They are held all over the world and also involve young adult counselors, which can serve as mentors for these youth. And you rolled out Children and Youth just before the pandemic, and I think that was kind of a hard thing. It was, especially for me, because I have children, and it felt like, “OK, now I have this new program. I am not really sure how to do that.” FSY is part of that. Let’s talk about Children and Youth, and where we are with it now and what you were trying to accomplish with this world out.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: That is a great segue because it was a challenge. Here is this new Children and Youth, and everything stopped. COVID may have been the friend, because we had a chance to pause for a minute and watch where the strengths of the Children and Youth program were. One of the huge strengths were class and quorum presidencies, to really understand that those young people need to lead out, understanding what is setting someone apart — that you actually are giving delegated priesthood authority — and having them be part of the ward youth council and be a support in issues with a ward that the bishops are struggling with. 

In fact, one bishop said to me, “I am really worried about the graduation of some of my girls.” And I said, “Why is that?” “Because they have been such a support as class presidencies that I am not sure how I am going to do the ward without them.” And so I said, “Well, it is an opportunity to train some new class presidencies.” So, those have been good things. Activities, they were very creative in how to do activities. When, you know, we went down to two hours, and they realized how they could be more focused in their gospel service, gospel learning.

The one area that we still are struggling with is personal development. And we have some phenomenal ideas, things that we hope will help them have a personal development that will enhance their coming to Christ. And so, we look forward to that in the near future. I think this will be a remarkable move forward. Where we were was a wonderful segue, but it will be a new level and more abundant in our understanding of how to come to the Savior.

Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Elder Kim B. Clark and Chad H. Webb pose for a photo after filming a video regarding the First Presidency announcement that seminary curriculum will align with “Come, Follow Me.” | Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

17:05

Sarah Jane Weaver: And you brought this up, and I think I had forgotten, that also during this time, we have an announcement by President Russell M. Nelson that says we are going to move to a home-centered, Church-supported curriculum, which will result in two-hour Sunday meetings. And it also meant that young women would meet every other week. And then as a result of sort of that “Come, Follow Me” home-centered approach, we also saw a shift where the youth are studying in “Come, Follow Me” the same curriculum that they study in seminaries. So, let’s talk about “Come, Follow Me.”

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Yeah, let’s talk about “Come, Follow Me.” That was a huge shift. And maybe it is because it has been a few years, we have forgotten what an enormous shift that was. And there were some key players, one being the brother over Seminaries and Institutes, and I’ve got to do a shoutout for Chad Webb, to have a heart to look at something differently. 

When I was first put in, and every Young Women president and every Young Men’s president and the Sunday school even had said, “We need to get on the same scripture study as we do at church.” Of course, there was a lot of obstacles. But as we were talking, as he came into my office and he listed down all the obstacles, I asked him if he could just think of two reasons why we could bring all of it together. And I was so touched. He left my office and came back. And he had, as he consulted with the Lord, figured out how to bring all of that together. And so now, what we are studying in seminary is exactly what we are going to be studying at church and at home. And so, the voice of the youth — and really the opportunities, what they are learning in seminary to enhance what is coming in the home — has been such a blessing to our families.

19:04

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and as the mother of three daughters who sometimes felt overwhelmed with different curriculum and different scriptures — and, you know, different scripture lists, “Study this book of scripture this week,” and you also have another list for seminary that says, “You need to be studying this this week” — this was such a blessing to us. You know, in my family, “Come, Follow Me” sort of morphed into what would be missionary prep, and ultimately, because of the pandemic, you know, home MTC. Elder David A. Bednar has said, before “Come, Follow Me” was ever in the works, that he foresaw a time when the home would be the future missionary training center, as well as many other important things in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But in our case, the home was the missionary training center because our daughter accepted a call to serve a mission right at the beginning of the pandemic. You also had the opportunity to sit on the Missionary Executive Council. Talk about some of the challenges that occurred for missionary work at this time, and then some of the blessings that have come from this.

20:17

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Oh, can I just say bless your daughter, because these were the really select missionaries that the Lord placed on the earth at that time, because He knew that they could help with the process of this change. The pandemic also really helped missionary work. One of the things that I think is fascinating is that in missionary work, we had history of knocking doors or talking to people on the street, which we still do. And it is a wonderful way to connect with people. But there are so many people — I do not answer my door when someone just randomly knocks. But there is a way to tap someone on the shoulder and let them know more about the Savior through technology.

Well, we were not really good at understanding how to use technology, but the pandemic forced us into a space of understanding how to use technology to communicate. And that has been a remarkable opportunity and resource, because that same technology also facilitated the area organizational advisers, those sisters that work in the international area. It also facilitated new stake leader training, it facilitated missionaries connecting with people in their community, without even opening a door. And then you think of when they want to hear more, but they just came home from work, and they only have like a half hour or 15 minutes, missionaries could do a Zoom call, and then they could teach over that, which was also wonderful. Parents can sit in to some of those calls and connect with those friends that are learning about the gospel.

So truly, technology has been a blessing, but it happened because of COVID. And our missionaries, which is a new learning, being home and starting the MTC has actually been a real blessing and has lowered the anxiety and the concern about going into the MTC. So, one of the things that we have kept is you have a week home when you start your MTC experience, and then you go to your MTC. That was one of the blessed learnings, so people could get comfortable, they could know their teacher, they look at their district. And so, as missionaries come to the MTC, they are quite excited because they are going to meet their new friends in person, they already know their teacher. And they’re always sad to leave their family, but it is not quite so devastating.

22:53

Sarah Jane Weaver: And for us, we gained such a strong testimony that the Lord is mindful of his individual missionaries. You know, I don’t cry on the podcast, so we can’t talk too much about this, but we were dreading having MTC in our home, and boy, what a blessing it was. And we number ourselves among the luckiest of all missionary families because our daughter served exactly half of her mission in Ohio and the other half in Brazil. And so, we got to pray for two missions and two cities and two mission leadership. You know, these mission presidents were amazing during that time. And one of the biggest miracles of all is that — we knew mission calls were inspired; I was not sure mission reassignments were as inspired.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: So, what do you think now?

Sarah Jane Weaver: I did, I kind of had in my mind that someone at Church headquarters just looks at missionary names and says, “Well, there is a space in Ohio,” which is where my daughter went. And it was not the case. Our daughter went to the perfect mission president. And between him and his sweet wife, they gave her the exact experience that she needed not just to prepare her to serve in Brazil, but to prepare her for life. She has lifelong friendships from that mission.

And while she was in Ohio, she spent most of her mission doing social media outreach. When she got to Brazil, her mission president said, “We need to start some social media initiatives in this mission. Do you have any experience in that?” And you start to see the threads in this, of just how much the Lord cares and builds this tapestry of faith with these young people, where they understand that one experience in the Church builds and leads to another one.

Elder Samuel Nagliati, a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, right, picks up his new companion, Elder Nathan Gregory, at the train station in Bologna, Italy, on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

24:46

President Bonnie H. Cordon: God is in the details of the details; not just in your daughter’s life, but even in our own, you know. And so, it has been remarkable to see, and I think the youth are noticing that. I have to jump into FSY for just a minute. Today is the middle of the week for our FSY, and our Mondays, you see these young people not thrilled to be there, many of them rolling their eye, “Mom dropped me off, I am going to endure a week.” By Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, they do not want to leave. And it is because the Spirit is so prevalent and teaches us so one by one.

So you know, I think about that segue from your mission experience and how the Lord prepared her. I see this in our youth. And all of the opportunities they have to connect with the Lord now is so remarkable. It is so much more focused on coming to know the Savior. And I see that with girls camp, our Young Women’s camp; you know, as I go, they are anxious to know the Savior: “Am I valued in the Church?” But it is not in the Church. “How can I come to know Him so that I can help others around me come to know the Savior?” Anyway, it is amazing to see.

26:09

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I loved covering FSY last year, and I have to tell you, I am that mother that kind of does a combination of threats and bribes to get my children to the camp; you drop them off quick and drive away so they can’t change their mind.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: You turn your cellphone off so you can’t talk to them for a couple days.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And you just pray and hope that they will have an experience that can help them come to know Jesus Christ. And as we saw reports of this coming in last summer at the Church News, we could not believe how exciting this concept of FSY was not only for the youth, but for the young adults who were involved there. This truly is an inspired program.

26:50

President Bonnie H. Cordon: It is. And it is for everyone. And what you are seeing is young people coming together and really understanding what it means to be a disciple of Christ. One of the things that we are rolling out this year at FSY is the taking charge of technology, because that is where they are at; their world is technology. And as a disciple of Jesus Christ, how do we handle all the technology that comes into our world, for our benefit, and for who I am as a disciple of Christ, and not have the technology take charge of me?

And so, it has been fun. If any of the parents want to look at it, it is on the Gospel Library app, and there are two videos that introduce what it looks like of the taking charge of technology as a disciple of Christ. There are just three simple principles that the youth are learning at FSY. Its purpose, plan, pause; you know, the three P’s. But there is a principle statement, and then there is a scripture that goes with each section. And as the youth counsel about this, I have been amazed at how they said, “This principle can help me; I can move forward with this.” But you have got to watch the video. If you just need to smile, these videos will give you a chance just to chuckle for a minute or two.

28:10  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And we will link to the video from the podcast copy. We will also make sure that we create some Church News articles around this topic, because it is so important. And that segues into something that I think is really interesting, because in recent years, I have seen a shift in how youth are being relied upon and allowed to lead. For many years, we had youth leaders who did a lot of the work, and it feels now like we are saying, “OK, this is your program. Youth, you take the lead.”

28:40

President Bonnie H. Cordon: I couldn’t agree more. You know, it is interesting; every generation has heard they are the royal generation or they are a chosen generation. But when President Nelson in 2018 spoke to the youth, very pointed, he also said, “You are among the best the Lord has ever sent to this [earth].” But then he said something that was a little bit unique to this generation of youth. He said, “You have the capacity to be smarter and wiser and have more impact on the world than any previous generation.” Now, he put a note there: they have the capacity to be smarter. He did not say they are smarter or they are wiser or they will have more impact. But he did say they have the capacity.

And I think that is a statement that no other generation has been told, that you actually will have an impact on the world. And you see them in this social media space. You see them connecting now in FSY and realizing, “I can lead out.” And so, you see how important seminary is to help load their lips with things that are in their heart. You also see “Preach My Gospel,” the second version, which is really written to our digital native generation, and it helps them to be able to articulate “what I believe.” And they are doing this so well. I love looking at a ward youth council. I love sitting there with the bishop and hearing those youth counsel together, the power that they come with these ideas; they are fresh, I am like, “I would never have thought of that.” And they connect with people so well. So, you can see that they have been uniquely prepared before coming here.

I also love their energy to be part of a cause. And when they realize their cause is the cause of Christ, they truly are lifting. I know in a conference address, I told about Maddy, and she is just kind of maybe iconic for what the youth do. When she was 13, her parents were no longer attending church, and she just felt a hole in her life. So she decided, “Well, I am just going to go to church by myself.” And so, this little 13-year-old goes to church, sits on the bench. And she said it was awkward. It was hard. But our youth are doing hard things. And she noticed her little 9- and 10-year-old brother were not going to church either, obviously. And so she said, “You’ve got to come with me.” They kind of resisted, but as a loving older sister, they kind of followed. 

So, these little three kids have been going to church for years by themselves. And then what happens? When she was 17, is when I met her, and she said, “I want to go on a mission. And I want my mom to come through the temple with me.” And her invitation to home to come to Christ — her mom, what a sweet soul. So, I talked to Maddy while she was in the MTC in Brazil, and I said, “I have to hear the rest of the story, Maddy.” And she said, “Yes, my mother did go through the temple with me.” And then she said, “But you have to know: So did my father.” So, the power of these youth is really what the Prophet has said: their capacity to change the world is great.

Young Women President Bonnie H. Cordon laughs with April Swalberg and Savannah Hansen at a FSY conference at Weber State University in Ogden on Thursday, July 14, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

And as we give them spaces and places for them to know the Savior — that’s why FSY is so important. That’s why, you know, boy, I would have everyone sign up for seminary. I know a little girl in Mongolia; her mom was not real anxious about having her go to seminary, and so she started sneaking out of the house at 4 just so that she could walk to seminary. And when her mom realized that, she said, “You don’t have to sneak out. I’ll take you.” But just the draw they have to make this world a Christ-centered world just empowers me when I see them be so intentional.

But all the places — girls camp; you know, one thing that is different, people say, “Do you do Young Women camp the same time you do FSY?” Well, we do, because our 11-, 12-, 13-year-olds, that is their camp. They do not have an FSY. And so it is important that both go on at the same time. But this is the opportunity for the youth to be part of the revelatory process of camp, where these older girls get to help plan, help have a vision: “How are we going to use the theme for camp?” whereas FSY, they just pack their bags and go. So, they each have a place not only for the younger girls that get this as their camp experience, but for the older young women to really help mentor and shepherd the others.

33:26

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I can’t even tell you; I marvel at all the Church is doing for youth. I was so excited to hear you talk about youth in a cause, because what is one of the first things President Russell M. Nelson does after he becomes leader of the Church? He calls all the youth together in the early summer of 2018 and invites them all to be part of his youth battalion to gather Israel. And so, now they have a cause. You see them responding to that invitation. And then, in April of 2022 general conference, he invites all the youth to serve missions. He tells all the young men that they should go on missions and offers that same opportunity for Latter-day Saint young women.

And at the seminar for new mission leaders, you participated in a press conference with Elder Quentin L. Cook and Marcus B. Nash of the Missionary Department. And in that, statistics were shared about the response to that clarion call of a Prophet in which Elder Cook said missionary applications have increased every single month since the Prophet issued that call. And they have gone up at a time when we have fewer young people this age in the Church, and that by the end of this year, we will have 72,000 missionaries.

34:46

President Bonnie H. Cordon: And they answered the call. This is why I think — when the Prophet said — they do have the capacity to change the world. And it is happening. You can just feel it as you spend any time sitting with these young people, they can teach us so much. But I have been intrigued with their desire to gather Israel.

So, you will notice that the Young Women medallion that the young women currently have, there is a temple on it, and then there is a little gem, kind of a shiny gem that hangs down. And that is the gathering of Israel necklace, because he told us that we are going to gather Israel on both sides of the veil. And as you notice, you’ve got a temple; obviously, we make covenants. But we help those of our ancestors that have passed on to do their temple work for them, and gathering them there. And then that little gem is a light to help us remember “let [our] light so shine” (Matthew 5:16) so that others can also come to know the Savior.

35:43

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and during this time that you have served as Young Women general president, there has also been changes on what youth can do in the temple.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: And hasn’t that been remarkable, that they can sit, and they can witness, and the young men can help perform the baptisms? So, really realizing how important the youth are in doing the work, and being part of the leading out in this work, it has changed things, and they feel it. This is a generation — especially we notice with social media — they want to add their voice and their strength and their perspective to all of it. And the more we are sitting in spots and places where we can feel the Savior, our perspective changes. And the youths’ perspectives are changing. And they are seeing that in a world of chaos, there is a peace in Christ, and there is a power to move forward. And they are sharing it abundantly, you know, with the youth all over the world.

I was sitting with some of the youth in the Congo, in the DRC Congo, and they had — when I was there, we did a youth devotional. And there was a large church building that we were in. And then I went outside, and there was this enormous — I have never seen an enormous tent like this. And there were chairs under this tent. And I said, “What is that for?” And they were like, “All the youth.” And I said, “Well, don’t you think they will all fit in this chapel?” They said, “Oh, no; you will notice we will fill every classroom. This tent will be full, and the chapel.”

And sure enough, we had over 2,000 youth in the hot, hot heat in Kinshasa to just counsel together, and they sang, and the power that came. Then the next night, we went to a different part in Kinshasa; the same setup. And I thought, “There cannot be that many youth.” And they just came. And I asked, “How many have never been to church before?” In other words, they were invited by friends. And so many stood up, because a friend said, “Come. Come and see.” And so, our youth have been remarkable not only to take the peace of the Savior that they feel, but share it with others.

38:02

Sarah Jane Weaver: And we just did a podcast where Elder David A. Bednar talked about the temple being the ultimate place for us to connect with Jesus Christ. One of my favorite memories, as you were sharing that experience with those remarkable youth who are in the DR Congo, I thought of an experience during President Nelson’s global ministry, in which he is meeting with the youth the night before the dedication of the Rome Italy Temple. And they show this video, and then a young man stands up and says, to this whole stake center filled with youth, “Let’s show President Nelson what we have done to prepare for the temple here.” And every one of the youth raised their hands, and they had temple name cards in them.

And I have looked and looked and looked for a picture of that moment where you just see this sea of white temple cards being held up. Well, no one took a picture. Everyone was crying. Nobody could believe that the youth would have done such a sweet thing for the Church and the Prophet and the Savior.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, meet with youth in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center prior to a youth devotional in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, March 9, 2019. | Vatican, Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

39:05

President Bonnie H. Cordon: And for their ancestors. You know, can I add — when I went to the DRC, I got to go to the temple with the youth, and we did names. Now, you can imagine, just like those youth in Rome, at the DRC, they were all there doing names. And one young woman did so many names, and there was a lot of youth that needed to participate in these ordinances. And she had already done many. And so, one of the temple workers said, “Maybe you can come back and finish these names.” And she was not very big, but she stood there and said, “I am not leaving the font until I have done all the names of those ancestors I brought.” And so, they said, “OK.” They continued, proceeded forward.” But that is the heart of these youth all over the world. You cannot name a place in the world where the youth are not jumping in.

40:02

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I was actually so surprised the first time I took a family name to the temple, about how it changed and elevated my temple experience.

I also want to talk to you about something else that we have seen change in the last few years, which shows such a great trust and love and respect for the youth. And that is the changes in “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet. So, we used to have a pamphlet that had very set rules. And now, we are saying to the youth, “We trust you to know how to connect with the Savior and reflect His life and His teachings on your own.”

President Bonnie H. Cordon: And they are doing the work necessary to make better choices. So, don’t you love that it is “For the Strength of Youth: A Guide for Making Choices”? This is a worldwide Church. And you know, the promise that is written in all the scriptures is that “I will walk with you. Come unto me, and I will help.” So, there are principles found in “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet that we are so thrilled are there so that the youth know that they have a principle that they can use over and over and over again, instead of just a list of do’s and don’ts.

We hope we get to a point that the youth are not known for the things they can and can’t do. But our youth throughout the world are known because of their love and devotion to the Savior, Jesus Christ, and that they want to follow Him. And this is why they do what they do. When it first came out, so many said, “Oh, it is not written that I cannot do this, or I cannot do that.” But then when they jump in, and they start studying and reading and asking, they have standards that they realize are helping them come to Christ. And some of them are more elevated to a higher, holier standard than they previously were even thinking of. And it has blessed them, and they are actually blessing their families.

42:00

Sarah Jane Weaver: And as we conclude, I am hoping you can address one other thing that I have found so important during the time that you served, and it was actually an address by President Nelson to young adults, not even our youth. But in that address, he talked about identity, and he asked everyone to focus on identities that we all share. So, he is a doctor, he is a Prophet, he is a husband, he is a father of 10 children, and yet he did not list any of those things as his primary identities. He said, first and foremost, we are all children of God. He said we are all children of the covenant; this would go along with his plea to everyone to gather Israel. And then he said third, we are disciples of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

42:48

President Bonnie H. Cordon: And isn’t that powerful for all of us? You know, even an 8-year-old who has just made a covenant is that covenant child. So, our young people are realizing they are children of God. And I was talking to one young woman; she said, “We know we are all children of God.” But she says, “I was talking to a friend of mine.” And she kind of paused, and she said, “But he didn’t know that.” So, the opportunity to help him know, and then to know what it means to make a covenant. What do we have to do to keep a covenant?

I hope you all just cherish Chapter 3 in the new “Preach My Gospel,” especially Lesson 4. Many times, we talk about making and keeping covenants. And I have asked youth, ”What does it look like to keep a covenant?” And sometimes, there are quiet pauses. But Chapter 3, Lesson 4 will help us understand what it looks like to keep a baptismal covenant and as they move forward to temple covenants. And then to be a disciple of Christ, and do what He did and follow Him. So, those are such powerful identities. And our youth are realizing, “I am much more with those three identities than any other label or identifier that the world has given me.” Now, the other labels are great — some are baseball players, some are ballerinas — but they realize the power that comes from those three labels.

44:12

Sarah Jane Weaver: And that leads us right to a good place to conclude this podcast. We always end with the same question, and we always give our guests the last word. And so, I am hoping that you will tell us what you know now. And so, Sister Cordon, as we conclude, what do you know now after praying for and contemplating and watching and talking to young women across the globe?

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Well, lifelong discipleship takes a lifetime. But these young women and these young men across the globe really have a big leap forward in helping all of us and themselves to know that Jesus is the Christ and that because of Him, we can have peace. And though that life is chaotic and sometimes a huge trial, that through Christ, we can do all things, and He will strengthen us.

Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon talks about the updated version of “Preach My Gospel,” the guide for sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, June 22, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

45:16  

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, rate and review this podcast so it can be accessible to more people. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests; 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 channels or with other news and updates of the Church on TheChurchNews.com.

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