In a week when many young Australians were preparing to attend Sydney’s “Big Day Out” rock concert, 445 young members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opted for a considerably more spiritual adventure at this year’s New South Wales Multi-Stake Youth Conference held from 7-12 January at St Joseph’s College, in the Sydney suburb of Hunters Hill.
The conference keynote speaker was Elder F. Michael Watson, of the First Quorum of the Seventy and the Pacific Area Presidency. Accompanying Elder Watson was his wife, Sister Jolene Watson.
Joining the 14-15 year-olds were 55 Young Single Adult (YSA) counsellors who helped Elder and Sister Watson present the conference theme, “Arise and Shine Forth.” A further conference for 16-18 year-olds was held the following week and was attended by 520 young people including 70 young single counsellors.
Multi-stake youth conferences, held every two to three years in various cities in Australia, bring together young people to teach them values that will help them to be leaders in the community in their future lives. At the same time as the Sydney event, a similar conference was held in Melbourne during the January break.
According to Elder Watson, by living the high standards of the Church, young people will have lives of greater joy if they develop in their daily lives the attributes that Christ Himself exhibited such as charity, obedience, diligence, and good works.
During lively discussions in separate sessions for boys and girls, Elder Watson used a visual depicting the influences on youth and young adults. Amongst the negative influences were: some movies, television, social media and internet sites, and peers who sometimes make choices contrary to Christian standards. Emphasized were the positive influences which included righteous parents, activities and programs, peers with similar standards and values, and Church leaders.
Elder Watson told the youth “to filter out the static” in their lives. “There are many things which suffocate you with information which make it hard to attune yourselves to the Spirit,” he said.
Quoting from the scriptures, Elder Watson said our young people need to “take unto you the whole armour of God, that (you) may be able to stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13)
“You should listen to righteous parents, attend Church activities and programs, find friends with good standards and trust your bishop – he will help you,” Elder Watson said.
“Focus on getting ready to serve a mission, continue studying from ‘Preach My Gospel.’ You’ll need to know what you’re expected to do when you serve as a missionary.”
In her address, Sister Jolene Watson encouraged the youth to fully participate in the Church’s new curriculum for youth called ‘Teaching the Gospel in the Savour’s Way,’ which was launched this month.
“Each subject is introduced through videos, pictures and questions to encourage discussions where everyone can learn together,” she said.
“Following the new curriculum, youth are encouraged to comment, ask questions, and give personal stories as part of the teaching and learning experience. In addition, youth are asked to do something throughout the week to remind them of the lesson.”
She encouraged everyone to fully participate in the new youth curriculum.
The directors of the conference were Jared and Julie Finch of the Sydney Baulkham Hills Stake.
In introducing the conference theme on day one, Jared said, “As the light in each of you arises and shines forth, you will find that ‘light cleaveth unto light,’ as mentioned in the scriptures. In other words, your light or example will attract others with similar beliefs and values.”
“You will also find that your light may be the spark that ignites the light in others and will bring them to the truth….Please arise each day and shine your light for all the world to see….in this world of darkness and gloom,” he said.
In addition to hearing inspirational and motivational talks, the young people were shown how to develop good personal daily habits such as morning and evening prayer, reading the scriptures, serving in the community and being kind to all those around them.
The youth were told that study, both of a secular nature at school, and study of a spiritual kind at Church were the perfect balance to help them have rounded personalities.
Young members of the Church from around the state of New South Wales attended the event at their own expense.
Hadessah Ryan, 14, from the Perth suburb of Rockingham, was one of ten attendees from states outside New South Wales. He said, “This is the best, most spiritual, social and fun experience I’ve had in my life so far!”
During one group encounter during the conference, Zoe Chetty, 15, from Sydney’s Blacktown Ward (congregation), described what gives her a balanced life. “In my family we have boundaries and guidelines on how to live,” she said. “Recently a friend came over whose family life did not include boundaries. She was impressed by the lifestyle I lead.”
The youth were divided into groups of forty people, each group being called a ‘company.’ Matthew Westerlund, 21, of the Normanhurst Ward in Sydney and a young adult counsellor, said, “I enjoyed the closeness we developed working with each other in our small groups.”
Totoa Faka’i, 25, from the Many Ward in Sydney and another of the counsellors, said, “Games night was a favourite part of the conference. The young men and women learned new activities such as, ‘Arise… Shine…Zap!’ ‘Tunnel Run,’ ‘Noah’s Ark,’ and ‘Pioneer Trail.’”
Like other Church leaders, Elder Watson and his wife have been examples to young people of charity, obedience and diligence, love and good works. Elder Watson served as secretary to The First Presidency and Quorum of The Twelve Apostles of the Church for many years. He worked closely with the last seven prophets including President Thomas S. Monson at the time of Elder Watson’s call as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
“Don’t forget to listen to the words of a Prophet,” he told the young people. “I bear solemn witness that they are truly Prophets of God.”
Following the example of the Saviour when He stepped forward and said, “Here am I, send me,” has been the faith-promoting doctrine that the Watsons have adopted throughout their lives, Sister Watson said.
They have always served where the Lord would have them serve, irrespective of the sacrifice involved in their assignments. These assignments have taken them to Africa and to the Isles of the Sea.
She and Elder Watson encouraged the youth to follow this same counsel, “Here am I, send me.”
“In self-less service, each becomes a better person,” Elder Watson said.