Even though the For the Strength of Youth Conference in Port Elizabeth officially opened on December 15, 2014, the conference journey really began in June-July 2014, when Young Single Adults from the Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London stakes were interviewed, called, and trained for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of being FSY counsellors.
After an intensive period of video conferences, training sessions, fasting, prayer, and many hours devoted to scouting out the perfect location, teachers, and other details, the counsellors arrived at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMNU) and began their final training. From the 15th – 20th December the NMNU North Campus became home to 55 YSA and nearly 400 youth.
The week’s activities were held in “companies,” a collection of 2-3 counsellor groups established on the first day of the conference. On Day One the youth in each company established a name and company scripture, as well as some company goals for the week, which would help them to meet the aims of the conference: to help the youth come unto Christ, feel the Spirit, and build and strengthen their testimonies.
Each of the week’s activities centered on these aims and was designed to establish patterns of daily gospel living. And the youth were the leaders! As is the case with the new Sunday School syllabus, these teens were given opportunities to teach one another in devotionals and classes throughout the week, working with scriptures, Preach my Gospel, and messages from General Authorities.
Every evening the youth had time to write in their journals, study their scriptures, reflect on company and personal goal-keeping, and prepare for the following day. This quiet time was followed by a counsellor devotional which ran until 10:30 each night. These devotionals covered topics such as Faith in Jesus Christ, charity, and diligence. By 10:30 (lights out) many of the youth who had previously expressed concerns about being so far away from home were too tired to notice these anxieties.
The week provided the ideal balance between spiritual nourishment and good, clean fun. Such fun included dances, where the youth learned how to line-dance, waltz, and compete with good sportsmanship. In the evening of Day Three, the youth created their own company banner and cheer. They performed these on the university sports fields, while the other companies played games.
On Day Four the entire conference was treated to a variety show. We were blown away by teams of youth who had only met that week, yet stood united in their talents. After this celebration of talent, the day moved into the music programme. The music was accompanied by a video presentation of the life of Jesus Christ as well as a number of readings and testimonies by the youth followed by a devotional and more testimonies. For many of the youth this was the first time they were able to feel and recognize the Spirit. It was a night that will always be remembered.
One young man from Fish Hoek, Cape Town, expressed the following to his counsellor, “You told me this week would be life-changing. I didn’t believe you at first. I believe you now.”
The unity felt on Friday morning was a testament to the powerful events of the previous day. The Friday Morningside was led by Elder and Sister Cook of the Area Presidency. Elder Cook spoke about the vision for the South Africa Cape Town Mission area. He invited the youth to stand a little taller, to consider missionary service, and to get involved in family history and temple work. He entreated each participant to approach their stake president and local leaders and ask this question: “How can I help?”
Saturday morning was bitter-sweet. The expression most often heard was, “I don’t want to go home.”
But the sadness of separation was made easier knowing that it was not the end: FSY was only the beginning.
Posters of the conference theme
Young people arrive at the conference.