Young Adult Centers Build the Rising Generation
Contributed By Stephanie Jean Johnson, Church Magazines
The Church’s centers for young adults are not just trying to protect the rising generation from the temptations of the world—they are also working to prepare the Church’s present and future leaders to change the world.
As extensions of the institute program, the centers for young adults—which exist primarily in Europe—offer religion classes as well as a place where young adults can gather for activities ranging from cooking their dinners to doing their homework to playing ping-pong to sharing the gospel.
Growing the Church through Young Adults
Around the end of 2003 and beginning of 2004, the initiative for centers for young adults began with four centers opening in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Berlin, Hamburg, and Leipzig, Germany. Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles further encouraged the growth of the initiative when President Gordon B. Hinckley called him to preside over the Europe Central Area in August of 2004.
Brother Erik Psota, the current Associate Area Director of Seminaries and Institutes in Europe, commented about the effect of Elder Perry’s vision and leadership in relation to the centers for young adults.
“The spiritual impression that came to Elder Perry that the growth of the Church in Europe will come through the 18- to 30-year-olds has had a deep impact on young adults and priesthood leaders on all levels in Europe,” said Brother Psota. “I have felt the presence of the Spirit bearing witness that what Elder Perry told us is true. Many of the priesthood leaders today were under 30 in 2004.“
Brother Psota said the direction is still relevant to young adults today ”because it helps them understand their responsibility for the growth of the Church in Europe.”
The number of registered centers in Europe has grown from the initial 4 to 141 in 2011, with about 30 more in various stages of development. Centers are located from Germany to Greece, Sweden to Cyprus, and England to Moldova. All of them work to prepare the rising generation to spread the gospel to the world.
Building the Kingdom and Friendships in Norway
The young adult center in Oslo, Norway, is just one of many centers where young adults are becoming kingdom-builders. Take Mathilde Guillaumet, from France. Sister missionaries began teaching her at a center in Paris in October 2009 after Sister Guillaumet’s friend invited her to learn more about the gospel.
Sister Guillaumet was baptized on February 27, 2010. She then moved to Norway for a year, where the local center for young adults continued to play a role in her growing testimony.
“The center really was a home away from home. It was definitely more welcoming than my dorm room,” said Sister Guillaumet. “The center’s missionary couple became like parents, wonderful people to come to for comfort and advice. Both in Paris and in Oslo, I have been able to go to the missionary couple to talk about the gospel, which I couldn’t do at home, considering I am the only member in my family.”
Sam Basnet, baptized on October 18, 2009, is also the only member in his family, but the Oslo center helped him to share the gospel with his relatives when he returned to visit them in Nepal. He told them about the priesthood and the Book of Mormon, having already helped the missionaries teach other people the same principles in Oslo.
“My family wanted to feel the way that I was feeling,” said Brother Basnet. “They had seen the difference between ‘Sam-before’ and ‘Sam-after.’ Before, I had no hope. I was not positive. After my baptism, I used to come into the center and everything was up, just higher than before.”
Brother Basnet is not the only one who has felt lifted and motivated by the Spirit in the center. Benjamin Kerr of Scotland has spent the past two summers working in Oslo and sees the center as a place where he remembers what really matters.
“[The center] is my refuge from the world,” said Brother Kerr. “I definitely feel a peace, a safety, when I am there. I think some of my most encouraging experiences have come from being able to sit in the center, especially at family home evening, and to talk about things that really concern us, things we find difficult. These experiences have reminded me of the importance of the simple principles of the gospel.”
Brother Kerr has learned that these principles are for everyone, no matter where they come from. “[The center] has given me an informal setting in which I can meet with people whom I would normally not associate with,” said Brother Kerr. “Because of this, I have seen how alike we truly are, no matter how different we may appear or act. We can always find something in common, and this has affected the way I approach meeting new people. Everyone is a friend just waiting to be met.”
Even the friends that Brother Kerr hasn’t met at the center get to hear about how it blesses his life. “Imagine how great an opportunity it is when I’m catching up with my roommates and I can say that I was at the center my Church has for young people to hang out in,” he said. “It’s such a non-threatening way to open the door to a conversation about which church that is and why we have a center in the middle of Oslo.”
The centers for young adults are not only working to help youth strengthen their friends and family in the gospel. Young single adults are also called to serve on rotating leadership councils in the centers and are put in charge of planning and leading different activities and classes. The influence of such service stretches far beyond the scope of a Friday night get-together. Barbara Matovu, originally from Uganda but now a citizen of Norway, said her service on the young adult council for the Oslo center has brought her eternal blessings.
Building Young Adults and Future Leaders
“It has given me the opportunity to experience the love God has for all His children,” said Sister Matovu. “It has strengthened my testimony of the organization of the Church, and I have gained a lot of wisdom. It has also taught me that the kingdom of God cannot be built alone, but together, in unity.”
While young adults are receiving training to serve in future Church callings, they are also gaining experience to become effective spouses and parents, changing the world not only in the public sphere but also in the home.
“The leadership principles learned in a YSA council are the same principles that will serve [young single adults] well as parents—patience, communication, providing direction and allowing people to use their agency to accomplish a task, and following the promptings of the Spirit,” said Gerald Sorensen, who, with his wife, Nancy, served in the center in Trondheim, Norway.
The centers for young adults will continue to fight against the growing sin in the world by working to ensure that the Church’s future leaders are growing faster. Brother Psota said that the events connected to the founding and perpetuation of the centers are wonderful.
“Young adults come to the centers to get to know the gospel in not only a theoretical way but also in applying the principles of sharing the gospel and serving their friends who are not of our faith,” said Brother Psota. “[The centers] help a new and well-prepared generation to serve the Lord with enthusiasm and a clear focus on an eternal perspective of things.”
Brother Kerr is grateful to have been given this eternal perspective and hopes that it will be a blessing available to more young adults now and in the future. He says that knowing that the Church has invested such resources in him and other members of the rising generation makes him feel humble.
“This is people’s tithing that is being used to pay for my center,” said Brother Kerr. “[The Church] decided to use the Lord’s resources on me, on us, so that we can have extra protection—another gathering place. In effect, it becomes a ‘Zion’ for the younger people. It makes me want to use it more often and makes me want to have other people experience it. I hope my children will benefit in the same way as I have through having the center.”