Youth Lead the Way in Stake's Family History Committee
Contributed By By Sonja Carlson, Church News staff writer
- A stake in Lehi, Utah, called youth to serve on a committee to help others get involved in family history.
- The calling has helped strengthen their testimonies of family history and the Atonement.
Leaders in the Lehi Utah South Stake have discovered a way to get their youth more involved in family history by calling at least one youth from each ward to the stake’s youth family history committee.
However, it didn’t originate as a committee.
In the fall of 2011, Randy Lefler, who was president of the Lehi Utah South Stake, called as stake indexing specialists Nathan Smith and Jacob Matteson, both 17 and from the Chapel Valley 1st Ward. He was inspired to call them after Elder Richard J. Maynes of the Presidency of the Seventy told him in a meeting he thought the youth were going to be the key to furthering family history work in the stake.
“I see a growing trend in the Church in which people who are called to family history callings are usually not the old and experienced individuals but young and inexperienced individuals,” Nathan said in an email correspondence with the Church News. “This was the first chance that I learned about family history work. I now look at family history work as something everyone can do, young and old, experienced and inexperienced.”
President Lefler called two more youth later that year—Bailey Smith, who is now serving in the Georgia Macon Mission, and Mckayla Faddis, 17, of the Dry Creek Ward. Their callings evolved into a committee, which was officially formed last year.
“As they were called, even though they started with a fireside, they did more than that,” said Shipley Munson, director of the member and public outreach division of the Church’s Family History Department, during a class at this year’s RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City. “Within 12 months that stake had indexed almost 3 million names, making it one of the top stakes in the Church.”
Jacob, Mckayla, and fellow committee member Kylee Haunga, 14, of the Lehi 16th Ward met with the Church News in the Lehi Utah South Stake family history center to share their insights on family history and how their callings as indexing specialists and stake youth family history committee members have strengthened their testimonies.
They all agreed that regular meetings and gospel discussions with their stake high councilor, Ross Boothe, were beneficial to their callings.
“It’s put me in a position where I can view different aspects of the gospel in a different perspective,” Jacob said. “For example, when we were with Brother Boothe we had this discussion about the Atonement and how it applied to family history work, and we talked about how family history work is more of a vehicle for us and our ancestors [to receive] the Atonement. It really put a new spin on things that I’ve only seen [with] one-way tunnel vision, where as with family history work I’m kind of seeing it from all angles and how it applies to me and how I can apply it to my ancestors.”
Brother Boothe, who has moved from the ward, told the Church News that he didn’t shy away from teaching the youth.
“They had an opportunity to really dig in and participate in the Lord’s work in a way that many youth may not have the opportunity to, so when we met together, we tried to talk about our work and the gospel in ways that were deep and meaningful, and I didn’t shy away from teaching them things that were important for them to know,” Brother Boothe said.
He encouraged leaders to teach youth who are involved in family history “about the gospel in the real way that we feel about it.”
“Certainly we understand ‘milk before meat,’ but a lot of these youth are ready for ‘meat.’ They want to know, they want to feel, they want to be involved. When we treat them like they are servants of the Lord, then they will be,” Brother Boothe said.
The committee’s main responsibility is to get the stake’s youth more involved in family history.
“We’re responsible for coordinating, planning, and executing activities and getting the youth involved with family history—specifically the youth involved with family history work in our stake,” Jacob said.
Along with all the youth in their stake, they have also done family history training for stake high priests groups, the high council, the stake presidency, and Relief Societies, President Lefler said.
They’ve found success in inviting the youth to participate in challenges, such as their 21-day and 40-day challenges, which encouraged participating youth to index a certain amount of names or for a certain number of days.
Nathan, Brother Boothe, and Jacob struggled to discover ways to get the youth more involved and attempted to organize multiple events that kept falling through.
“We were driven to our knees. We prayed and fasted for weeks to know what the Lord would have us do,” Nathan said. “We then, with the guidance of the Lord, came up with the idea of a 21-day challenge to help motivate the youth to participate in this holy work. The significance of 21 days is that’s how long it takes to make or break a habit. The 21-day challenge was a complete success. Our youth indexed over 50,000 names in those three weeks, with 25,005 of them coming from an indexing marathon held on the last day of the challenge.”
They had bracelets made that say “The Time Is Now,” based on Elder David A. Bednar’s video on www.lds.org/youth/family-history, which encourages Church leaders to let the youth help lead family history efforts.
Jacob said they went to each ward in the stake during their third hour, distributed the bracelets, and showed the video. They challenged the youth to index each day at a certain time. At the end of the challenge they had an indexing marathon to finish “with a big bang,” he said.
Mckayla said it was a fun and comfortable environment to be in that got everyone excited.
“And the Spirit was there,” she said. “The Spirit is what really gets you to keep doing it. So if we had that environment with the Spirit there too, [we would] go home knowing how to do it and wanting to have that Spirit when [we] do it … on our own.”
The 21-day challenge was during the summer of 2012. They then had a 40-day challenge at the end of the year, which invited the youth to find and prepare a family name to take to the temple at the conclusion of the 40 days. More than 100 youth attended, and 98 brought family names.
Kylee said she feels the committee’s ultimate goal when they do such challenges and activities is the temple. Taking family names to the temple also gives the opportunity to strongly connect with ancestors, she said.
“It’s cool to think that when you take the names that you researched to the temple I almost feel like it’s repaying a debt,” Jacob said. “You know, your ancestors worked really hard to get you where you were, so you’re kind of like returning the favor.”
The committee has also had the opportunity to participate in family history events and meetings outside their stake.
“They were invited to share their story with a group of Area Seventies and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building during a training meeting for the Seventy,” President Lefler said in an email with the Church News. “They have attended coordinating councils in the northern Utah County area to share with stake presidents their story of how to get youth involved in family history research.”
Nathan and Mckayla were on a youth panel at last year’s RootsTech conference, a global family history event held in Salt Lake City. Mckayla, Jacob, and Kylee were involved this year in numerous ways, including emceeing and presenting at the Family Discovery Day for Youth on February 8 and participating in another panel during Brother Munson’s class, “Let Youth Lead: Working with Youth to Organize Family History Efforts in Your Ward.” The goal of the class was to give “ideas on how to lead young people effectively, using family history as a tool in the work of salvation,” Brother Munson said.
Thousands of youth attended the Family Discovery Day.
“We have such strong testimonies about this work and how it has changed our life; we want everybody to have that same experience,” Mckayla said. “So just being given that opportunity to share our testimony with all those people was amazing.”
Not only have their callings as members of the committee changed the way they look at and feel about family history, but they have strengthened their testimonies as well.
“It’s kind of amazing that the byproduct of all of this is that somehow their testimonies of the Atonement just continue to get stronger and stronger,” President Lefler said. “It’s kind of one of those things that each one of them have said over a period of time; as they started doing indexing they got more interested in going to the temple and doing baptisms and confirmations, and they took names and even became stronger.”
Jacob has been able to see the gospel in a new light.
“It lets me see principles of the gospel in a new perspective,” he said, “especially with the Atonement. I would have never thought that the Atonement and family history work would be so closely related.”
For Kylee, knowing that she now has a closer connection to Heavenly Father and her ancestors has changed her testimony the most, she said.
“I just know now I’m truly converted to Christ, and I know that this gospel is true, that I know Heavenly Father saved all of us, and … [my testimony is] so much stronger now,” she said.
Mckayla’s calling has helped her realize that the Lord loves each one of His children, she said.
“It kind of gives you a sense of identity; you know that you’re a daughter or a son of God by doing this and just having that Spirit and realizing that He loves each one of us, and the whole reason that we’re doing this is to get all His children back to live with Him again,” she said.
Nathan said there are many things he has been able to learn since he has held his calling.
“First and foremost, I know the Savior lives,” he said. “I know that He loves and cares about each and every one of us. Family history is a vehicle that we use to get closer to the Savior. It is such a wonderful work because as vital as it is for those beyond the veil, the same is true for us. We need the work as much as they do.”
President Lefler said the youth feel the spirit of Elijah as they work and that it is unique and powerful.
Nathan said, “I have friends that would have never served missions, but when they participated in family history work they were engulfed in the Spirit and were able to gain testimonies of the importance of the temple and the ordinances which are performed.”