Their Book of Acts


Young Mormons are different.

They aren’t street people. In some circles they are declared too good to be true. They aren’t protesters or dissidents, though they have a cause to champion, and they get as upright about social issues as anybody else these days. They clamor for involvement to make life meaningful, too.

Their difference lies in what they do about what everyone is talking about. While their counterparts are backing shouts of peace and equality with rocks and fists, Mormon students are quietly chronicling a book of acts worthy of publication.

People have all kinds of needs. With an unwritten slogan, “We are there,” young Mormons and their friends go forth meeting needs. They search out the overlooked situations and the little heartaches. They rally their forces, organize their peers, and move in to perform special miracles in the lives of others.

Theirs is a new life style—different from their angry fellow students and different indeed from the last generation go-around.

In Madison, Wisconsin, Mark Hasler recently chairmanned a mammoth three-day workshop for college students in the region. A swinging committee set up housing with local Church members and catering services with the Relief Societies. The students invited insightful and busy Latter-day Saint leaders and teachers to a confrontation on Church-related problems—all the familiar, hard questions that had been smoldering in the minds of some students who hadn’t sought the opportunity to get answers firsthand. It was a healthy experience and a great undertaking geared to help the students get a new light on spiritual living. This unselfish effort was accomplished in lives already crowded with collegiate studies.

And it worked.

In a letter to the New Era, written six weeks following the conference, Chairman Hasler reported that the institute program has gained tremendous momentum since then. Classes have jumped from a hard-come-by eight persons to thirty-eight. Some missionaries used to dread the Madison assignment because of the lack of support from the students. Now the missionaries are swamped with referrals from students and ward members. In the past weeks, committees have been set up to work out a find-and-fellowship operation for Latter-day Saint students “in hiding” on campus. More than thirty-five have already been found and are being worked with on a buddy system with active Latter-day Saint students.

Cathy Meissner has organized a family home evening for single girls. This is so successful that the single boys now want to be included. Genealogy has been one of the slowest programs of the Church in this area. Yet when the priesthood decided a month ago that this too could be changed and then staged a genealogical work kick-off dinner, the response was overwhelming.

A nursery has been organized to give student wives and wife/students supervised child care service in the Church three days a week. The idea has spread to Milwaukee now.

Lela Marler, a former Madison student now in graduate school there, attended BYU this summer. Two weeks ago she returned to Madison, the scene of such serious campus unrest, and said, “What has happened here? It’s as if a cloud has been lifted from everyone and they can see more clearly the value in gospel living.”

In Harrisville, Utah, it was another kind of need that had to be met, and youth rose to meet the need. It’s a story that brought tears to Bishop Nicholas Van Alfen’s eyes as he shared the details.

A temple was being built—the Ogden Temple—and temples cost money, and money is hard come by in small towns like Harrisville, Utah. Some $3,461 was his ward’s assessment. The bishop knew that his congregation had already been pushed far past the comfortable position in contributions.

He fasted and prayed about it, as bishops do, and one day he was forcibly impressed with the idea that the answer lay with the young people of the ward. Why not issue them the challenge—and the blessings—of helping to build the temple they’d grow up to use? And that’s what he did. And that’s what they did.

“I had all the youth stay after Sunday School for a special meeting with me one Sunday. Naturally, their curiosity was up! I talked about their fine parents who were rearing them in the gospel. Yet I felt sure these youth had never really found true involvement—not the kind they’d know someday.

“We decided it was about time they learned that the gospel was more than volleyball and basketball and roadshows and Explorer trips. We agreed that involvement in the gospel meant working and striving for an important goal—something grand enough to require a personal sacrifice. The new temple was it.”

In an interview later with some of the participants, we asked how they felt about what they did. Did it really weld them to the Church? Did they feel spiritually strengthened? Had their relationship with the Savior changed through such a project? Did the youth of the ward feel closer to each other? closer to ward leaders? And what about personal sacrifice—did they participate out of love for the bishop, or because he was a good salesman, or because they were committed to church service? What? How?

Ava Painter was named as executive secretary of the committee, in charge of finding projects to raise funds over the summer. She spent countless hours channeling people into jobs, besides earning her own share of the contribution. “I started thinking about that temple and how we were the ones who’d be using it, not the older people who’d be gone someday. I dreamed of the day I’d go inside to be married and would look around and say, ‘It’s mine. I helped.’”

This same thought motivated many others. Making the dream come true had practical overtones, according to Kim Taylor. “A lot of us already had jobs, and we just decided we’d pledge as much as we could from our salaries. But we had to find jobs to raise money to meet the pledges of unworking kids. Before long everybody wanted to get in the act!”

Marilyn Crowther described the fantastic response of the people in the community. “This project got everybody interested in everyone else. It wasn’t just the temple. It was helping achieve a dream. If there weren’t jobs around someone’s place, people made them so the kids could get the money.”

The girls scraped and painted barns, tended children, bottled fruit, and did ironing. The boys did everything from washing cars to laying sewer pipe. And the money was raised. But not just money. So were spirits. Testimonies grew. Young people became active in the Church again. And one boy mentioned a powerful spiritual awakening.

Richard Knight, who is seventeen years old, talked of not being very active in the Church before this undertaking. “Church wasn’t a big thing in my life and I wasn’t praying anymore. Then when the bishop talked about this, I got excited about doing something big by ourselves. It was slow at first. We only earned about $500 the first month. And then I started to pray that this would come off and that people would help us find work. It has changed my life completely. It’s so great to have had to lean on the Lord and watch your prayers get answered. It’s so great.”

“I’d never sacrificed for anything in my life,” said David Saunders. “This project reminded me of what I’d learned in seminary about the Saints in Kirtland sacrificing for the temple in the early Church days. I was really thrilled to have a try—to see if I could sacrifice. And boy, we had to—movies, treats, clothes, records, family vacations, and especially our time. But we helped each other stick to it—and it worked!”

“I’ve always thought that now that I’ve helped pay for that temple, I’ll be sure to get married in it,” said Luann Winchester. This was a comment many of the youths made. The goal of temple marriage has new meaning for them now.

Kendell Kennington, a deacon, had a different point of view about all this. “When you’re my age, you always wish you were older because you can’t do anything—you can’t go to the teen dances or go on the Explorer trips or anything. Well, this time I was in on something with the older kids. And I learned a lot from working hard with the boys older than I am. I really liked it.”

Switching locations and projects, in Santa Ana, California, the students at the institute of religion decided to celebrate Christmas with an “I Care” project. It has now grown into a year-round, community-wide effort of exciting proportions and ramifications. They called hospitals and day care centers and offered their services. The Children’s Hospital of Orange County signed them up to supervise the recreational therapy room on a four-hour shift basis. Because of the personal satisfaction in the work, so many students have signed up to help that a one-time turn is all many of them get. But young patients benefit from the big brother/big sister attention, and the hospital is overwhelmed with the caliber of college students who care.

S stands for Service in Arizona. All over the state, LDSSA council members are boosting the idea that involvement is joy.

In the Phoenix region, the Latter-day Saint students are concentrating on the underprivileged areas. The main focus of their work has been on community school activities. They started from scratch and have developed a five-day-a-week program for all interested adult members in the surrounding community.

“We beamed with pride when Mr. Fuller, director of the community school, spoke at the institute and praised our efforts,” commented Gordon Paul Sorenson.

Brian Hendrickson, third-year law student, is community project chairman; and, according to Tempe institute director Sherman Beck, Brian stirred up a wonderful storm when he got the community project going. “Working with underprivileged children to lift them to greater heights of accomplishment and to give meaning to their lives is most rewarding,” Brian says.

Erline Hall is a great girl with a heart quick to sense an ache in another’s. She has winning ways with children, too, who clamor to “sit by teacher” as she assists them in reading as part of Safford, Arizona’s Head Start program. Her speciality is the five-year-old Mexican-American students, who are eager to learn.

Winter has come to the desert around Tucson. The morning air is biting to young Lamanites standing in a huddle waiting for their ride to seminary. Their own parents are unable to take them. But there are smiles all around when a long car pulls to a quick stop. It’s Chris, one of the girls who signed up with LDSSA’s car pool project. At seminary the students will be taught by a young returned missionary, also a member of LDSSA.

Every Monday night in Tucson, carloads of happy college students embark upon their most thrilling night of the week. Twenty minutes later they are in a twentieth century ghetto, tutoring elementary and high school students.

One member is teaching piano to four black students; and because no instruments are available in their homes or in the neighborhood, she picks the students up and takes them to the institute, where pianos are available.

“The service we render to others is really the rent we pay for our room on this earth,” said Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell. The service we render to others is also an act of love and obedience before our Heavenly Father, who reminds us that to lose our life is to save it.

[photos] Top: Fund raising was fun for the Harrisville, Utah, youth group who painted together. Above: Delegates line up for workshop registration at Madison, Wisconsin, student leadership meet.

[photo] Discussion groups were lively and long as students exchanged personal views and scriptural references concerning today’s key issues.

[photo] Wherever grass grows, the boys raced to cut it as part of a special temple fund-raising project.

[photo] Volunteers from LDSSA help a young patient in the children’s ward enjoy creative play.

[photo] The Big Sister program brings joy to both the student and the girl in the hospital.

[photo] Mark Tarwater tutors a special student as a volunteer in an Arizona community center.

[photo] Investing one’s humanity brings the kind of choice reward that crosses the age barrier for Erline Hall of Arizona, who makes a good friend with the Indian girl she is teaching to read.