“I can’t take another day of the rowdiness and disrespect of those young people on our tour!” The American woman introduced herself as she sat down across the table from me.
“I don’t know what has happened to this younger generation. They have absolutely no regard for the beautiful or the sacred. We have some teenagers in our group who sit in the back of the bus smoking, drinking, and disrupting our whole tour with their rowdiness.”
We arose and walked through the rose garden behind the hotel, viewing the Holy City across the Kidron Valley. She continued: “Only yesterday in Bethlehem the obscenity and vulgarism of their language was a desecration of those sacred shrines.”
As she spoke, I thought of the eight young people who made up nearly a fourth of our tour group.
“What do you do with all those teenagers you have with you?” she asked. “I noticed that you have quite a number of them with your group. How do you control them?”
I thought of the way Melvin Bushman and Bonnie May Hiatt had been so concerned about Mrs. Foster as we all ascended the narrow, age-polished stone steps to the “Upper Room,” which tradition identifies as the site of the Last Supper. And wasn’t it Carolyn Bushman and her cousin Virnell Bushman who had made sure that Mrs. Turley wouldn’t miss the view from the minaret? Diane Hess was the very essence of sunshine and cheerfulness, always a bright spot in our group. And Shelley Crane, quiet and somewhat shy, was always concerned for others before herself.
Then there were Jerome and John Horowitz. Jerome was a typical 17-year-old and as typically unpredictable. I was a little annoyed when he appeared so zealous to board the plane that day when we didn’t have seat assignments, but a few moments later I realized that he was trying to reserve seats for some of the older members of our group.
“What do you do about them when you are visiting these sacred sites?” she asked.
“We take them with us, or rather they take us, and we share in their enthusiasm. You see, we’re Mormons, and—”
“Oh yes, I’ve heard about your church and the marvelous programs you have for young people,” she interrupted. “You have some sort of youth activity program, don’t you?”
I explained that the quality of our young people is the result of more than just activities and programs; the gospel is a whole way of life. It is the influence of the gospel of Jesus Christ and his priesthood in the lives of Mormon young people that makes the difference. Because of their own feelings for their Savior, their own spiritual strength and testimonies, and in many cases, their own sacrifices, this journey to the Holy Land meant as much to the young people of our tour group as it did to the adults.
My conversation with this lady came back many times during the subsequent events of our tour, events that vindicated my defense of LDS youth.
We found Athens hot and humid when our group arrived there. Without air conditioning, the bus trip left us tired and bedraggled. But it didn’t take long before the light-hearted quips and personal concern of the young people had the rest of us forgetting our discomfort. It was Carolyn who decided we needed some singing, and Virnell, Shelley, Bonnie, and Diane soon joined in.
As usual, Melvin was the first to help with the luggage when we reached our hotel, checking the number of pieces and helping the ladies with their heavier bags.
“How do you control them?” the lady had asked.
It was just past noon when we returned from a spectacular tour of the Acropolis and Mars’ hill where Paul preached to the Athenians. The young people had assisted their not-so-young associates along the rugged terrain among the ancient ruins, not only giving their physical strength, but sharing their excitement and wonder as well. When we returned to the hotel, we were stunned by the news that Greece was at war with Turkey. Cyprus had been invaded by Turkish troops. All of the Greek men between the ages of 18 and 45 were to be mobilized within the next few hours. Suddenly the streets were filled with people. Young men carried small tote bags; neighbors gathered for brief farewells; a woman stood in her doorway weeping as she saw the men leave. She told us her children were too young to go, but she had five brothers who would have to fight.
This was not just a disruption of the afternoon-scheduled tour to Corinth. This was not just the temporary inconvenience of having no other bus at our disposal. Greece was at war! Greece’s borders were sealed. Her harbors were closed. Her airports were shut off. No commercial transportation was allowed in or out of the country. With the shortage of help in the hotel, we were informed that we would receive no further clean linen, there would be no room service, and the waiters from the dining room were gone. Making our own beds would be no problem. Hanging our towels to dry was no inconvenience. But what kind of chaos would the dining room be in without anyone there to help?
Dinner time arrived, and we walked into the dining room. To our delight there seemed to be plenty of help. John seated me at our table, and Jerome filled our water glasses. Carolyn was serving the rolls to other hotel guests, while Virnell followed up with butter. Bonnie was laughing and joking with some of the tourists as she and Diane served them cool beverages. Shelly was clearing dirty dishes from the tables and refilling glasses with ice. Melvin did anything that might have been overlooked—clearing tables, bringing a salad where one was forgotten, or resetting tables for the next group. They had not been asked; they had volunteered. For the duration of our stay in Athens, their service made the dinner hour something to look forward to.
With the tension of the war mounting, rumors of a military coup circulated throughout the city. Tanks were brought in, and armed police platoons became numerous on the streets. The U.S. Embassy warned us to remain in our hotel until further notice. Thus confined, we were threatened with boredom. But again our young people came to the rescue; they would have nothing to do with boredom. At our sacrament meetings our priests, Melvin and Jerome, prepared the sacrament and were assisted by John in passing it. Virnell and Carolyn served as chorister and organist. By recalling our experiences of the previous week in the Holy Land, our sacrament hymns were even more meaningful to each of us. We followed the admonition that “the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me.” (D&C 25:12.)
In the days that followed, the strain of being in war-inflicted Greece, our evacuation from Athens, and many long delays between planes were all made lighter by the humorous good nature and thoughtful consideration of the young travelers in our group. The lives of all those who traveled with them were made richer by their influence. Our LDS youth serve as an ensign, proclaiming the spirit of the gospel to all the world.