“Exceedingly Young”

by Ruth H. Funk

General President of the Young Women

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    “But I’m just Sue Brown, only 15; what could I possibly do for the Lord?” This thought often creeps into the minds of young men and women as thousands are realizing the experience of being called by priesthood authority to be youth leaders in this dispensation.

    The bishop or bishop’s counselor makes such a call: “We have inquired of the Lord concerning this call. We have talked to your parents, and now, acting through the priesthood authority vested in me as bishop (a member of your bishopric), I call you to this position. You will be set apart for holy purposes—to preside over a group of young women your own age; to set an example for and to lead these young women; and to use the power and authority of your calling, along with the inspiration that you are entitled to, in behalf of these young women.”

    It is natural to be apprehensive when such a call comes to you. However, the calling of youth leaders has historically been the will of the Lord. He has not hesitated to call young leaders for his eternal purposes, to assist them in their preparation, and to send them forth to their new callings.

    Samuel, when only a youth, was chosen to be a prophet. His response when called is an example to all youth: “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” (1 Sam. 3:9.) David was only a boy tending his father’s sheep when Samuel was led by the inspiration of the Lord to anoint him king of Israel. Joseph Smith was a boy of 14 when the Lord appeared and spoke to him.

    The scriptures also give evidence of women playing vital, significant roles in the destiny of their people. Esther, a young Jewish woman, as virtuous as she was beautiful, exemplifies the spirit of godly devotion, of courage, and of patriotism. After fasting for three days, she risked her life to save her countrymen. She was an instrument in the Lord’s hands for her people’s deliverance from execution.

    When Joseph F. Smith was 15 years old, he went on a mission to the Hawaiian Islands. Elder Marion D. Hanks, managing director of the youth programs of the Church, was a Sunday School teacher at the age of 15, and while he was still a week away from his 32nd birthday, he was called to the First Council of the Seventy.

    Louisa Lula Greene Richards was 23 years old when she was called to be the editor of the Women’s Exponent, a Church paper established in 1872. It served as a medium for LDS women to righteously represent themselves against unfriendly comments and gross misrepresentations and defend the principles and doctrines of their faith. This timid, retiring young woman lacked confidence in her capabilities, but she possessed implicit faith in her Heavenly Father’s power and goodness. So prayerfully and with reluctance she consented to accept the call from the prophet and became one of the first woman journalists in Utah.

    Thousands of young Latter-day Saints are learning, just as Esther and Lula Greene Richards learned, that it still takes sacrifice to save lives in his kingdom. Tanya, a Laurel class president from Tasmania, caught the vision of her responsibility as a leader of youth today. Following a visit by a member of the Young Women general presidency, she wrote:

    “After the first night I got really inspired and filled with the Spirit. I can’t really remember when I have felt like it before. That night I went home and prayed to my Father in heaven and asked for strength and help so my inactive Laurels will want to come back. That night I felt a real peace come over my soul. Then when I heard you again, the same feeling came over me, and I realized how powerful and wonderful the Holy Ghost is. I immediately wrote to the girls. I love my girls in the Young Women organization because they share the same interests and goals that I hope to achieve. I realize that one day I will have to answer to the Lord, so I’m going to press on and work with my leaders. I’m not going to live on a borrowed testimony; I’m going to get my own through hard work.”

    A 13-year-old Mexican Beehive president gained a sense of responsibility concerning her calling. “I guess my biggest job,” she said, “is to have every girl my age in the ward feel as good about the Church as I do.”

    As youth leaders reach out to youth the results are inspiring and are observed with gratitude by many. From a bishop in Salem, Oregon, came a letter expressing these thoughts:

    “I know there is a special love among the youth of our ward, and I can only attribute it to this thrilling youth program. They rejoice in each other, they carry each other’s burdens, and when one weeps, they all weep. I wish I could relate to you the many experiences of reactivation, conversion, and service that have occurred in our small ward as a result of this program.”

    And in Gridley, California, a conscientious Beehive class helped to bring six young girls into the waters of baptism, and four more are being taught the gospel. They also reactivated five of their classmates. When asked what accounted for this increase in activity, the stake Beehive adviser replied, “Great ward advisers who train their class presidencies well.” Youth leaders today are involved in the exciting and sacred work of saving souls.

    “And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

    “And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:15–16.)

    When a young person is called to serve, the responsibilities that go with the call are outlined. With this stewardship comes the responsibility to give an accounting. That is, we receive direction, we carry out our responsibility, or we “do it” as President Kimball says, and then we return and report what we have done and receive further counsel and direction. This accounting is scheduled at regular intervals with a member of the bishopric but should also be a daily accounting with the Lord who will bless and magnify those whom he calls to be his leaders.

    Nephi, who was “exceeding young,” gives us courage and strength by his example in accepting a seemingly impossible task. His response was, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Ne. 3:7.)

    “He shall prepare a way for them.” What are some of the ways that youth leaders of today are being prepared?

    In addition to the wise council and guidance of parents and dedicated adult leaders, special materials have been designed and developed to assist youth and leaders of youth in their sacred and important callings.

    The Young Women Handbook includes administrative guidelines, with duties and responsibilities clearly outlined.

    The Young Women Guidebook has been designed for teaching gospel principles of leadership. It contains learning experiences based on the Young Women Handbook and the scriptures. It provides experiences in leadership skills. It suggests ways to determine the needs and interests of young women and how to meet those needs with stimulating classes, recreation, service projects, cultural events, and combined activities, “that they … may be prepared, and … be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands.” (D&C 105:10.)

    The Activity Book is also a new resource with valuable and thrilling ideas to stimulate the imagination. It includes suggestions for many different types of service—big projects, little projects, and small acts of service to fill everyday needs. (See Spencer W. Kimball, “There is Purpose in Life,” New Era, Sept. 1974, pp. 4–5.) It also contains a wealth of ideas and suggestions for “activities with a purpose” to meet the specific needs of the individual girl or girls in a class or in a combined situation with young men.

    The book My Personal Progress is designed to help young women plan a program for personal progress according to their needs, talents, desires, and dreams. They can set and report goals and measure progress as they strive for perfection. They can prepare and progress in the service of the Lord and while doing so can develop the qualities and virtues expected of them as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Young Women program. Each girl can start where she is, setting, recording, and accomplishing goals and moving forward step by step.

    When the Lord created the earth, he had a plan and he had a time schedule in which to carry out the plan. He also has an eternal plan for his children, an allotted time, a lifetime, in which they might prove themselves worthy of his blessings. Just as a blueprint is necessary to the builder or a pattern to the seamstress, even more is a plan or program for personal progression necessary to each young woman.

    And so today youth are being called, set apart, provided with training materials and dedicated leaders to assist them in magnifying their sacred callings. And when the historical records of youth leaders of this dispensation are reviewed by those who will follow, it might well read: “They were called of God; they were exceedingly young; they were directed by the Spirit; they carried each others’ burdens; they were servants of the Lord.”