Youth in Motion, Youth in Touch


In Vancouver, British Columbia, young Latter-day Saints are really going somewhere.

We live in a state of constant motion. Even when we’re asleep, our hearts keep pumping. Our lungs pull air in and push it out. Our brains and nerves send and receive tiny signals. The very atoms and molecules that compose our bodies whir and spin.

Sometimes we think we achieve a condition called “standing still.” But as we stand, the wind brushes by us, the clouds roll overhead, and rays of sunlight complete a journey that began millions of miles away.

Even our earth is constantly moving. It not only rotates; it orbits at incredible speed. With other planets and moons, it rushes through darkness pursuing the sun, part of a galaxy of stars chasing stars chasing other galaxies in a never-ending symphony of light.

Heading in the right direction, at the right speed. That could have been the title of the morning session of the youth conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. But “Youth in Motion, Youth in Touch” was what was printed on the program.

Teenagers, you would think, should be experts on motion. Even now, as they queue up for lunch, they can’t stop moving. To pass the time, one young man captures and releases a yo-yo as it drops and climbs on its string. Another juggles oranges, while some of the young women race each other across the lawn.

“A world in frantic motion will look to you,” Vancouver British Columbia South Stake President Richard C. Bulpitt told them in his talk. And Bryce Winkle, a seminary teacher from Portland, Oregon, and his wife, Barbara, warned that “you will face some of the most important decisions of your life in the next five to ten years—mission, marriage, school, career—it all rushes by real fast.”

For lunch, it’s hoagies and chips, which like most things Canadian have French names, too. (The sandwiches are called “sous-marines,” and on one side of the package the Old Dutch, vinegar-and-oil flavored potato chips are labeled “croustilles.”)

But as the youth sit and talk, something interesting is happening. Prompted perhaps by the speeches of the morning, the conversations center around the theme of the conference. The young people are talking about motion—about moving in a positive direction with school, with mission preparation, with career planning, with life.

The afternoon is spent in workshops. But what workshops! In one room an airline inspector’s black light makes cracks in metal glow. In another area, an attorney in courtroom attire discusses his career. An advertiser hands out free food and hats. A marine biologist has plant specimens spread over a table for everyone to see. A computer expert encourages experiments on monitors and keyboards. An architect lectures to a standing-room-only group in the high council room. There are representatives from the media, from education, medicine, dentistry, business, public service, veterinary medicine, and more.

In the evening, there will be an amateur talent night featuring songs, skits, serious readings, and corny jokes. It will loosen people up and help them get acquainted. But already people are in touch, sharing their ideas and friendship, in the serious moments sharing gospel truths.

Not far from here, Vancouver City is hosting Expo 86, a fair for all the world. The theme is “World in Motion, World in Touch.” There are rides and exhibits, films and productions, hundreds of things to do and see. But you wouldn’t know by looking at these young people that that’s where they will be tomorrow. By all indications, the youth conference they’re at right now is the greatest thing in the world, the place of all places where they would choose to be.

Color communicates. Color becomes motion, blending and blurring into a vision of purple, yellow, orange, and green. Crimson banners, alive in the fiery sun. Deep blue skies, pierced with white sails. The bright red of a Mounty’s coat or the blazers of a bagpipe band. Oriental dragon boats, spotted with yellow and green. The hot pink hat of a man building boats. The silver blur of a monorail train or a fan of water flattened by a child’s hand. The lonely tan of a wooden mountain, climbed and reclimbed by an alpine club. Big bold balloons. The flat gray of an undulating highway, its vehicles painted the same color in the name of sculpture. Fireworks crackling, loud and pink and white, as motion, sound, and color become one.

These are the sights of Expo. These, and people. Mimes with painted faces working crowds for a laugh. Pirates ready to sail the sea. Jugglers balancing coat hangers and bowling pins. Children laughing out loud. Adults in line, tired of standing. A man in a turban, nodding his head. High-kicking folk dancers spinning plaid skirts. People talking, laughing, listening, learning. Vancouver sent out invitations, and the world came in return.

“Who are all you kids in the white shirts?” the lady said. And the answers came from a group.

“We’re Latter-day Saints.”

“Mormons.”

“Here for our youth conference.”

“Great fair, isn’t it? See you later. Have fun.”

The conversations weren’t heavy. But people were curious about all the teenagers wearing identical shirts. It was a great way to subtly share the gospel.

Throughout the day at Expo, however, there were also gospel discussions of another kind—members of the Church talking to fellow members, sharing with each other small bits of their lives.

“I have a huge church (of another faith) practically in my backyard,” said Travis Wolsey, 14. “When my friends find out I’m religious, they say, ‘Is this the one you go to?’ I say, ‘No, I go down to Richmond.’ ‘You’re crazy! That’s a 20-minute drive!’ But it gets them talking, wondering why I’m willing to go that far just to go to church.”

Rob Reid, 15, of Walnut Grove, said, “The Church is growing fast here. Last year they divided our ward, and now they’re ready to split again. But my friends at school still don’t understand. They hear me talk about getting up at 5:20 to go to seminary. They say they go to church on Sunday, but I go six days a week. Isn’t that a bit much?”

“I play lots of league sports, but I won’t play on Sunday,” Travis continued. “So I always need to explain about the Sabbath. I tell them that on Sunday we rest, avoid stressful activity, and take time to think of peaceful things. Most of them are working hard, and they say they wish they could have a Sabbath, too.”

“Some of the guys on the football team thought my habits were funny,” said John Van Rijswijck of Richmond. “So I just told them, ‘Yeah, I’m proud of it, and I’ll talk to you about it anytime you want me to.’ One of the girls at school came by our house, and she saw a certificate hanging on the wall that said I’d been ordained a priest. She really wanted to know about that.”

Others talked about life in the smaller branches.

“There’s one big advantage of living where I come from,” said Renata Koller, 14, of Smithers, a logging town. “If you get mad you can just walk outside and scream at all the trees.” There are only about 30 people in her branch, and just seven teenagers. Still, Smithers came in first overall in a recent scripture chase. “We have a great seminary program. Class starts at 6:15 A.M. I get up every day at 5:00 and walk a mile and a half to the house where we meet. On my way there I’ve seen a fox, a wolf, and two bears.”

“For the size of branch we’re in, we have a good youth program,” said Angelina Schafer, 16, of Quesnel. “There are about 25 kids.”

Shayne Olsen, 18, of the same branch, agreed. “At her school there are about four members out of 300 students. At mine, there are ten out of 700, and the bishop and his first counselor are teachers there. We’re not that large a group, but we stick together, and when you stick together it’s easier to be strong.”

“We have lumber and sawmills, gorgeous mountains, and excellent fishing,” said Floyd Brown, 18, of the Hazelton Branch. “We also have two Aaronic Priesthood holders out of 14 members who come to church. But we get to really use our priesthood. Each Sunday I say two or three prayers, help with the music, or give a talk.” Floyd, who has started work at 4:00 A.M. daily in the sawmills since he was in grade five, plans to go to dentistry school. But first, he’s getting ready for a mission.

“I’m on my third reading of the Book of Mormon,” he says with a smile.

The next morning, the youth are back at the meetinghouse again for another session of workshops and talks. They spend the third day of the conference discussing dating, relationships, and the high priority of being brothers and sisters in the gospel. In the afternoon, they converge on the chapel for what many will consider the culmination of three of the greatest days in their lives—a testimony meeting where youth after youth tells of victories and trials, of the joys and struggles of drawing nearer to Christ.

Later, everyone gathers for a group photo. Then, in the evening, there’s a dance. Some of the young people, however, take a break from the dancing. It seems natural for the group from Abbotsford to sit and talk. Maybe they’re evaluating the conference they’ve just been through. Maybe they’re just sharing, talking about life.

Taylor Strong, tall and thin, has a warm, happy wit and a quick smile. He seems to be their ringleader in righteousness.

He talks about his school. “We’re only five Mormons, out of 1,500 students. It’s kind of hard when lots of your friends don’t have the same morals. But once they get to know the person inside, really well, then they understand your standards; they respect you. People would like to know what you believe. Inside, a lot of them are lonely.”

He talks about his friend Mark, who was baptized last week. “Once you’re able to speak to your friends, that’s what happens. When you can express what you feel, one on one, with the Spirit, then the truth comes out.”

A young man named Jeff, a nonmember who came with the Abbotsford youth as a guest to the conference, starts to talk.

“When I first met Taylor,” he says, “I didn’t know what to think. I had heard he belonged to a cult. But I’d seen his family and met his friends, and I had to say, ‘How can that be a cult?’ The more I’ve been around his family, the more it’s changed my life. Example is so important. If Taylor hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have heard about the Church except from people who don’t know about it. Now, hopefully, I’m going to become a member this month.”

In another corner of the building, some young women from the Prince George Branch are talking about the theme of the conference, “Youth in Motion, Youth in Touch.”

“Sure, we’re in motion,” says Heidi Towers, 17. “We’re in the world but not of it. We’re in touch with Heavenly Father, so we know what it’s all about.”

“The Church is about continually progressing,” her twin sister Leanne responds. “It’s about moving forward, toward a celestial way of life.”

There’s another kind of motion, too, a motion more powerful than roaring winds or the pulling of the tides. It starts quietly, gently, deep down, far inside. Subtly at first, then powerfully, it tugs on the soul, awakening a sense of what is right.

Given room it gains momentum, turning us toward the light. lt impels us to bear testimony, to press forward, to serve the Lord with all our might. Like a great magnet, it draws us toward the truth and the truth toward us.

The scriptures have a name for this kind of motion. They call it “a mighty change of heart” (see Alma 5:12–14).

It’s Friday morning, July 4, 1986. The rushing and packing are finished. The handshakes are over; the hugging is done. The cars are leaving, and the buses are rolling out. With themselves, with the gospel, with their Father in Heaven—the youth of Vancouver, constantly in motion, have also shown how much they are in touch.

[photos] Photography by Richard M. Romney

[photos] Perhaps it’s only natural when young Saints gather, for friendships to build and strengthen, solid as girders, in a very short time. Within a few days, those who knew each other well and those who knew each other only slightly had all become allies in righteousness.

[photos] Color and motion, color and motion, a whirring and blurring of sight and sound. The celebration of movement and communication also become a celebration of being and seeing, of sensing and feeling, of rejoicing in the fascination of life.

[photos] A wonderland awakens when we see things in a new way, when we live through story the life of another, when we feel the power of growing because we have listened and learned. Through something as simple as a conversation, the fire of testimony was renewed.