Go to Minnesota during winter, and you’ll hear jokes about the cold. It’s guaranteed.
“There are only two seasons in Minnesota,” says Karen Kirkham, stifling a smile. “Winter and whatever else is left.”
“No,” says her twin sister Sharon. “Minnesota has six seasons. Spring, summer, fall, and winter, winter, winter.”
Like most folks from Minnesota, the two 17-year-olds from the Plymouth First Ward love to joke about shivering. But they’re also quick to assure you that their state isn’t a perpetual deep freeze.
“Actually, we start suntanning in April, just like everyone else,” Karen says. But then she can’t resist adding: “You have to get a little tan to cover the blue.”
Minnesota is in fact a land where cold means cold. Temperatures below zero have a tendency to linger. Whipping winds hurl crystal daggers at unprotected flesh. In harbor towns like Duluth, the shore of Lake Superior chokes on slabs of ice stacked and shuffled by relentless waves. In the Twin Cities metropolis of Minneapolis and St. Paul, covered walkways connect office building to office building, making it possible to walk from one end of downtown to the other without going outdoors. Main floor entrances stay closed to keep out snow and chilling drafts, and the business districts operate from the second story up.
But there is another side to winter in Minnesota. The cold season becomes a festival. Ice carvings adorn public squares. Skaters carve figure eights on frozen lakes. Every sort of winter sport, from skiing to hockey to broom ball, is pursued with fevered abandon.
And even though Minnesota winters may be severe, there are three other seasons in the year. Spring becomes a true joy. Hearts cheer to see the snow melt, to witness bright grass reappearing. Summer brings high temperatures and humidity, so 10,000 lakes become havens from the heat, centers for sailboats and surfing, for beach parties and picnics.
And autumn is the season of color. Entire forests change their hue. “In Minneapolis, all the roads are lined with huge elm and oak trees,” says Luke Niederhauser, 17, of the Burnsville Second Ward. “In fall the leaves all change to yellow and brown.” Temperatures are mellow and cool. The whole world seems golden.
The LDS youth who live here will tell you that Minnesota is truly a state for all seasons. But talk with them a little longer, and you’ll soon be convinced that the seasons they’re discussing include more than fall and summer, winter and spring.
The first season they’ll talk about is a season of sharing. It begins whenever Latter-day Saints care about themselves and others. It will last as long as there are people who need to hear the gospel.
“There’s something everybody shares in the Church,” says Jared Hadden, 15, of the Minneapolis First Ward. “And that’s friendship. We have activities, and the whole stake gets together. The wards are spread out, so you have Church friends outside your own ward. You get people from the inner city and people from the suburbs, and it’s pretty cool. Even though you’re proud of your city and your neighborhood, you’re still willing to share and to get along.”
“In the small branches, the kids are close because we’re always together,” says Blaine Ober, 17, of the Carlton Branch. “We learn to rely on each other.”
“People admire us for living the gospel,” says Marisa Nankervis, 17, of the Virginia Branch. “I know kids in school who don’t offer me a smoke or a drink, because they know I won’t do it. And kids have told me they respect me because of what I believe.”
“You can’t say, ‘Let somebody else have the responsibility,’” says Taylor Halverson, 15, of the St. Paul Third Ward. “You can’t hope that people will look up to someone else instead of you.”
Taylor’s 18-year-old sister, Kirsten, says that living the gospel makes people curious about you.
“At the beginning of the year I decided to read my Book of Mormon during study hall,” she explains. “Pretty soon people were asking questions and borrowing the book to look at it. Some days the whole study hall would be talking about Mormons and what we believe. I gave a couple of people their own copy, and I think it helped them understand where I got my testimony.”
But it was Debbie Hanson, 16, of the Crystal Second Ward, who harvested one of the sweetest fruits of sharing:
“My parents knew some people from the Orient, and we kept spending time with their family,” Debbie says. “They had a girl my age named Ting Ming. We talked a lot about the Church, basically a testimony sharing thing. When the missionaries asked me if I would befriend her, I had to smile. We had already become good friends. Six months later, when Ting was baptized, she told me, ‘Thank you for giving me this beautiful truth.’”
Perhaps Amulek, speaking in the Book of Mormon, says it best: “This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors” (Alma 34:32).
The season of life is constantly upon us. It is a season of struggle and a season of growth. It is also, gladly, a season of joy and of learning. These youth of Minnesota have taken Amulek’s urging to heart. They know their season for living is now, and they must perform good labors; they know that serving others is the best way to draw close to God.
“Community involvement is a big thing here,” according to Wendy Spinks, 17, of the Hudson (Wisconsin) Ward. “And just like everybody else, we like to help the community. We spend a lot of time in the old folk’s home—we bake them cookies and visit with them. We do that a lot, and they always seem to appreciate it.”
“One time our priests quorum decided to baby-sit for a couple with a lot of young children,” says Luke Niederhauser. “They’d done a lot for the Church, but they didn’t often get time for themselves. So we all went over and took care of their kids for free so they could have a night out.”
In St. Paul the community is still talking about a “paint-a-thon” organized by LDS youth, where they scraped old paint and repainted the homes of people unable to do it for themselves.
And in addition to service, the youth of Minnesota know there are other labors worthy of their time.
“Seminary is a great investment in the future,” says Amy Niederhauser, 15, of the Burnsville Second Ward. “It’s great preparation for later on when you’re a parent and have to be teaching your own children.”
“It’s kind of fun to review some of the things I’ve learned,” says Megan Ogilvie, 17, of the Bloomington Ward. “If someone asks me a question, I know right where to find it. I can turn to the right scripture; I can say the right things.”
Besides that, seminary teaches self-mastery.
“It’s a good habit to get up early in the morning, at 5:00 or 4:30, to be there at 5:45 so you can have class and then go to school, and to discipline yourself to read the scriptures every night or every morning. Other kids may not understand why you do it, but they respect you for it.”
Nor is the season of living confined to service or church.
“Minnesota offers lots and lots of educational opportunities,” says Chris Speak, 16, of the St. Paul First Ward, who although in high school is already doing biological research at the University of Minnesota. He talks about corporate sponsorship for students, and free education for state residents.
His friend Mike Rogers, 18, of the St. Paul Third Ward, explains that “studies, education, all of that is taken very seriously here. Higher education in the state is really good.” Mike should know. He was an alternate member of a squad that competed against the Russians in the International Mathematics Olympiad.
Of course, in the season of living, there are challenges, too.
Chris says one of the hardest ones is keeping the Sabbath Day holy. “You have a limited summertime, where it’s really nice and warm, where you want to water-ski and swim, and sometimes you’re tempted to do that on Sundays.
“Plus,” says Mike, “you see so many kids that you consider basically good kids, and they’re doing it. They work Saturdays and have Sundays off; they think it’s a day for doing things, and they invite you along. But you have to remember, ‘I’m a member of the Church and I hold the priesthood.’ Sometimes it means you have to postpone things you’d like to do.”
Visit any ward or branch in Minnesota and you’ll hear youth talking about the temple. They’re excited to have the Chicago Temple less than a day away, and most wards stage youth temple trips once or twice a year. But there’s more than that to explaining the widespread enthusiasm.
First of all, the youth spend a whole season on preparation. At regional basketball tournaments, youth run the refreshment stands, and proceeds go toward temple trips. Throughout the year, there are bake sales and car washes, fruit sales and candy sales, all to make it possible for everyone to go. And there is constant instruction about the temple at firesides, at youth conference workshops, in priesthood and Young Women lessons, and in interviews with bishops or branch presidents. The young men and young women are used to talking about the temple and the important role it should play in their lives.
But second, and most important, is the fact that the youth have learned that going to the temple means that they care. They care about being worthy. They care about doing something worthwhile. And they care about helping others gain the blessings of eternity.
“The best part is when you get down there and you meet people and see people from all over the country,” says Benjamin Sabourin, 16, of the Ashland Branch. “And in the baptismal font, you do all those different names and you can’t help but wonder what those people were like and how they lived, and why they died, and whether or not they’re accepting what you’re doing.”
“A lot of us were excited about visiting a museum, about riding on the bus and having fun,” says Lisa Lanham, 17, of the Burnsville First Ward. “But the spectacular thing was that after we did the baptisms, we all agreed that that was the best part of the whole trip. The feeling when you walked in the temple—it was so peaceful and pure.”
“We had a testimony meeting afterward,” says Roxanne Thomas, 18, of the Crystal First Ward. “And we literally had a feeling of unity because of the work that we’d done. Everyone realized how important it was. And we realized that because of the Church, we really love the people we were baptized for. We really love them.”
Another season in Minnesota began a few months before Christmas, when the youth and leaders in the Bloomington Ward became aware of a group of people in need.
“They were facing severe financial problems,” says Megan Ogilvie. “Our Bishopric Youth Committee decided to see if there was something we could do to help. We contacted several different agencies, and they suggested what might be purchased or donated.”
Then the youth of the Bloomington Ward got busy.
“We had a bake sale, and we also got people to donate things—clothing, books, sports gear, toys, food. We filled five big boxes,” says Scott Ranning, 18. Some cash was also given, which was used to purchase additional clothing, books, and for some of the people, scriptures.
After everything was delivered, the ward held a fireside to talk about how wonderful it felt to give. From the people they had helped, the youth of the ward received a handmade cloth banner as a token of thanks and friendship, a banner that hangs in the bishop’s office to this day.
There are, in truth, many seasons in Minnesota. Seasons of discovery, seasons of renewal. Seasons of understanding and compassion. Seasons for deepening convictions, seasons for expanding hope. There is, as the Bible says, “a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). And the youth of Minnesota are growing through every season, strong in the gospel and eager to learn.