What’s it like in the British Isles? Rain, rain, and more rain, is the answer. Rain makes things grow. But the vegetation isn’t the only thing on these “isles of the sea” that is growing. Several thousand young Latter-day Saints can testify of blessings through living the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It’s not always easy. Opposition comes in every shape and form. “But I think it can make for better members,” says 17-year-old Craig Thompson of Plymouth Ward, Devon. “When comparing our country with parts of America, youth over there seem to have so much going for them. British teenagers often wish they had more, but really, if they persevere, they can have blessings in the long run.”
Craig and his friend Mark Foord were disappointed at the small number of activities for youth in their ward, so they decided to do something about it. With permission from their bishop and stake presidency, they planned a successful dance, inviting youth from other wards to enjoy the occasion. Money raised went towards sports equipment.
Sports facilities are poor in most British wards and branches, but despite this, stakes manage to produce teams to compete in regional football, basketball, volleyball, netball and swimming. Some stakes even have cricket on the agenda.
Schools in this country also participate keenly in sports, but there is always conflict for the students, as homework pressures are heavy.
British schooling begins between ages 3 1/2 and 5. First school (with homework beginning at age 8) continues to ages 11, 12 or 13, depending where you live; students finish secondary schooling between ages 16 and 18, depending on whether they leave after 0 level G.C.S.E. (General Certificate of Secondary Education) exams, or stay on to take A levels (advanced), prior to college or university.
Many youngsters have to explain their beliefs whilst still in first school. Sometimes the effects of isolation can be devastating for youth with reserved natures.
Twenty-year-old Elaine Jack of Livingstone Ward, Scotland, found this to be so. “Not only was I the only LDS student at school where religious beliefs were mocked, but I was also the only active youth at church,” she says. “Now that I’m older, I don’t mind being different, but as a teenager I wanted so much to be accepted. Between ages 15 and 17 I stayed away from church. Until then I had relied on my parents’ testimony. This was not enough.
“It wasn’t until a caring Primary leader asked me to help with the children,” continues Elaine, “that I slowly began attending church again. I was still ready to find fault with everything. Then I studied the Book of Mormon in institute. That completely turned me around. By then I was ready to reach out and learn. The last three chapters of Second Nephi became especially significant to me.”
Other outgoing teenagers find they are not isolated because of their religious beliefs. Fourteen-year-old Geraldine Hall of Exeter Ward in Devon attends a Church of England school. She finds schoolmates accepting her beliefs without prejudice. She even manages to share her testimony.
“After a home economics lesson one week,” Geraldine says, “the teacher asked, ‘Who would like a cup of tea?’ Of course they all said ‘yes please’—except me. When someone asked, ‘Why don’t you drink tea?’ one friend answered, ‘Because she’s a Moron.’ ‘Not Moron—Mormon,’ I replied. Then, whilst they all sat round, I explained what we were really called and why. After that no one’s ever tried to belittle my faith.”
In the Republic of Ireland, 18-year-old Andrea Stapleton of Barnhown, Araglen, County Cork, is the only LDS student at a Christian Brothers School. She’s also one of only two girls attending school there.
“It was awful at first,” Andrea recalls. “The boys would fire paper pellets and make fun if I got anything wrong, but things are easier now. There are no girls’ sports taught here and not much opportunity for church discussion. However, I do aim to be a good example of a true Latter-day Saint at all times. My parents and seminary have taught me how to behave.”
Back in Devon, Carys Anne Irwin of Exeter adds, “I’m the only Latter-day Saint at St. Margaret’s School, but everyone treats me with respect. Our ward has lots of good youth activities, so I invite friends to join in. They make comments like, ‘I really enjoyed that. Your people have such nice smiles.’”
One such activity for youth of the Exeter Ward included community service. The members had a “buddy night” with young people from the local deaf school. They went canoeing. Loren Fielding says, “Those who paired up with the deaf found it such fun that we’re going to repeat the event—probably swimming next time.”
Elsewhere in Britain, youth activities vary dramatically. Unemployment is high. Opportunities for casual work are limited. Distances between home and church are often great. Transport can be difficult. But, of course, the weather is predictable—mostly wet.
Virginia Hann, 17, of Dumfries Ward, Scotland, is the only girl in her family of nine children. They live 22 miles from church and 40 miles from Edinburgh Stake Centre.
“Meeting with other Latter-day Saints is something to look forward to,” says Virginia. “We live on a smallholding and are quite self-sufficient. My brothers have even raised calves to help pay for missions. But isolation makes it hard to have any social life.”
Many of Scotland’s youth face this hurdle. As 16-year-old Fiona Stewart of Dundee Ward explains, “Meeting another Church member to date can be really difficult for many of us. There are not enough boys to go around. Too many give up their ideals, finally dating and marrying nonmembers.”
Janice MacDonald from Livingstone Ward agrees. “We’d love more events on a countrywide basis, but lack of funds would still make it difficult to travel far. Even getting to church on Sundays is hard in Scotland. Buses don’t run at the right times. Most people rely on legs, bikes, or lifts (car rides), especially from missionary couples.”
“But I think it’s worth saving up to get around if you can,” says David Grant, 17, also of Livingstone. “I’m lucky I have an after-school job. I’d rather date someone from another area, as it gets embarrassing if things go wrong between you and your girlfriend if she’s the only available date in your ward.”
Down in England, chances of part-time work are sometimes better. With an increase in the number of free daily papers, newspaper deliveries are popular. Martin Reynolds, 18, of Sutton Coldfield, has found extra blessings coming from hard work needed for his particular round.
“My mother and I agreed to deliver 2,800 daily papers around our area,” he explains. “These have to be dropped off at 14 pickup points in bundles of 100. We get up at 4.30 A.M. returning home by 6.00 A.M. Not only do I save for my mission and have money for other activities this way, but I also have the chance to talk with my Mum. We get along really well. And it’s been a good time for her to teach me to drive.”
Linda Bradshaw, living in the West Midlands, has applied creative fingers to the money problem. She has developed a handmade jewellery business, selling to local tourist attractions.
“We have little spare time for out-of-school jobs, even if they are available,” she says. “Homework is heaped on us at every opportunity. We have to study hard to pass our O and A level exams. Jobs and university places are scarce. We need good results to get anywhere. I’ve learnt to manage my time and can fit in jewellery making early morning or other odd hours.”
Time is not the only thing controlled well by youth in this part of the world. Amidst a mass of low standards, in and out of school, the majority are learning to stand firm.
Cherry Wilson, of Runcorn Ward, Chester Stake, is 18. “Most of my school friends around here spend spare time at the pubs, discos, and all-night parties. There’s nothing much else to do. But as long as I tell myself where my priorities are, then I don’t need to get involved. My testimony has deepened because I’ve had to search and find things out for myself in order to defend my beliefs.”
British missionaries with Cherry’s attitude are particularly blessed. Their service is vibrant. And although some youth fear for careers and university places if they put a mission first, the ones taking the plunge now rejoice in blessings.
Anthony Meadows from Southport, Merseyside, shares firm testimony. “If I could get one message to the youth of these islands, it would be to serve a mission as soon as you leave school!
“My experience has been full of miracles,” he adds. “Since teaching the gospel in New Zealand, I’ve come home to an excellent place at Exeter University, studying physical education. I’ve also found my wife, another British returned missionary from New Zealand. And I’ve never been short of part-time work.”
Stephen Bloor of Helston, Cornwall, agrees with Anthony. He had an interview for the Plymouth School of Chiropody the same day he left home to serve a mission in the Manchester, England, area.
“I found out later,” says Stephen, “that the head of school accepted me because he had Mormon neighbors who set a great example. When he realized where I’d be spending the next two years, he immediately gave me a place. I’m convinced that if we have an earnest desire to serve Him, then the Lord will pave the way.”
Setting examples, meeting challenges, riding bikes, and enjoying the rain—all are opportunities to pave the way for sprouting testimonies, as young Saints from these northern isles of the sea blossom and bear fruit in the latter-days.