Taking It Personally


The swords were foam rubber, the plates weren’t real gold, but at the end, the Book of Mormon was never more real.

For the youth of the Utah South Jordan West Stake, youth conference will never be the same again. Neither will the Book of Mormon.

For years, the stake had spent their youth conferences at local water parks or college campuses or going river rafting. Then the leaders planned a Book of Mormon conference.

At first the youth worried that it would be boring. But it didn’t take long to see they were wrong.

“It’s been kind of like living in a really intense movie for three days. I wouldn’t mind doing this every year,” says Ian Jack, 15.

He doesn’t have time to say more. The call to battle sounds. He picks up his foam rubber sword and runs out to join the army, which is acting out the Nephites’ and Lamanites’ last battle. All the youth agree that the battles are a blast.

But battles are just part of the fun. The youth have acted out scenes from the Book of Mormon, built their own wooden tower, and lived through the three days of darkness and destruction preceding Christ’s visit to the Americas.

They saw Abinadi burned at the stake, witnessed an angel appear to Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah, and went to battle as the 2,000 stripling warriors.

After each activity the youth gather in discussion groups to talk about what they are learning and feeling about the Book of Mormon.

Karen Vandenberg, 15, is still laughing as she joins her discussion group, but she quickly becomes serious. The battles are great, she says, but they also make her curious about what it was really like to live among the Nephites.

“I was surprised to see an example of how many people died. Every time we act something out, I want to get into it more, learn more about that part of the Book of Mormon,” she says.

Lehi became very real to Nate Cleveland, 18, when he acted out the part of Lehi during his discussion group. “It was really hard for me to convince Laman and Lemuel to get the plates and yet still hold my family together,” he says, shaking his head. “I had never thought of Lehi as a dad before.”

Janet Sudweeks, 16, suddenly realized how much Moroni had suffered to bring forth the Book of Mormon.

“After the major battle I felt so sorry for Moroni. I think I kind of understood, for the first time, how hard it must have been for him to see his father die,” she says.

But the youth aren’t just learning about the Book of Mormon. They are learning more about themselves and what they want to become.

Daniel Allison, 14, has set a goal to be more like Moroni in his everyday life. “After one of the battles it just hit me. We are warriors fighting a battle against spiritual death. I need to be strong, like Moroni, and never give in.”

For Angie Tyndall, 17, Abinadi’s experience has become a lesson in personal commitment. “It makes me think about what I should and shouldn’t be doing. Without people who are willing to do what is right, none of this could have come about.”

On the last morning of the conference the youth are given “golden plates” and asked to record their feelings. Most of the youth make commitments to continue their study of the Book of Mormon.

But this time it will be different. They won’t just be reading. They’ll be understanding, feeling—and remembering—the Book of Mormon. Perhaps for the first time.

The plates are buried in a box made of bricks, to be “discovered” at a later time. But the youth have already made the most important discovery. They’ve lived the Book of Mormon, and it was anything but boring.

[photos] Photography by Peggy Jellinghausen

[photos] Recording their feelings about the Book of Mormon, some were surprised at just how deep those feelings had become.

[photos] You can be sure of this: Put your heart into things—like youth conferences and the Book of Mormon—and you get a lot more out of them.