Quest for Heaven

by Lara Mayo Bangerter

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    In Georgia they’re keeping heaven on their minds. And that means keeping their eyes on standards.

    “I’ll give you ten bucks to taste a beer tonight,” one boy coaxes.

    “Yeah, I’ll add 20 to that,” another prods.

    “Come on, you’ve got to at least try it once,” a third boy encourages. “You don’t even know what you’re missing.”

    The offers are beginning to grow into a nice sum of money. Everyone is watching.

    “I know you know I’m Mormon,” responds Sara Traina, 14, of the Jonesboro Georgia Stake. “I won’t do that.” But the boys persist in a half-serious, half-teasing manner.

    What would you do?

    Last summer at a Young Women’s conference, LDS girls from Georgia had the opportunity to spend five days discussing situations like this and learning how to handle them. The girls came up with a list of things they have found make their lives on earth happier and their quests for heaven a little easier.

    Make up your mind what to do in difficult situations before they arrive. For Andrea Bennett, 17, of the Douglas Georgia Stake, turning down alcohol and R-rated movies at her junior/senior beach weekend wasn’t hard at all. “A lot of people were drinking, but when they asked me if I wanted some I just said no. I didn’t even have to think about it. I had made up my mind long before that happened I wouldn’t do those things. So when the offer came there wasn’t even a doubt in my mind what my answer would be. It would just happen. And it did.”

    Hang Mormonads in your locker. Ginny Pettyjohn, 16, of the Sugar Hill Georgia Stake, says, “They remind me to always be good; plus they are a good influence on others when they see them.”

    Last year Ginny’s locker was next to the locker of a guy known to drink a lot. He also liked to keep up on the latest Mormonads in Ginny’s locker. “One day a Mormonad about keeping the body and soul clean really seemed to intrigue him,” she says. “He kept looking at it but didn’t say anything.” The very next day he told Ginny a couple of his friends had come over the night before and asked him to go out drinking with them. But he thought about the Mormonad and decided not to go.

    Make good friends. Cathy Geigle, 15, also of the Sugar Hill Stake, has moved a lot and has had to make new friends many times—member and nonmember alike. “It is always so much fun to go out with Mormons,” she says. But right now those occasions usually occur when there is a church activity, since there are not a lot of LDS students in her school. But that hasn’t kept Cathy from making good friends. “If you have a good, clean spirit and are living righteously, you will be attracted to other good spirits, even if they aren’t Mormon,” she says.

    On Cathy’s first day of high school, she met Kelly. “We started talking, and I could just tell from the way she talked and acted we were a lot alike. Our spirits are alike. She’s been a good friend ever since.”

    Pick a role model for yourself.Joseph Smith is my hero,” says Anh Nguyen, 14, of the Atlanta Georgia Stake. “He was looking for Christ. He worried about finding the true church.”

    And Anh can relate. It wasn’t too long ago her family came from Vietnam to the United States, and the missionaries found them. Then she, too, had to find out for herself what the truth was. She says she prayed just like Joseph did, and she received an answer.

    “Joseph makes me want to stand up for what I believe like he did,” Anh says. “His example gives me strength.”

    Read your scriptures. “It’s one of the best ways to come closer to Heavenly Father and to have your problems answered,” says Doralee Solomon, 17, of the Douglas Georgia Stake. “You can always go to your scriptures for help and get answers.” At one time Doralee had a friend who was smoking, and she didn’t know what to do about it. She didn’t know whether she should talk to the person, the bishop, or the parents. But after reading, praying, and listening to her Young Women lessons, she knew she needed to confront her friend. “I know reading my scriptures helped put me in tune for an answer,” Doralee says.

    Pray. Before the Young Women’s conference, Allison Buytendorp, 17, of the Roswell Georgia Stake, didn’t want to go. But her mother suggested she pray about it before she made up her mind. Allison prayed and felt she should go. Now she knows why. “I loved it. I felt spiritually renewed afterwards, and it made me want to go to seminary. Now I want to learn more about the scriptures. I know I was where I was supposed to be because I prayed. It just feels good to know Heavenly Father is always there for you to help you out.”

    Remember Sara from the beginning of this story? She was standing up for what she believes in. She never took the guys up on their offers. She politely refused and didn’t go to the party where the alcohol was being served. All her response did was gain her more of their respect. “I stand up for what I know is right the best I can,” Sara says, “and because I’m consistent I’m respected.”

    Tucked away deep in the Bible Belt, where most people are strongly religious, these girls communed in a peaceful 4-H camp halfway surrounded by a lake, an hour and a half outside of Atlanta away from the worries of the world. They were able to listen to talks and programs of their choice on missionary work, dating, sharing talents, trusting each other, and preparing for the Second Coming, to name a few. They stayed in cabins and enjoyed conversations easiest held with girls of their own religion—conversations about subjects like returning to live with their Heavenly Father someday. Now they know there are many LDS girls out there going through the same situations they are, and they know what others are doing to make their quest for heaven a little easier. They can take those ideas home with them and use them in their own lives.

    Photography by Lara Mayo Bangerter

    Hillary Hopkins (left) went to the conference with the help of a friend and was glad she did. Those attending emphasized the importance of good friends in helping maintain standards.

    Learning teamwork and appreciation for others was a main item on the agenda. (Opposite) In one activity, the girls deliberately tangled themselves up and then worked together to untangle themselves into a perfect circle.