The sound of a smoke alarm is high pitched and impossible to ignore. That’s the point. When there is a sign of danger, such as smoke, a warning, a piercing warning, is the best way to let people know to get out of the building. The Shreveport Louisiana Fire Department knows this. The town has not lost a single life to fire in homes equipped with smoke detectors.
But there have been lives lost in fires in homes not equipped with detectors. That’s why the fire department will give the detectors away free. The problem is getting them distributed and installed correctly. The fire department was so pleased when nearly 200 volunteers, young people and their leaders attending the combined Shreveport Louisiana Stake and Longview Texas Stake youth conference, offered to install smoke detectors as a service project.
These youth-conference-attending teens were excited to participate in service that had such immediate and personal contact with the people they were sent to help. Besides installing the warning voice of the smoke detector, the youth wanted to distribute another type of warning call, an invitation to come unto Christ. With that in mind, they each wrote their testimonies of Christ on a sheet of paper enfolding a small picture of Christ. To each person they visited, they would give this precious gift also.
First, the teens and their leaders were divided into small groups of between six and eight. They were instructed in the way to correctly install the detectors. They listened as Captain Jimmy Hall of the Shreveport Fire Department assured them that at least one of the detectors they would install that day would save someone’s life. “You are going to make a difference,” he said as they gathered their tools and headed for their assigned cars.
At first, the groups delivered detectors to those families who had requested them. A small article had run in the local paper encouraging those without detectors to call the fire department. Each group also canvassed the surrounding neighborhood.
“One of the homes where we put in an alarm had a fire last month. It had burned some cabinets in the kitchen,” said Jeffrey Loftin, 15, Brownlee Ward, Shreveport Louisiana Stake. “The project was really personal. Talking to the people was the best. It made me feel like a missionary.”
At first, some people were a little frightened to see a bunch of teenagers gathered outside their doors. “A lady answered the door,” said Melissa Carrell, 16, New Boston Ward, Shreveport Louisiana Stake. “She was scared of us because we were a bunch of kids. But she let us in. She appreciated what we were doing.”
Spreading their testimonies of Christ was a thrilling experience for most of the youth conference participants. They live in a part of the United States where many things are misunderstood about the Church. They often attend schools as one of only a few members. They are constantly having to explain that they are believers in Jesus Christ. “In striving to live my Young Women values,” said Jennifer Malone, 15, Longview Third Ward, Longview Texas Stake, “I’m also striving to teach people the gospel in my own way. I give out copies of the Book of Mormon left and right because it just seems that if I can, I should spread the gospel. It makes me beam with joy when I say that I know, without a doubt, no questions in my mind, that the Church is true.”
Handing out their testimonies with pictures of the Savior offered them a chance to talk to people about their beliefs. In nearly every case, the people listened respectfully to the things these teens talked about. And they spoke of their love for their Savior Jesus Christ. “The Savior’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane,” said Kimberly Hester, 16, Marshall Ward, Longview Texas Stake, “helps me to understand that He knows exactly how I feel. I’m grateful for everything He’s done for me and how my prayers have been answered.”
This was the first youth conference Chris Windham, 14, of the Nacogdoches Ward, Longview Texas Stake, had attended. He had fun at the dances, listened to the speakers, and filled up on good food. But his strongest memory might be when his group came to the final house as they installed their last smoke detector. It was Chris’s turn to talk to the homeowner and explain their purpose. Each group member had taken a turn being the one to handle the screwdriver, hold the ladder, or do the talking.
At this house, it was Chris’s turn to talk. He reached for a picture of Christ. It was supposed to have someone’s testimony written in the accompanying paper. But they had run short, and the paper was blank.
Chris handed the picture to the man they had just met. He said, “I don’t have a written testimony to give you with this picture of Christ.”
He paused. The adult leaders, who were standing behind him, glanced at each other. What was Chris going to do?
As Chris said later, the Spirit was urging him to tell this man what he believed. So, without hesitation, Chris bore his testimony with power and conviction to someone he had just met. “I know that Christ lived, and that He suffered and died for us. …”
As Chris spoke, tears sprang to the eyes of the man listening. He carefully held the picture of Christ, with head bowed, and listened to the words of a 14-year-old boy.
For a few days, the LDS youth in these two stakes didn’t feel so few in numbers. They were a force for good, and they pulled strength from being together. They bore their testimonies, in writing and in testimony meeting.
Melanie Paul, 16, Coushatta Branch, Shreveport Louisiana Stake, said about their written testimonies, “These are going to people who may change their lives. I stressed the influence of Jesus Christ in my life. They may never get another chance to hear a testimony from a member of the Church. When you start writing, you aren’t just saying empty phrases. It’s true.”
This group also wanted to take sides against a chorus of bad influences. “The advertising is all aimed at kids our age,” said John Daniels, 18, Queen City Ward, Shreveport Louisiana Stake, “encouraging us to smoke, to drink, to do other things. We need someone on the other side, warning us, telling us where we can go wrong and how to avoid it.”
The voice of warning against the vices of the world may not be as loud and strident as a smoke detector, but for those with ears to hear, it is just as compelling, a voice of warning that may save someone’s life eternally.