When members of the Ucon Idaho Stake youth committee started brainstorming ideas for youth conference, they had big plans. Their ideas included water fights and paint ball wars—they really wanted something active and fun. They presented their ideas to their stake Young Men president, Brother Gary Cooper. He liked their ideas but encouraged them to dig a little deeper and come up with an idea that would be not only fun but testimony building at the same time.
So the youth committee went back to the drawing board. Someone suggested that the scriptures would be a good way to build testimonies. Someone else felt that keeping team competition as part of the plan would really attract a crowd. At first, combining the two into a single activity seemed impossible. Then someone said they knew of a professional film crew that might possibly donate their services. Suddenly a great idea was born.
Book of Mormon stories
The idea was to make a short movie, using selected chapters from the Book of Mormon as a script. To keep the original and fun idea of teams as part of the activity, youth would act out the parts of Lamanites and Nephites. In the months prior to the conference, ward Mutual night activities were spent writing scripts, learning lines, and making costumes. Brother Cooper spent countless hours revising scripts and helping the youth decide which parts of the scriptures would be best in the movie. When youth conference time finally came around, more than 200 young people and their leaders were ready.
Jenny Harrison, who played the part of a stripling warrior, was one of many actors looking forward to a great time at the conference.
“I know the story of the stripling warriors because we were taught it in Primary, and it’s always been my favorite scripture story,” she says.
The story behind the story
As much fun as it was to play parts, learn lines, and wear costumes, the real benefits of the youth conference came from the chance the youth had to really get to know the characters in the Book of Mormon and to learn scriptural passages and say them with real feeling. Playing a part meant giving some thought to the way the characters might have felt, something that is often missing from traditional scripture study.
“I liked playing a stripling warrior,” says Peter Diehl. “I think they were probably scared heading into battle, but after their lives were spared, I think they would have gained confidence.”
And while that confidence to do what is right was an important point for Peter, it wasn’t the most important thing he learned. The most meaningful lesson was something much closer to home.
“I’ve learned that I should listen to my mom,” says Peter, “just like they did.”
Written for our day
Peter was not the only one who could really relate to the character he was playing. Rebecca Maestas played Lamoni’s wife in the production and was “impressed with how Lamoni’s wife humbled herself and was converted.” In preparation to play her part, Rebecca spent a lot of time studying and getting a feel for the emotions she would need to portray.
“This story teaches us that we can repent and come back if we seek the Spirit through our Savior,” she says.
All the youth, no matter what parts they played in other portions of the film, were in the scene in which Mosiah’s sons leave to go on missions. The sons walk through the crowd hugging their friends and family as they prepare for missionary work.
“I’ve had two brothers go on missions,” says Stacey Elder. “And so when we were doing that scene, I was thinking about how exciting it is to see someone go do the Lord’s work.”
Getting excited about the gospel
As spiritually uplifting as the youth conference was, it was still full of the kind of excitement and fun associated with any youth conference. During a practice take one afternoon, “Moroni” delivered his lines with stirring perfection. After he was finished, there was a moment of silence, and then an eruption of applause. Charlie Malolo, who played Anti-Nephi-Lehi, shouted above the clapping, “Moroni, I’d follow you anywhere!”
The two-day production ended with a battle scene at dawn. When the perfect light flooded the canyon where they were filming, the youth began to reenact a war. Suddenly, a “Lamanite’s” sword snapped in two. It was proof, said some of the “Nephites,” that the Lamanites were unjust in attacking the Nephites!
The take-home lesson
One of the most exciting things about the conference, of course, was the finished product. Instead of getting a traditional T-shirt or hat as a keepsake, the youth will have their own copy of the Book of Mormon movie to view again and again.
“I can’t wait to see the video when it’s done,” says Kelsie Cook. “I’m going to show it to my kids and grandkids and tell them that I learned the story and was part of reenacting it.”
There’s no doubt that this youth conference was a lot of work, and many leaders and youth sacrificed much to get ready. But being part of the reenactment made it all worth it.
“It is so impressive to see the story happen visually,” says Stacey. “It really helps me understand the Book of Mormon.”
Getting into the Act
The youth in Ucon aren’t the only ones who knew that acting out scenes from the Book of Mormon could help to make the scriptures more meaningful. Youth from two stakes in Canada, the Calgary Alberta East Stake and the Medicine Hat Alberta Stake, spent time in wilderness areas near their homes for their annual youth conference reenacting different events from the Book of Mormon. The two youth conferences were similar in format and included reenactments of battles, holding to the iron rod (avoiding worldly temptations, which were represented by tempting candy and treats), and the appearance of Christ on the American continent.
The conferences weren’t all smooth, of course. The youth in Medicine Hat wandered through a “wilderness” so muddy that some of them had the shoes sucked right off their feet! But walking among the wildflowers on the Canadian prairie, listening to an actor playing Samuel the Lamanite, and writing their feelings during a private journal time gave the youth in both stakes a chance to really think about their testimonies of the Book of Mormon.
“I didn’t want to leave to go home when the conference was over,” said one participant. “We were surrounded with good feelings.”