Summers in San Antonio, Texas, can get hot, very hot. But this particular Saturday in July, the temperature was record breaking, well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. And best of all—yes, best of all—most of the teens in the San Antonio Texas Stake were lost.
They had forgotten themselves, their own aches and pains, their own problems and worries, and even the heat. They were lost in service to a group of children they would never meet face to face. They were refurbishing the play areas, grounds, and buildings of Providence House, a day-care facility devoted to children with life-threatening illnesses. Because of the children’s illnesses, the group would not be allowed to meet those who would benefit directly from their work.
For these teens, their youth conference was devoted to service, the true kind of service that is given with no thought of reward, even the reward that comes from seeing the smiling faces of children. They had chosen to dress modestly, even though temperatures had virtually never been higher. They chose to work outside or inside until every job was finished. And they chose to work with an attitude that they hoped would please their Heavenly Father.
The adult leaders took every precaution. They made sure teens had plenty to drink and were taking rest breaks in the shade or inside in the air conditioning. They even broke out a shaved-ice machine to serve plenty of cooling, flavored ice. They had also worked carefully with the director of Providence House in identifying exactly what needed to be done so the correct materials and tools were on hand.
Carol Bova-Rice, the executive director of Providence Home and Family Services, said, “I cannot find the words to express our appreciation. Other groups have offered to help, but they didn’t want to do big things. With this group, we planned what really needed to be done in advance, no matter how big. It’s wonderful.”
Taking their theme from the scriptures, the stake youth council agreed on the title “Mission Possible.” They liked the idea that individually they could not accomplish much but “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). They were particularly excited about combining the usual youth conference dances and barbecues with an outstanding service project. They wanted something substantial so the teens could really pull together to accomplish something big, something that would be memorable, and something that would teach a great lesson of Christlike service.
Hannah Clark, one of the teen co-chairs of the youth conference, explained, “There are some people that need our help. That’s where we need to come in and be like Christ. We need to serve. That is the pure love of Christ. It’s charity. That is the way to do it, by serving, even if we can’t see them and even if we don’t even know who they are. We are becoming more the way that we should be when we do those things.”
“We’ll have to visualize the children coming in,” said Chris Weirich, another youth co-chair, “and seeing the new things in a room, the new murals, all the new materials, the repainted play equipment, the new grow boxes; you just have to visualize it. You won’t see them, but you can still feel their excitement.”
On youth conference Saturday, Providence House was bustling. Everyone was assigned a group, and each group was assigned a job. Because of the red T-shirts issued for youth conference, the scene was literally a sea of moving, shifting colors. Everyone had a cleaning rag, a paintbrush, a broom, a vacuum, a hammer, or a rake in hand. Every spot that needed cleaning was cleaned. Everything that needed a new coat of paint was painted. Every weed was pulled. Every toy was sterilized. Every shelf in the storage closets was stacked with donated food or supplies. The San Antonio Stake youth had indeed taken on the big things.
Even as hot and tired as they were, by early afternoon nearly everything had been finished. The group returned to the stake center for a testimony meeting. One after another, they spoke about the things close to their hearts, about giving service without complaint, about how positive they were about the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sandra Clark summed up how she felt, saying, “I’ve never been so sore and so happy with everything that’s going on around me. So many things were done with the right spirit this weekend.”
There were some nice, unexpected moments. Brant Ellsworth mentioned one. “When we first got there, we were digging the holes for the grow boxes. Some girls were weeding along the fence, and they started singing. It was so beautiful. They were doing a hard job and singing as they were doing it. It made me think of the pioneers. They didn’t know how their actions would affect other people. They didn’t see us or know how much we appreciate the things they did for us. I felt that same spirit while we were working.”
Two girls, working in the building that houses the nursery and the offices, paused to look at some small metal stars engraved with first names and attached to the wall.
“What are these for?” they asked.
These represent the children at the center who have died from their illnesses, they were told. Suddenly, all the work and effort in such extreme conditions seemed like such a small thing. They had found those that the scripture speaks of when it says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
While planning things that needed to be done at Providence House, several items on the list became good ideas for one person to take on as a Laurel project or as part of an Eagle Scout project.
Steven Ellsworth took on the canned-food drive. Checking with the center about its specific needs, Steven set a goal to collect 750 cans. He also created a Web site to keep stake members informed about youth conference and about what specifically was needed for the food drive.
Amy Kreiger accepted the assignment to create school boxes suitable for the children at the center. She organized painting and assembling the boxes and arranging for the school supplies to go inside.
Megan Baillio was excited to take on the redecorating of several rooms used for children who stay overnight. She worked with her mother in learning to sew quilt tops and curtains for the rooms. She organized groups at the youth conference to tie the quilts.
Esther Crandall accepted the assignment to make baby-sized blankets for the center. She worked with her mother to learn to make blankets with decorative edgings.