Editors Note: The economic meltdown and repressive political measures in Zimbabwe have led to a flood of refugees into neighbouring countries. An estimated 3.4 million Zimbabweans, a quarter of the population, had fled abroad by mid 2007. According to the United Nations World Health Organization, the life expectancy for men was 37 years and the life expectancy for women was 34 years of age, the lowest in the world in 2006. The HIV infection rate in Zimbabwe was estimated to be 14% for people aged 15-49 in 2009. The government of Zimbabwe faces a variety of economic challenges, including a shortage of foreign exchange, hyper inflation, water and food shortages, medicine and physician shortages, electricity shortages and supply shortages. The downward spiral of the economy has been attributed mainly to mismanagement and corruption by the government and the eviction of more than 4,000 white farmers in the controversial land redistribution of 2000. Tourism was an important industry for the country, but has been failing in recent years. The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force released a report in June 2007; estimating 60% of Zimbabwe’s wildlife has died since 2000 due to poaching and deforestation. The following article shows how the gospel is bringing a bright light of hope in a struggling country.
Dear President Albright,
We are so excited to report on the success and experience of our “4 The Strength Of U Camp – 2012” in Zimbabwe, Africa!
As we prayed for inspiration as to the direction and theme our camp should take this year, we looked to those youth around us. Those that we teach, live with, and lead. We focused on the specific challenges and adversities that these special young people face every day living in Zimbabwe. It was then that we understood how to proceed. We had to inspire these youth to stand as a beacon amid the chaos around them, to make the hard choices and to avoid common teenage behaviors being practiced by their peers. We also wanted to teach them to look to God for strength, direction and endurance.
In her book “A Return To Virtue,” Sister Elaine S. Dalton shares that she decided to challenge herself “to do something hard, to do something that seemed impossible” to her. So she decided to run a marathon. She explains that when she crossed the finish line, she knew something about herself that she hadn’t known before. Specifically, “I knew I could do hard things.” She continued to say that as she searched the scriptures, she realized how many people had been asked to do hard things in the service of the Lord. Imagine how our world would be different if those who had gone before had given up trying because things were too hard.
This was something we have been teaching our Young Women this year — sometimes things are hard — but Heavenly Father has given us the tools to be able to accomplish hard things. In order to Arise and Shine Forth, we have to be prepared to stand always for what is right, and not for what is easy, and that is usually a hard and lonely thing to do!
Imagine our amazement when through a series of miracles we were able to organize a special message from Sister Dalton to our youth! The very person we had been quoting all year about doing hard things. We were privileged to have Sister Dalton provide an opening and closing address via DVD to our African youth. You can imagine their surprise and gratitude as she greeted them personally and welcomed them to camp in Harare, Zimbabwe!
Sister Dalton was truly inspired as she addressed the youth conference. She encouraged them to read their scriptures, to listen to their camp and youth leaders and to take home all that they learned and apply it to their lives. She expressed her love and concern for the youth and encouraged them to smile. When she shared that she truly believed that one virtuous young man or young woman can change the world, there was the most reverent silence.
Observing their faces from the front of the room we could see that they really believed her words, as the spirit radiated from her countenance and confirmed to their hearts the truthfulness of what she was saying. What an amazing way to set the tone for our camp, immediately the youth felt special, recognized and a part of something bigger than what they could see in their daily lives in this land in the heart of the African continent.
It seemed the Lord wanted us to put our testimony of this teaching to the test because as we prepared for this year’s camp (things were hard, much more challenging than last year). But even though they were hard, we still felt unseen hands lifting our burden and clearing our path. This increased our testimony that as we strive with all our might to do what is right, no matter the challenges, we are never alone.
Though some doors were shut to us this year, new ones were opened and where others let us down, new faces appeared with incredible help! Through it all, we had to work really, really hard, with very little sleep preceding the camp, and just as we were our most exhausted, some of the greatest challenges hit, we cried for a little but then pulled ourselves together and carried on determined to finish the task we had been assigned. It was then that our confirmation and reward came, as we gathered on the stands for our early morning testimony meeting.
Not having any access to TV or internet, we later found out that this was the coldest day of winter this year. In South Africa it had snowed in 9 provinces and the cold spell had traveled up to Harare, Zimbabwe. The youth gathered on the sports field stands reverently and on time. As if the cold wasn’t enough, it began to rain, only gently, but is rained nonetheless! We kept hoping and praying that the sun would miraculously pierce the cloud cover and warm everyone as it had last year during our testimony meeting.
However, as I stepped up to the microphone to share my testimony, an idea came into my mind. I began to cry, understanding why the Lord had allowed things to be so hard this year – these, His precious youth do hard things every day, and we needed to share our testimony that where others around them teach that God should make things easy, we needed to testify that we should stay strong and true regardless of the challenges we face.
It is true that true character is forged in the fires of adversity and not the pools of complacency!
Despite the extreme weather conditions, the youth did not complain, nor did they seem restless. In fact, they did not move. The testimony meeting ran over by almost an hour and even then, there were youth lined up to share their testimonies. As one girl later proclaimed, “this was the best part of camp”!
Some of the testimony highlights were:
One of our young men testified that “Our Heavenly Father sent us into an exam with a book full of answers.” If we fail it is not because the test is too hard, or we couldn’t do it – but rather that we didn’t bother to look up the answers in the Scriptures and follow what they said.
Another young man testified that he had learned in one of the workshops that “everyone is important in the sight of our Heavenly Father, so we must treat everyone with respect and accept them as they are, no one is better than anyone else”.
Yet another said, “I have learned that I must keep the Law of Chastity if I am going to have the life I am supposed to!”
Almost all the Young Men testified that they had gained a testimony throughout the camp of the importance of serving a Mission and that they had a new found excitement in preparing to serve the Lord on a full-time Mission.
One of the Young Women stated that she had a testimony of choosing the right path and the direction it will take us in and the importance of standing for what is right, no matter the consequence!
At the close of the testimony meeting when the last testimony was shared, the sun finally shone through the clouds, almost as a “well done” for enduring to the end!
What a blessing it was to us as leaders to hear the teachings that had been imparted during the camp, recited during the testimony meeting with such conviction! We understood that this camp makes a difference in the lives of all those that attend.
There were many youths and volunteers in attendance who were not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. How grateful we were to hear of the impact the teachings had on their lives as they attended workshops and other meetings.
Elder and Sister Hodges – having only been on mission for 9 days – taught the workshop on Standards contained in ‘For the Strength of Youth’. They had some of the youth blindfolded and being directed by several voices in the room – illustrating the importance of listening to the right voices in our lives.
Elder and Sister Heck, took on the most physically gruelling workshop – “How to make no-bake cookies”. They taught the youth how to make them on a stovetop as most of these youth have no access to an oven – the youth were very excited about this. At the end of the afternoon Elder and Sister Heck had around 3000 cookies laid out on tables.
The choir workshop was taught by Itai Sekeremo, a non-member volunteer, who is a very accomplished musician that travelled from Gweru (a 3 hour drive). He had listened to and practiced the church music we had asked him to teach. As he was supposed to depart he said, “As I was observing these youth, I could identify those that are members and those that are not, it seemed the members were shining, I love what you teach these children and I would like to have a copy of your Book of Mormon, I am going to read it, and if it makes me feel the same way these children made me feel, I am going to join your church, there is something special about these teachings”. He did not depart at that time but stayed an extra day so that he might continue to learn and observe. Anyone who knows Africa knows we love to sing – and did the youth sing!!!!! Always a highlight!
The sexual abuse workshop is held every year and is taught by Josie Melvin. It incorporates the Church’s teachings on all corrupt traditional practices, including Lobola, Polygamy and others. This workshop requires perfect cooperation with the spirit as each group that comes in has unique needs and requires a slightly different address. It is always humbling to us as a presidency the level of reverence, silence and attention shown by the youth in this workshop. It is a reconfirmation to us of the challenges our youth face every day in Zimbabwe and we consider it a responsibility and privilege to teach and empower them in the hopes that they can bring about change not only in their life but in the lives of those around therm.
The Self Defense workshop was taught by ‘The Zimbabwe Karate Association’ directed by Sen Sai Joshua for the second year running. This is also a repeat workshop that is essential – as we teach automatic response techniques should you be attacked from behind, the anti-rape roll etc.
Flower arranging was taught by one of our young woman’s father – a recently re-activated member Morris Rakado. It is a fun way to earn extra money and a good talent to have, taught by a remarkably talented man.
Etiquette and Good Manners was taught by Elder and Sister Benich – ‘Manners Maketh the Man’. It is vital for our youth to learn the etiquette required, in order to interact properly in society. They did an excellent job of conveying this message to the youth by using interesting teaching techniques and visual aids.
Newspaper Fashion Show, taught by Jeannine Pearson, our longest standing workshop, encouraged creativity and was repeated by popular demand. This workshop is always full of laughter, music and fun!!
Dating and Marriage, taught by Elder and Sister Raymond, had an emphasis placed on sexual purity throughout the dating process and understanding the concept of dating and the rules that apply to keeping morally clean.
As the youth arrived at camp we issued a T-shirt to all with our new camp name, ‘For the strength of You’, the new name for our camp came from a divinely inspired source – We were SO grateful for her help!!
On their beds the youth found a school kit and a hygiene kit made up from items from the donated containers, as well as sheets and blankets that they could take home after the camp.
At the conference on the second day of camp we started out by playing a DVD put together by Reeve Nield, Laurette Maritz and Cecilie Lundgreen with a commentary and testimony by Kathy Aiken on the importance of the temple. It took the youth on a tour of some of the most important sights in Salt Lake. We wanted for them to understand the magnitude of the Church and give them a real sense that they are not alone in the Gospel, but that there are many others out there making good choices and striving to shine forth.
We also wanted for them to be able to see the places that most living here will never have the opportunity to see in real life, so they can understand and feel a part of the global church. Of course the tour would have been incomplete without the MTC in Provo, where Reeve Nield gave council to the youth and bore her testimony of the importance of missionary work and the incredible effect it will have on their lives.
In this same session we had the privilege of being addressed by Elder and Sister James on ‘Missionary Service – the benefits and rewards of choosing to serve the Lord’. What a powerful and moving experience this proved to be. As directed by the Spirit, the James’s taught the Youth with power, inspiration and experience! Further evidence that they spoke under the direction of the Spirit came as they addressed topics which had also been addressed by Sister Dalton, adding a second witness to the truthfulness of her words for the youth. The youth were so excited after this address and many of the principles and concepts taught during this session were quoted by the youth in the Testimony meeting.
President Mtariswa, the Stake President , gave the closing remarks at this conference and related that as a convert who joined the church after marriage how he regrets not being able to serve a mission in his youth but looks forward to serving one with his wife one day. He talked about the positive change that takes place in the lives of those that serve the Lord and shared how it is his wish that all youth under his care, will serve the Lord and be able to reap the rewards for doing so!
Brother Steve Dalton addressed the youth prior to Sister Dalton’s closing remarks at our closing ceremony. He shared with the youth the importance of Temple Marriage, finding an eternal partner and Temple attendance. How wonderful for these youth to witness a strong and inspired man supporting his wife in her calling, proud of her achievements and talents and grateful to the Lord for the gift that she was his wife. As he bore testimony of their marriage and displayed his comfort with her strength it was a wonderful teaching moment for so many who have been raised in a society where so few have this kind of example.
Sister Elaine S. Dalton challenged the youth in her closing address, ALL in attendance were silent as she spoke, taking in the important message she had for each of them! How grateful we are that she was so inspired and loved us enough to take the time to share her wisdom and guidance with us so far away. What a testimony for these youth that we are all truly the Lords children and He loves us and knows us by name and has an important mission for each of us to fulfil, no matter where we are born, where we live, rich or poor – He loves us the same!
Elder and Sister Cook, our new Mission President and his wife, spoke at our closing ceremony. Sister Cook shared personal experiences about making the hard choices in life to stand for righteousness even when you stand alone. She explained how by doing so, your life will be blessed. Elder Cook taught, ‘It’s not the size of the gale but the set of your sail – that determines your course’. He taught about standards and principles and the importance of reading your scriptures and making good choices. Again, President Mtariswa provided the closing remarks, complimenting the youth on their behaviour and participation during the camp. He encouraged them to take home all that they had been taught in the last few days and to apply it to their lives!
As we all, 800 strong, stood and sang “God Be With You” – a verse in Shona and then in English, with power and conviction, we as a Young Women’s Presidency felt a special peace and calm descend on us. The Spirit was so strong and we each received a personal confirmation that, though our meeting had started late due to the extended sunrise testimony meeting, it was exactly as God intended. Because of the delay, the youth cleaned up before the closing meeting. This ensured that the last thought and experience they had before returning home, was the final meeting where the Spirit was felt so strongly.
As the final prayer was said, you could have heard a pin drop. The youth bowed their heads and folded their arms in reverence and respect, the beauty, power and potential of these magnificent young men and young women was felt by all. What a privilege it was to serve them, to be just for a moment in their lives – able to teach them and perhaps help them as they ‘Arise and Shine Forth unto All Nations’ and begin to change the world!
RACHEL NIELD-GERANIOS and
(HARARE STAKE YOUNG WOMENS PRESIDENCY)