At the end of July, nearly 300 youth from our stake headed to Nauvoo, IL on a 2,075 mile round trip adventure that strengthened testimonies and created new friendships. Accompanied by 100 adult leaders they were able to visit many church history sites not only in Nauvoo, but also Carthage, Adam-Ondi-Ahman, Far West, and Liberty Jail. They viewed the Nauvoo pageant, walked the Trail of Hope, attended the Nauvoo temple and were able to see the debut of the British pageant here in the US.
The youth were organized into “companies” of 10-13 youth and had couples from the stake who served as “Company Commanders”. Three companies rode on each of the 8 charter buses and the groups would stop to visit sites together.
The other adult leaders included stake leaders, bishops and their wives, food personnel, medical staff and photographers.
Our group was the largest youth group ever to visit Nauvoo, and they were amazing! Everywhere they went they were complimented on how respectful and well behaved they were.
The testimony meeting in our ward following their return was filled with youth who had gone on the trip sharing the ways in which their testimonies had grown as a result of the experiences they had.
It was an amazing opportunity and although it would be wonderful to hear from all the youth who were able to go, I was able to get in contact with a few of them to share their favorite moments of the trip.
Matt Bleazard, of the Katy Mills Ward: “I would have to say my best experience involving my testimony is when we saw the British pageant. I felt the spirit so strongly throughout it. But there was one particular instance that the spirit was so strong, I started tearing up and a thought popped in my head which was, ‘this church is the true church’ I already knew this but it was a strong confirmation from the spirit that is was and has strengthen my testimony because of it.”
Emily Hyde, of the Katy 4th Ward: “When we visited the Seventies House, part of the dedicatory prayer was read to us. In the prayer, it was promised that the missionaries who left from that house would cause Satan’s kingdom to shake and tremble. Throughout the whole trip, as we heard incredible stories about missionaries sacrificing all of their earthly possessions save the clothes on their backs, leaving behind their families, travelling to teach people in distant lands, not knowing if these people would listen to their message or slam their doors in their faces, I was touched by the power I felt. I was reminded of my many friends who are now serving missions and who are leaving soon. I was reminded of my own to desire to serve a mission when I come of age.
I am daunted by uncertainty. How can I know that any doors will be open to me, or that any hearts will be open to my message? I can’t. But that uncertainty, that doubt, is overwhelmed by faith in our Savior, faith in his gospel, and faith that I- that we- can do all things through Christ, and that he will protect us as he always has protected his messengers of the good news.
Just as the missionaries from Nauvoo, my testimony is firm. It became all the more steadfast and immoveable, though, as I heard their stories, saw the fruit of their diligent labor, and felt the Spirit bear witness to me that our mission today- to invite all to come unto Christ- has not changed.”
Rachel Hansen, of the Katy 2nd Ward: “One of my favorite parts of Nauvoo was walking down the Trail of Hope. This is the trail where the saints left Nauvoo to go west. Along the trail we heard journal entries of those who walked that very trail years earlier. My leader challenged our group to keep looking back down the trail to the homes and at the temple. You got a glimpse of how it would have felt to leave homes, farms, comfort,and the newly constructed temple. The faith of the saints was amazing. They gave up everything for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and were happy! It was an amazing experience!”
Joseph Udy, of the Katy 4th Ward: “Something that was testimony building to me was the Nauvoo Pageant . It gave a representation of how Nauvoo was built up and how the Saints put everything into the temple and their beliefs and during the pageant I could feel the spirit so strong and confirmed to me that Everything I learned In Nauvoo was true and also strengthened my Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and how he was a true prophet of God and how he led the saints truthfully till the day he died! “
Some other highlights from the trip included visiting Old Nauvoo and learning about the lives and sacrifices of the early Saints and about events in Church History. The Trail of Hope was a great spiritual experience for all as well. They followed the trail of the Saints to the Mississippi River as they left their beloved Nauvoo. The youth could look back up the hill to see the beautiful Nauvoo temple, getting a sense of the sadness the saints must have felt leaving, but also their hope for a new life, free from persecution. The groups attended the County Fair and Pioneer Pastimes and were each given a piece of stone from the original Nauvoo Temple at Zion’s Mercantile. There was a fireside with George Durant and Susan Easton Black and devotionals by President Allen and President Shurtz. I cannot imagine the amount of organizing it took to fit this all in for so many people!
Something remarkable about the youth attending the Nauvoo Temple was that almost 80% of them had researched and brought 5 family names with them so they could perform baptisms for their own ancestors!
This amazing trip was 9 months in the making! Shauna Tracy, one of the adults who helped make the trip happen said, “We saw the Lord’s hand in helping organize this ‘spiritual odyssey’ (as President Shurtz called it). The trip ran smoothly and tender mercies were showered upon the Katy Stake from the early planning stages through the safe arrival home. Even the weather was beautiful–unusually cool for the end of July! The youth reported having a good time meeting other youth in the stake and learning more about church history. There were many reports of spiritual experiences that increased testimonies and changed lives.”
There is also an article on the Houston Chronicle blog HERE, about the trip if you would like to check it out.
Feel free to share any thoughts or experiences in the comments!
(photo credits go to Tammy Schellenberg and Bill Tait)