Editor’s note — this is worth the read…what a wonderful, miraculous event this youth conference was — a combination of so many people’s efforts, including countless donations. These efforts and the generosity of many allowed 600 youth to come together, be strengthened in various ways, and enjoy some simple comforts of life that are uncommon for them (such as “seconds” at a meal and sheets for their beds). Cecilie and others are helping with another charity drive to help the poor in Zimbabwe and to also help the youth such as was done with this conference. More information can be found at the bottom of this post.
Here’s a video as well that shows some glimpses of this youth conference in Zimbabwe.
As we began preparations for this inaugural youth conference for the Harare Zimbabwe stake, we knew we should expect about 600 young men and young women from all walks of life. This would require incredible planning and resources in order for it to be a success. There was no way that our stake budget could accommodate this event, but the Lord had told us to do it and we knew He would provide a way. The inspiration regarding the itinerary had been VERY specific and we had been directed very clearly as to what we should do. The spirit confirmed to us that this was a very important event and that the highest possible standards should be maintained in all areas. So we set to work, it was incredible to watch the miracles unfold – we felt like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea!
First, came the miracle of opening the doors of the containers that had come from America from the kind hearted and generous Latter-Day Saints of Utah. It was amazing to see the kindness and thoughtfulness of people so far away, as we unpacked we were very emotional as we realised that it could not have been without great sacrifice that people had been able to send such generous gifts. Most of what is in the containers goes to the many needy people wherever we find them around the country, however each year items have been sent specifically for blessing the lives of our youth.
Throughout our planning we wanted to make sure that these youth felt important and that they knew that we were not compromising any standards but rather that we were giving them the best because that is what they deserve. The idea in our minds was that of going to the Temple, there we are all equal, we are in a beautiful place, and it makes it easy to feel peace and let the spirit teach you. So we made sure that we centred our experience around these same principles.
[Other miracles included generous donations of time and resources of local Zimbabweans. For example….]
Now the grand task of feeding 600 hungry teenagers began. We prayed and then started to call. [Someone] called a man she knew and he told us to come to his warehouse and he would see what he could give us – we were hoping for the basics and not daring to be presumptuous we arrived with a small truck. When we arrived he took us over to a pallet and said, “Well here are some things that we can give you”. We were SO grateful, in excitement we started to tell him all about our camps the previous years and all that we had planned for this event, he walked over to another pallet and said, “Well I think we can also give you these”, we burst into tears and hugged him and then he said, “I think the truck you have brought is too small”. The best part of this story is that the pallets were loaded not with basics but with all the luxury treats that we would never have dared to ask for. Yet again the Lord had given His best, not only what was sufficient but enough to give these children things they can never normally afford – Chips, Chocolates, Drinks, Biscuits, Cereals, Rusks, Caramel. In amongst all these special things were some answers to our prayers, the practical staples like Tomato Paste and Seasonings, Rice and Sugar. We cried and packed, and cried and packed, and 6 loads later we thanked our Heavenly Father for His bountiful blessings. [Another woman] called a friend at a citrus factory. They drove the 1 hour to go and see him and he donated 360 Litres of orange juice concentrate and enough oranges to give 2 to each child. [The mother of a recently baptized member also donated a cow to help feed the youth…and there were several other such miraculous and amazingly generous stories that there isn’t space to share.]
It was as though the Lord kept placing people in our path who wanted to help us, and despite the difficult years that have just passed in Zimbabwe’s economy – the kind heart of Zimbabweans was revealed as everyone tried their best to give what they could. The miracles continued to unfold, and with each step we could feel the hand of the Lord guiding us and clearing away the obstacles that were in our path. Even things that we did not specifically request from people manifested themselves in our hour of need, there are even some things we were given that we still do not know where they came from.
As they registered we handed the leaders their operational itineraries and everyone their name tags, Ice-breaker questionnaires, T-Shirt (donated by anonymous donors) and for the boys a cap (donated in the containers) which they were VERY excited about and for the girls their underwear (donated in the containers) and a skirt to wear for the formal activities (donated in the containers by Downeast Outfitters). They could not believe that these things were really for them, that they could keep them and that they were for free – a sign of their gratitude was that we had to remind the boys to remove their caps indoors as they were so proud to have them on and the girls all wore their skirts to the dance even though they were too big for most, (they hand-stitched the waistlines smaller while getting ready for the dance).
After breakfast they went to settle into their dormitories and as they walked in there was a reverent silence as each child walked slowly over to a bed and examined the sheets and blanket, the cup bowl and plate – only with encouragement did they begin to unpack the bag that had been placed at the foot of each bed (containing the hygiene and educational supplies provided for each child). Again their absolute gratitude was manifested by the notebooks and pens being brought to almost every activity and the hygiene supplies being returned neatly to their Ziploc bags after each use.
Lunch and all mealtimes were highlights of each day as the people who donated the food had been incredibly kind in their contributions and given very generous portions per child. Most of these children never see meals like this and so at our first meals were packing up items of food to keep in their dormitories (thinking they might not get enough food later), these were luxuries like boiled eggs and bread. Some of the youth who were on Anti-retrovirals (HIV AIDS Medication) came every 3 hours for their food. For instance one organisation donated 1800 eggs and 200kg of Chicken – incredible!! It was such a blessing to know that Heavenly Father had provided more than what was required so when the children went home after EFY we were able to send each child with 2 packets of instant noodles to take home to their families.
On this first day after lunch we had a series of 10 workshops conducted on a half-hourly rotation in groups of 60 with time and hand-outs donated by the people conducting them (not all of them were members, which proved to be a great missionary tool). These workshops were a combination of fun and learning – Ettiquette and Manners, Public Speaking, Missionary Work (which included showing the movie Called To Serve, for some this was the first movie they had ever seen), Environmental Awareness and Conservation, Newspaper Fashion Show (this is always a big hit as the youth in groups of 10 elect a model and then proceed to design them an outfit including accessories made entirely of newspaper, tape and pins), Sexual Abuse and How to get Help, Self Defence, Life Skills through Sport, Choir Practice for our closing ceremony (‘Sisters of Zion’/’Armies of Helaman’ – Mormon Tabernacle Choir Version), Court-ball (for some energy release).
After dinner we held our talent show and we were overawed by the incredible diversity and talents represented by our youth, some of our highlights were recognising how resourceful these youth have been when identifying and expanding their talents, none represented there had ever received formal training, however their displays and performances were of a very impressive standard.
The next morning we awoke early and gathered the boys for cross-training and the girls for ‘Zumba’ – it set an energetic tone to the day and we all had lots of fun. After Breakfast we gathered in the Chapel ( a VERY tight squeeze) and held our formal spiritual ‘Youth Conference’, a combination of youth and leader testimonies, musical items and a very special picture/powerpoint presentation on the life of Christ set to ‘I know that My Redeemer Lives’. Our Harare Stake President, Albert Mutariswa and his 1st councillor, Reginald Nield gave inspirational talks and prompted many of the youth to recognise the importance of the Gospel in their lives. ‘Chapters of Hope’ very kindly donated Scriptures to those who did not have and each Youth was presented a copy of ‘How To Be An Extraordinary Teenager’, they were thrilled!
After Lunch we had a very fun Scavenger Hunt/Obstacle Course (we did this by using the previously assigned 50 groups and rotating them around 50 different tasks on a 4.5 minute rotation). This was the “most fun” many of these children have “ever had”. From lives which are full of challenge and scarcity sometimes it is important to just be a kid, as President Gordon B. Hinckley said “Life is meant to be enjoyed, not just endured”.
A delicious beef stew dinner was served next – with many of the boys returning for ‘seconds’ at the end. What a picturesque sight it was to see many of these boys lingering over their second plate of meat filled stew, chatting to each other, enjoying the African sunset – completely content. For many of these children – many of them Orphans – the hardships of their life do not enable them to just be children – as we watched this group of boys we felt a stillness and a peace that for this short time – they were allowed to ‘just be’.
As with all teenagers around the world, the dance was greeted with eager anticipation and a heightened sense of excitement. Everybody got showered and DRESSED! Many had been outfitted by the bales of clothing – ensuring that a sense of pride and confidence was felt by all. The prevailing commonality with both the Talent Show and the dance was NOISE. Everybody danced all night and each new song or spot prize was greeted with cheering and shouting. Sporadically, the Stake Presidency presented prizes to those children who had excelled at a particular game or activity, with the child or team being called onto the stage and presented with fun treats and or prizes. Because of the generosity of the sponsors everybody got something. The most positive thing was that church standards were adhered to by all including the ‘wrap up’ on time with church curfew guidelines……. And a piece of delicious caramel cream cake.
On the chilly winter morning that followed the children rose before the sun, gathering on the large field for their sunrise testimony meeting. [Two women] recall how as they approached the field they both started to cry . With tears streaming down their faces they joined the children on the field – reflecting on the fact that no one had to be woken or coerced to be there. They had gathered, reverently and on time. Many without jerseys/sweaters or closed shoes. Upon approach, they noticed that many were shivering, but that not one child had brought the blanket off their bed. The reason? They did not want to be disrespectful. Many leaders suggested that because of the temperature the meeting should be cut short – simultaneously, the youth had begun to queue – to bear their testimonies. The youth had made their own decision. They had come to share the gospel with each other and had put their worldly discomfort aside. The Spirit was so strong it was tangible. [A sister] tells how she sent a prayer to heaven that those present would be warmed. Then a young priest from the Bindura Branch stood, jersey-less, in his slops and his too short tracksuit pants and delivered the most powerful testimony and as he spoke – the sun came out and shone on all present. God’s timing is always perfect – an example of faith preceding the miracle.
[There was a final closing gathering, with a spiritual message and the singing of a song they had practiced beforehand —
Upon departure, each child was given a delicious packed lunch and some donated food items. [One sister] describes how emotional many of the youth were – lots of crying, hugging, writing in others journals and a general sense of sadness that the camp was over.
As we watched these young people’s lives changed it re-emphasised the fact that there is nothing we could do of more importance at the moment than to influence, teach and guide these youth – enabling us to set a bar of excellence and hope for them to take back with them to their respective homes/wards. The respect and attention they paid to all that they were taught, clarified in our minds what a sense of responsibility we have to impart knowledge, truth and love to these youth that are now determining their destinies and thus those of the future generations of Zimbabweans.
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We have recently been asked for ideas regarding donated items for our containers…here are some thoughts, your ideas would be MOST WELCOMED!!
· BLANKETS, QUILTS, CRIB QUILTS
· NEW BORN KITS
· BABY FORMULA
· BABY BOTTLES
· HYGIENE KITS
· FOOD – TUNA FISH, PEANUT BUTTER, RICE, DRY BEANS
· SOAP – ANTISEPTIC
· TOOTHBRUSH, TOOTHPASTE
· VASELINE CREAM
· SLEEPING BAGS
· HATS / CAPS (CHILDREN & ADULTS)
· DARK GLASSES / SUN GLASSES
· READING GLASSES
· WIND UP TORCHES
· TOYS FOR CHILDREN
· WHITE SHIRTS
· NEW UNDERWEAR
· SOCCER BALL / BASKETBALL / VOLLEYBALL
· FIRST AID KITS
· SCHOOL KITS
· CLOSED SHOES (ALL SIZES)
· CANDY FOR THE KIDS
· LAUNDRY DETERGENT
· CRUTCHES / WALKING STICKS / WALKERS
· PENS / PENCILS / COLOURED PENCILS / ERASERS/ SHARPENERS / RULERS / SICSSORS / STATIONARY BAGS
· BACK PACKS
· PAPER TO WRITE ON
· COLOURING BOOKS
· BAGS / CASES
· BUCKET / PALE
· USED LAPTOPS
· CHURCH DVDS
· SEWING SUPPLIES
· GIRL 3-10
· BOY 3-10
· GIRL TEENAGE 11-18
· BOY TEENAGE 11-18
· ADULT FEMALE
· ADULT MALE
· CHILDRENS – SWEATERS / SWEATSHIRTS / SWEATPANTS
· TEENAGE – SWEATERS / SWEATSHIRTS / SWEATPANTS
· ADULT – SWEATERS / SWEATSHIRTS / SWEATPANTS
· MALE MISSIONARY
(SHIRTS, SUITS, BELTS, SOCKS, TIES, SHOES, CASE, BACKPACK, QUADS, SWEATER, TROUSERS ETC.)
· FEMALE MISSIONARY
Items can be dropped off on (or shipped by) October 10 at/to:
LandAirExpress 1232 South Gladiola Street, Suite 600, SLC, Utah 84104.