LDS Youth Group Scrambles to find Summer Activities
Scott Simpson, Rocky Mountain News
May 05, 2008
After completing a memorable four day handcart pioneer reenactment last August, the Young Men and Young Women of the Killeen, Texas Stake for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) were looking forward to another memorable summer youth activity. Their stake had been selected as one of the few youth groups to participate in the continuing “Know Your Ancestors” pioneer reenactment experience at the Yearning For Zion (YFZ) Ranch near Eldorado, TX. But now word has come that all youth conferences provided by the Ranch have been canceled, and they need to find a new activity.
Youth and leaders of LDS Church were looking forward to the five day experience, meant to teach youth about the early Utah pioneers and the trials they faced as a persecuted, isolated, polygamous sect. “I’m kind of disappointed, but I understand why,” comments teacher Bill Shapley of the Waco 2nd Ward. “The handcart campout was awesome, and it totally pumped up my testimony. I wanted to know what came next, and this sounded like a great activity.”
The YFZ Ranch, home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), had created the camp experience at the request of local LDS leaders, who saw the potential for an expanded learning and spiritual experience for their youth. In the last decade, reenactments have become popular activities for LDS seeking an understanding of the pioneer experience. Youth dress in authentic pioneer clothing and pull recreated handcarts over dusty roads, camping at night. Additional efforts are made to give the youth a dramatic experience, including giving young women “dolls” to care for as their “babies”. During the multi-day activity, the dolls are taken from the youth at random intervals to teach about the many young lives lost in the original migration. At other times, volunteers dressed in white clothing will assist the handcart-pulling youth as “angels”, to simulate the spiritual help often felt by their pioneer ancestors.
YFZ Ranch foreman Rulon Taylor shared similar feelings of disappointment. “It’s a darn shame. We had prepared a wonderful itinerary of frontier activities for the young people, along with activities to boost their spiritual knowledge and sensitivity.” Some of those activities included barn building, hand washing the laundry, digging irrigation ditches, and sewing long-sleeved underwear. Throughout the week, certain young men would be “called” to participate in pretend-sealings to simulate polygamous marriages. If youth were reluctant to participate in this aspect of the reenactment, volunteers dressed in white with “flaming swords” would visit the young men as they slept and “command” them to begin practicing polygamy.
“For the flaming swords, we got some really nice lightsaber thingamajiggers from the Wal-Mart Supercenter up in San Angelo. They make a dramatic swooshing sound, and it really drives the point home about how important it is to be obedient, even if you didn’t want to. Sometimes the best way to learn about using your agency to make righteous choices is to encounter a “sword wielding angel”, if you know what I mean,” Rulon explained.
The Young women would also have reenactment activities tailored for their interests. In addition to the laundry and sewing, some young women would be taken aside by their leaders throughout the week and be told they had been chosen to become plural wives to some of the adult male leaders. “Of course it’s all for pretend, and the modern LDS Church doesn’t practice polygamy. But it’s the doctrine that’s important, as well as the sacrifice of our ancestors” says Stake Young Women’s President Kelly Smith. “The Young women may become repulsed at the idea of having to marry one of the 55-year-old men in the Stake, and by the end of the week, they could be his fourth or fifth pretend wife. But think how Isaac felt as he was asked to sacrifice himself on an altar for the Lord. The girls need to learn that same kind of faith. After all, we tell them the salvation of their entire family might depend on it.”
A new addition to this year’s camp would shorten the stay for some of the young men in the group. Throughout the week, the camp counselors would select certain young men to be sent on “missions”, where they would be “called” to leave the Ranch and return home. The boys would be selected based on their spiritual development, or their popularity among the young women in the group. While they’re away on their “missions”, any girls they were pretend-married to can be courted and pretend-sealed to the older leaders and counselors at the Ranch. Additionally, camp counselors will privately interview young men and women as “couples” to see if they would be willing to pretend-seal the woman to the acting “Prophet” (in this case, Stake Young Men’s President Don Harwood).
Youth would spend their time performing chores, studying their scriptures (using authentic 19th century reproductions of the standard works), and leaders would conduct worship services by reciting passages from the Journal of Discourses, a collection of sermons from that era. The highlight of the week would be the final testimony meeting, where youth and leaders could share what they have learned, and how their testimonies had been strengthened. All public prayers during the week would be offered by the male leaders and youth only.
“When I finished the pioneer trek last summer, I just knew the Church was true,” said Trey Applegate, a priest in the Waco 1st ward. “I knew there was no way the pioneers could have crossed the plains and had their babies die if Joseph Smith hadn’t been a true prophet. And I was hoping this summer’s conference would help me to get the same testimony about my great-great-great grandparents in Utah. I’ve heard they’re going to have openings in the Colorado City programs, and we might be able to get into those.”
Rulon Taylor says all future activities are on hold, pending the onset of apocalyptic cleansing by fire and the end of times, ushered in by the anti-christ’s persecution of Zion and desecration of the Temple. “But if that doesn’t work out like we expect, we’ll start taking applications for summer of ’09 in February.”