By Stacy Johnson & Cecily Markland
Young Men and Young Women across Arizona are joining with other youth around the world as they embark in concentrated efforts to make service to God a priority this year.
In opening exercises, service projects, youth conferences and various activities, the youth are applying the 2015 Mutual theme—“O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.”
With the announcement of this year’s theme, the Church also provided instructions that it should be “used to guide youth in Christlike service in their homes, the temple, the Church, and the community.”
From cleaning up a neighbor’s yard, working at food shelters, making and delivering care packages, working on family history, attending the temple to perform baptisms and more, Arizona youth are accepting the challenge and finding countless ways to serve.
The Montecito Ward of the Mountain View Stake kicked off the theme in January during the third Sunday block. Youth and their leaders shared talks about the meaning of true service and issued the challenge to find a need and fill it. Ward Young Women president, Jenet Knight, says, “We reminded them that when they see a need but don’t know what to do, just to do something. Anything.”
The Young Men and Women were given black t-shirts with white lettering that reads SECRET SERVICE. When there is a need for service, the youth receive a text message telling them where to be and what supplies to bring.
Sister Knight sent a text about 9 a.m. one Friday morning letting the youth know they were needed at 4 p.m. that same day to pick oranges and clean up the grounds at the local elementary school.
She says, “I didn’t think anyone would come with such late notice on a Friday afternoon, but they came. I was shocked. Some wore their black shirts, and some weren’t able to get home to change, but they came. In fact, there were 26 youth and 10 leaders there that day.”
A teacher’s quorum member, John Knight, says, “Now that we are serving more, I feel like I have a better understanding of what it really means that when we are serving others, we are doing what Christ would be doing. It has changed my perspective.”
The Montecito Ward youth have done projects on the inside and outside of neighbors’ homes and in April worked at the Church cannery. For Queen Creek East Stake, temple service was the focus of their annual youth conference held in February.
“We invited the youth to be engaged in their own family history work and bring a name of someone needing temple work to the conference,” says Melanie Scott, stake Young Women’s president. “As part of our weekend, we drove to a church building almost exactly halfway between our stake building and the Gilbert Temple. The analogy was that going to the temple is only half the work. Bringing a name and doing that work for our ancestors is the other half.”
Tyler Judkins, a priest in the Creekside Ward, adds, “I was looking for a name and found an entire family. It really hit me that this family was real and they needed me to get this work done for them.”
On Saturday morning, the youth walked to the Gilbert Temple. Signs they created to represent their ancestors were placed along the last quarter mile. The youth were asked to walk in silence thinking about their ancestors whose names they had chosen to research.
“I remember seeing all those names on our walk and the reality hit me that they are my family. I am literally doing this work for my brothers and sisters in the gospel,” recalls Emily John, a Laurel in the Sierra Ranch Ward.
Jodi Davis, Young Women’s president in the Manitee Ward of the Glendale Stake, says in an area where there aren’t as many members of the Church, “Our youth are embarking in service to God in their own way.”
She says their ward covers a large area and their youth attend three different schools.
“Many of our youth come alone, without parents. Yet, they are so strong,” Sister Davis says. “We have youth who are there every week, even though they have little support from home.”
“They want to be in church, or they wouldn’t be there,” she adds.
Young Women in the Copperwood Ward, also in the Glendale Stake, applied the 2015 theme as part of their New Beginnings program. The girls were asked to bring items to be donated to the child crisis center. Then, says Young Women’s president, Linda Bennett, “We had some talks about how important service is, and how ‘embark’ means to do it now.” They ended the evening with the Young Women performing other service right then, including tying quilts for the crisis center and writing letters to individuals serving in the military.
The Sierra Ward in Glendale North Stake, focuses on this year’s theme by dedicating each month’s combined activity to service. The ward’s Beehive class spent a mutual night sewing and stuffing 40 teddy bears for a women’s shelter. Ward youth gathered one Saturday to help a Scout with his Eagle project, doing general park maintenance and digging holes for signs.
Maricopa North Stake combined their Young Women’s Evening of Excellence and Young Womanhood Recognition, with each young woman creating a poster to show a value they love. Those girls receiving their recognition award spoke about “How Personal Progress helps you embark on the journey of life.”
In May, the stake will host a three-day youth conference with the theme, “Embarking on the Journey of the Book of Mormon.” The event was launched in January, when the youth were challenged to read the Book of Mormon before May. The conference will include games and a presentation by stake leaders, as well as enactments of various stories from the Book of Mormon by each of the wards.
Shye Peterson, of the Mesa 5th Ward and a counselor in the Maricopa North Young Women’s presidency, says, “I believe so strongly in the youth of the Church. They’re amazing.”
She says this year’s theme is particularly powerful.
“If youth will follow this scripture, there’s no cap to what they can do. The adversary tells them in every way that they can’t win, but the only thing that ever comes out of his mouth is a lie.”
She hopes youth across Arizona will remember that by applying this year’s theme, “You can win. It is possible to win. It is achievable. If you do the work, exercise faith and take action, you can win. You can change lives, including your own. You can change families, even generations.”
The Church’s website, www.youth.lds.org, offers suggestions for youth, leaders and parents for applying the theme to Sunday lessons and to Duty to God and Personal Progress activities. The site also has videos, articles and downloadable music and graphics that can be used to enhance mutual activities and lessons. There is also a link for youth to share their experiences in applying the theme, or youth can use the hashtag #embark on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.