ELKO—On Thursday June 19, 580 youth, ages 14 to 18, and their leaders gathered in Elko for a three-day youth conference held by Elko East, Elko West, Winnemucca, and Ely Stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The youth came from towns ranging from Winnemucca all the way to Ely. They were split up into 28 districts, each with Ma and Pa adult leaders who would help guide the youth through the conference. The activities and speakers were all centered on the main theme of “Be Like Christ” with daily sub-themes of “Be A Rescuer,” “With Christ Anything is Possible,” and “The Best Things in Life Aren’t Things.”
Thursday began with a speech from President Val Esplin, second counselor in the Elko West Stake Presidency, and the rest of the afternoon was spent playing getting-to-know-you games at Mountain View Park. The air was filled with excitement and laughter as new friends were being made. The games ended with a tug-of-war contest between all of the districts. The group of youth rooted for everyone, no matter whose district they were in.
The day ended with a talk from President Hermanson, president of the Nevada Reno Mission of the Church, who suggested to the congregation to “lay your scriptures on your pillow, so you will read them before you go to sleep.” After his talk, the youth enjoyed a dance that was set up in the parking lot of the West Stake Center. The dance was a favorite!
Everyone met at the Elko Convention Center on Friday to attend workshops and participate in a service project.
An Internet safety class was taught by Arnold Lemmon, a lieutenant for the Brigham Young University campus police in Provo, Utah. He said that the internet can have the darkest of the dark, but it also has greatest resources possible. We just have to know how to use it properly without hurting ourselves or our families with pornography and false images of our lives. He asked the youth, “What are we sending out to others on our social media and what do we portray of ourselves?” Many of the youth expressed that they loved this class because it opened their eyes to the importance of their use of the Internet.
A dating panel was led by groups of high school seniors that had just graduated. They answered questions about dating and the importance of keeping your values and having fun.
Some of the missionaries assigned to this area had a workshop where they discussed missionary work with an emphasis on loving others and helping them to see that faith in Christ will make their lives richer and filled with love.
Boyd Hatch and Eowyn Day instructed the youth in a swing dancing class. This was a favorite activity among the youth. It was held on the stage at the Convention Center and was a joy to see so many youth dancing and laughing with each other as they learned a new skill.
A service project was arranged for the youth at the Johnny Appleseed park right down the road from the Convention Center. They were given wood stain to re-stain the whole park and new wood chips for the ground cover. Their faces were lit up with happiness in serving others. Charlee Riggs from Ely said that staining the park “helped me realize that there’s a lot more service out there, besides, it was actually pretty fun!”
The Northeastern Nevada Museum opened up for the group to take tours through the museum. Many of the youth from outside of Elko had never been there before so they were excited to learn the history of this area.
A group of young women from Wells gave a presentation on genealogy work. Their tips were to talk to your family members to see what names they remember, write your own history down by keeping a journal, and to research your family tree. The youth in the congregation were enthusiastic about the presentation and excited to go talk with their families about their own genealogy.
John Bytheway, a well-known LDS comedic motivational speaker, came to speak at the conference on Friday night. In between all of his jokes and impressions, he spread a message of coming to Christ and being perfected in Him. He counseled that “Jesus isn’t waiting for us to be perfect, perfect people wouldn’t need a Savior. We need to be perfected in Him, not before we come unto Him.” Many youth reported that they felt the Spirit strongly and felt the need to change some things in their lives.
Later that night, Landon Weeks, from Ogden, Utah, performed for the youth. Landon was born with short arms and only three fingers on each hand—a congenital birth defect called phocomelia. Despite his disability, he learned to play the piano and has been performing at schools and different events ever since he won $10,000 at a contest at his high school. Landon loves to spread his message “Time to Start Dreaming” to other kids to help them believe in their dreams and work hard to make them happen. He sang many parodies of popular songs, including lyrics like “When I see my arms, there’s not a thing that I would change, because they’re amazing, just the way they are.” He had the audience on their feet with applause after every song. His advice to those who hear his songs, “God knows our gifts. Pray to know the gifts He’s given us and how to strengthen and use them.” By the time he finished, the audience was in tears and—according to many of the youth—inspired to work for their dreams and to have a positive perspective of life.
After Landon’s performance, the stage was opened up for a talent show. The talents of the youth were showcased in the forms of different musical instruments such as the harp, violin, guitar and piano, theater skits, comedy, singing acts, and dancing. During the last performance by 7th Hour Prep, a group from Elko High School, the audience stood and clapped along, turning the talent show into a mini concert. The talent in the room was amazing. They were all so supportive of each other.
Chad Hymas came to speak on Saturday. He became a quadriplegic after a farming accident. He now gives motivation speeches about keeping a positive attitude in the face of adversity and relying on the atonement of Christ to heal us. He spoke about service and that “love is demonstrated, not announced.” He also counseled that our Heavenly Father isn’t looking for clean hands, he’s looking for the dirtiest hands that have been dirtied in service of others.
Rose Harris from Elko said, “It is amazing to be surrounded by so many other kids who share my beliefs and to see their light and hear their testimonies.” Many others agreed that it was inspiring to meet others of their faith. They said they left feeling uplifted and their eyes were opened to the affect their choices make on themselves and on those around them, and that to “Be Like Christ” means to love everyone and accept them for who they are.