News of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Pittsburgh area, counsel from its leaders, and reflections from its members.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

This Weekend Marks Conclusion of Historical 12 Stake Youth Conference - Elder Milan F. Kunz of the Seventy, Sister Carol F. McConkie, and Kenneth Cope Among Special Guests

Group photo by Blaine Shahan of the Lancaster Pennsylvania Stake

On Saturday morning, July 16, over 800 youth from 12 stakes gathered for a devotional by special presenters at the concluding activities of the 2016 Multi-Stake Youth Conference, held at Robert Morris University in Moon, Pennsylvania. Participating stakes were Altoona, Chambersburg, Charleston, Cleveland, Huntington, Jamestown, Lancaster, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh North, Pittsburgh West, Williamsport, and Youngstown. The conference began on Wednesday, July 13th and concluded on July 16th. It was filled with devotionals, games, workshops, service projects, and dances. Notable was the effort to serve refugees. The youth teamed up with Catholic Charities, the primary social services agency of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, to provide a truck load of hygiene kits, baby goods, and other necessities to aid refugees. These things were delivered to Catholic Charities in Pittsburgh. The theme of the conference was Press Forward with a Steadfastness in Christ, and it was hosted by the Pittsburgh North Stake.

The closing devotional was one of the beautiful spiritual highlights of the conference. Following are thoughts from the speakers, and words to a moving musical number by Kenneth Cope:
Photo by Blaine Shahan
Pittsburgh North Stake President Raymond B. Carter 

Stake President Ray Carter of the Pittsburgh North Stake gave opening remarks and shared comments from youth which he overheard at the conference, such as "Now I know what the Holy Ghost feels like". He shared a miracle that happened. A large storm cell was headed directly towards the conference on Thursday evening which should have come straight through Robert Morris University. The storm cell split to the north and south before hitting the area. President Carter emphasized how important it is to draw close to Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ and to understand the atonement. Such things are not stories, but the truth. He urged the youth to press on after their testimonies have been strengthened, and to ask for help from Heavenly Father. 
Photo by Blaine Shahan 
 Carol F. McConkie, First Counselor in the General Young Women's Presidency 

The next speaker was Carol F. McConkie, General Young Women's Presidency First Counselor. She shared how the youth were so kind, so gracious, and so outgoing. She feels a deep love for them and encouraged their remembrance of what the spirit has taught them which might not have been spoken in words. Such things will bless their entire life. The most important word in the dictionary is "remember". The legacy that we have is living the gospel of Jesus Christ. "We need to remember...this love, this faith, this example of obedience that has been passed down. Our ability to remember is a choice. Those who choose to remember Jesus Christ become the people of God. Those who choose to forget...become...the people who knew not God", as is stated in the Book of Mormon. "We remember that we are sons and daughters of God...we remember when we write down those experiences...those who have influenced you". Sister McConkie encouraged the youth to write about people at the conference that were influential to them and what it was about such people that they admired. She also suggested being kind and inclusive. In the gospel of Jesus Christ there is never room for rudeness, sarcasm, or bullying. Obedience is the process by which we discover what we are truly made of. She used the example of Sariah in the Book of Mormon, who struggled greatly when her sons had been gone so long in the wilderness. She thought they had died, and said "My sons are no more". Sariah was comforted by the testimony of her husband, the prophet Lehi. We can exercise faith in another's testimony until we receive our own. Sister Mary Fielding Smith, Hyrum Smith's widow, inspires Sister McConkie. Sister Smith would not give up the latter-day gospel for anything the world could offer. A story was then told of a returned missionary named Brie. She and her sister moved to an apartment in downtown Salt Lake City. One night, a predator climbed through the window and attacked Brie. Her sister tried to help but was thrown down the stairs and knocked unconscious. Brie and the predator were in a struggle and he desired to kill her. Brie received divine protection while being attacked. Brie's sister regained consciousness, and was told to get help. A policeman just happened to be right there outside the door, and came to assist. Although this experience caused Brie to battle anxiety, depression, and a sense of low self esteem, she has been helped by praying every day, opening the scriptures, and attending the temple. While in the temple, she felt the love of God for her, and even the love of God for her attacker. She has found forgiveness. The legacy we have (of  living the gospel) is the answer for mortality. Everything unfair will be made right. Give the Lord full attention of your thoughts, and you will be able to overcome every battle and face every trial successfully. Remember your legacy. Remember the things you have learned and felt, the things the Spirit has taught you, and move forward. Sister McConkie then shared a missionary's letter from her family. She asked the youth to never forget our Savior Jesus Christ. She then quoted Helaman 5:12 "And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless woe, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall".

She testified that this is true. She bore her testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, which contains the rock upon which we can stand. She stated that she prayed that the youth would stand true and faithful to the gift that has been given to them. 

Next was a touching original song by Kenneth Cope entitled "Gethsemane". Prior to singing, he told the audience that some things we can not remember because of the veil of forgetfulness, but we can IMAGINE.

Photo by Blaine Shahan
 Recording Artist Kenneth Cope

 (written by Kenneth Cope) 

My Lord Jesus 
Me in heaven—You on earth 
You’re in the garden
 And Your heavy burden is growing worse
 I weep for You, Jesus

 My poor Jesus
 I’m so sorry to make You cry
 But I’m far from like You
 And all my sins, Lord, demand this price 
I wish that I could come to You
 And wipe away the blood
 And then I’d bear Your cross, Lord
 If I could
 But I’m up here
 And You’re down there, Jesus

 My poor Jesus
 I’m so sorry to make You die
 But, please, for me, Jesus

 Now Lord Jesus
 You’re in heaven and I’m on earth 
Now it’s my turn
 And my little burden is getting worse
 I weep for me, Jesus 

Oh kind Jesus
 I keep trying to win this fight
 But I just can’t change me
 I need Your grace, Lord Please provide

 I wish that I could run to You
 And all of this would end
 If I could see Your face
 Have You close again 
But You’re up there And I’m down here, Oh Jesus

 My Lord Jesus
 If You’ve got time to spend with me tonight
 Then fly to me, Jesus 

 © 2001 Mohrg├╝d Music (BMI)

Photo by Blaine Shahan
 Elder Milan F. Kunz of the Seventy

Elder Milan F. Kunz of the Seventy, from Philadelphia, shared final remarks at the devotional. Elder Kunz shared a few light-hearted words about what a Seventy does. He then spoke of how a supercharger works within an engine. Superchargers force air into the pistons of an engine to allow greater performance. How can you supercharge your life? We are born with a set of talents and weaknesses that make us unique, and will optimize our growth and development in this life. He gave an example of two hypothetical individuals, Blaze and Dudley. Blaze seemed to have it all. He was confident, had a lot of talents, and very few weaknesses. Dudley on the other hand had few talents and many weaknesses. In the eyes of the world, Blaze was the more favorable of the two, because the world judges based on what is seen on the outside. God looks on the heart, however, and Dudley would be more favored than Blaze in his eyes if Dudley developed the few talents he was given and worked to overcome his weaknesses. If Blaze relied on his natural ability and worked very little on his talents and did not overcome his weaknesses, he would not be as favored in the judgement of God. In Ether 12:27 we read :  "...if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." We learn that God enables us to overcome our weaknesses by the power of the atonement, and his grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before him. Elder Kunz emphasized humility and gratitude. The grace of the Lord helps us overcome our weaknesses and allows us to enjoy the gifts of the spirit. The gifts of the spirit that we receive from the Lord are superchargers. They allow us to do things beyond our usual capacity. For example, the Nephites, though not as strong, could go to battle against the Lamanites and be victorious because the Lord enhanced their ability. He told the story of a Russian missionary who had one leg. He was a national wrestler with a scholarship. Additionally he learned to play the cello. This Elder had hardships on his mission, such as having to climb difficult stairs daily to get to his first apartment, but he also had a great attitude of faith. 

Judgement will come - and we will be judged primarily on our hearts. Our gifts magnify and supercharge us. We need to identify what gifts we need in our lives and ask for them. Places to find examples of spiritual gifts are in 1 Corinthians 12, Moroni 10, and Doctrine and Covenants 46. The lists in these chapters are not comprehensive of all spiritual gifts. When we are serving and helping others, we will have greater access to those gifts. Of all the spiritual gifts, the greatest is charity. This gift enable us to see others as Christ sees all of us. When Christ sees us, he sees us not only now, but us in an exalted state. Elder Kunz, together with his wife, served as a mission president and was deeply touched by a video he received from the missionaries of his mission, in which they expressed their love for himself and his wife, even before they met them. A powerful love was felt from these missionaries even before Elder and Sister Kunz arrived in their mission. Love is powerful. Elder Kunz works with leaders in the church and does not ask for more of their time, but that they may have the gift of better use of their time. He gave his wife a blessing before her talk the day before, and additionally blessed that the youth would be prepared to learn. Elder Kunz bore powerful testimony of Jesus, and shared that he has seen the doctrine of Christ change thousands of lives. "He has the power to change your life". He encouraged listeners to repent, develop their talents, and overcome their weaknesses.