I received a letter from the Church inviting our stake presidency to attend the week long LDS Relationships training at the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico. It finally hit me that I would not be able to fulfill the duties of my calling, relative to the youth, without more training. My second counselor and I, along with our families, decided to attend Philmont in July 2005. This turned out to be one of the greatest experiences our families have ever had. The training I received positioned me to better serve the youth and to better train the youth leaders in my stake.
At Philmont, and in other settings, I kept hearing about Wood Badge. I had learned the importance of training at Philmont, but training at Philmont is not feasible for everyone. I realized that Wood Badge was a large part of the answer to training. I tried to encourage the young men leaders in my stake to attend, but my encouragement was hollow because I, myself, had not been to Wood Badge. I realized that the only way to promote Wood Badge effectively was for me to commit to attend. I made the commitment and found that the young men leaders in my stake were much more willing to listen to my plea for them to get training when I myself was pursuing training.
My counselors also accepted the challenge to attend Wood Badge. Then, as a presidency, we challenged each ward in our stake to send four leaders to Wood Badge. Our challenge was met with enthusiasm and we soon had 35 stake members committed to attend Wood Badge. Our experience at Wood Badge was terrific and I will never forget the joy I felt joining together with the members of my stake to be trained. The friendships established will be treasured forever. The unity that developed among our stake members in attendance was amazing. Most importantly, the Scouting and Young Men programs in our stake have blossomed as a result of having better trained leaders. The strength of our leadership has increased. The Young Men and Scout leaders in our stake have continued to pursue training at Wood Badge and other specific training. There is a sense of excitement for the Scouting and Young Men’s programs in our stake like never before.
As I look at our programs, the increased training has resulted in two key areas of improvement: first, an increased spiritual dimension to our Young Men and Scouting activities, and second, an improvement in the quality of our activities. Our trained leaders have gained a vision of the blessings that activities bring to lives of the boys when they contain a spiritual element and when the activities are meaningful. The results of these improvements are: (1) a modest increase in the number of young men serving missions (approximately a 3% increase in the percentage of young men serving missions), and (2) a reduction in the number of missionaries returning home early because of the difficulties of a mission (we have only had one missionary come home early in the past two years).
I have seen a big change in our summer high adventure activities. Now, these activities are not just about fun and entertainment, they are teaching the boys to be spiritual and to also work and persevere to accomplish things that are hard.
One of the bishops in our stake recently wrote this: “Recently, one young man in the ward that was not attending church or weekly activities visited with me to let me know of the challenges he was having with pornography that he has not been able to overcome. As he turned 16 over the summer, there were clearly some changes that needed to take place in his life before he could be ordained as a priest. We made sure that he was invited to priest camp by contacting him personally as well as his mother. He attended the camp and then met with me again the following Sunday. He told me how wonderful it was to feel the spirit at priest camp as we went on the hike, attended the workshops, and as we had testimony meeting together as a ward. He said that he had never felt the spirit so strong for that long of a period of time before. He said that he wanted have the spirit all the time in his life. He was willing to do whatever he needed to in order to feel the spirit in his life. Since that time, he has attended his Sunday church meetings as well as mutual. He is working closely with me as well as getting some counseling in overcoming his addiction to pornography with the goal to feel the spirit again just as he did at priest camp. He is making significant progress and will continue to do so. I am confident that he will do what is necessary to be ordained a priest and go on to receive the Melchizedek priesthood and serve a mission.”
One component of the increased quality of our activities has been inclusion of difficult things into the activities. One ward in our stake planned and succeeded in a 50 mile hike with the 14-18 year boys. For the boys in this ward, such a challenging activity was new territory and some went to the activity only with the insistence of parents and leaders. It has been amazing to hear the young men talk over and over again about their experiences, both physical and spiritual, from this challenging summer activity. Several have commented that the trip was the most difficult thing they have ever done, but it was the most rewarding accomplishment they have ever experienced.
Another ward in our stake planned and completed a Priest’s Quorum high adventure trip to the Tetons. The young men and their leaders hiked about 32 miles over three and a half days. The theme for the trip was “It’s OK to do hard things” – which turned out to be very good for discussions with the boys each day. It was a hard trip as campfires were not allowed, it rained quite a bit, the boys were pelted by quarter-size hail stones, and there were some very steep parts to the hike. The boys felt proud of their accomplishment and knew they had done something hard and worthwhile.
Three of our wards completed nearly a 30 mile canoe trip in Yellowstone. Each group endured mosquitoes and rough waters, but each group experienced the marvels of spectacular scenery and witnessed firsthand that, “All things denote there is a God.”
This past summer, our stake sponsored a camp for all of the Priest-age boys in our stake. Included in the activities of the camp was a hike to the top of Bald Mountain. This is not a long hike, but it is steep and challenging. As one of the priests reached the top of Bald Mountain, he came up to me and said, “President Johnson, it’s OK to do hard things.” As I heard this young man make this statement, I realized that he was quoting the theme of his Priest’s high adventure to the Tetons. He was applying that principle taught at that adventure to the current situation. I looked him in the eyes and could easily see a young man now prepared to face the difficulties of a mission and the challenges of life. A confirming feeling also came to me that the Scouting and Young Men’s programs really do work when implemented correctly. I credit trained, committed leaders for implementing the programs in a way to have an impact on the boys.
Of course, training is a continuous process. As our stake presidency approached the mid-point of our service, we decided it would be a great boost to our energy level to attend Philmont again. The three of us, along with our stake Young Men’s President, and our families made another trip to Philmont in June 2009. It was a marvelous experience. A highlight of the trip was the experience five of our children had on the Mountain Trek. Our children still talk about the fun and accomplishment associated with the Mountain Trek. Again, they learned they can do hard things.
Our recent trip to Philmont has energized us and caused us to recommit to serving the youth of our stake. At Philmont, I heard a quote that had a big impact on me.
“Boys need lots of heroes like Lincoln and Washington. But they also need to have some heroes close by. They need to know some man of towering strength and basic integrity, personally. They need to meet them on the street, to hike and camp with them, to feel close enough to them to ask questions and to talk things over man-to- man with them.” (Walter MacPeek)
The heroes needed are best developed through training men of strength and integrity to successfully implement and use the Scouting and Young Men’s programs.
Author: Kelly R. Johnson | Stake President, Kaysville Utah Central Stake
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