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The EFY Experience: Taking it Home

April E. Osborn - January 11, 2008

Every summer, college campuses across the nation are flooded with LDS youth from all walks of life. They come together to laugh and play, to sing and dance, to share stories, games, and friendships. But above all, they come to learn, grow, and strengthen their testimonies.

Now more than ever, LDS teens face enormous pressure to fit in with a crowd that doesn't understand them. Not only are destructive behaviors more prevalent, and accepted, than ever before, kids today also have a million things competing for their attention. They are constantly bombarded with information--texting, instant messaging, television, and video games, not to mention homework and social time, all of which make it almost impossible for a kid to focus on what really matters. Never before has a generation had so much pushing against them. For this reason, it is essential that parents give their youth opportunities to flex their spiritual muscles and gain new perspectives. The Especially for Youth program was created for this very purpose. EFY began as the inspiration of Ron Hills. He wanted to provide a way for LDS youth from around the country to meet together and have both spiritual and social experiences. In 1976, one hundred and seventy-two youth participated in the first-ever EFY session. Since that time, hundreds of thousands have experienced the blessings of the program, which is sponsored through Brigham Young University. EFY has proven to be a great place for youth ages fourteen to eighteen to escape from life's daily pressures and meet others who share their values. They're able to strengthen each other and learn about who they really are. Maurie, who worked as an EFY counselor, says, "The kids see each other and see that it's possible to live the gospel principles, even in the world. It strengthens them." At EFY, teens get a chance to refocus their lives. They learn from the classes they attend as well as the time they spend studying on their own. "For a lot of kids this can be the first time they've really felt or recognized the Spirit--it's the first time they've really read their scriptures every day," says Maurie. "It's amazing to see the change that they have in just a few days, in just a week." But the end of the week is not the end of the journey. The most important part of the EFY experience happens after the youth have gone home. LDS Living staff recently documented the experiences of five teens attending EFY on BYU campus. They shared with us their experiences of classes, activities, devotionals, and testimony meetings, and we watched to see how they would change and grow throughout the week. Each teen brought something different into EFY, and they all hoped to get something a little different out of it. Alex, Erin, James, Emma, and Joe all started their journeys with different goals. With these goals in mind, the five of them set off to find ways to make their time at EFY as meaningful as possible. Here are the stories of these five teens, including follow-ups of how they have taken the EFY experience home with them. h3. Alex "I need to be better with personal scripture reading," says Alex. "It's hard to do. I also set a goal to bring a nonmember friend to a Church activity by the end of July." And while Alex started the week looking to improve his daily scripture reading and become more confident in his missionary efforts, his experiences took him far beyond these finite goals as the week progressed. On Thursday, the musical fireside proved a particularly intense experience for him. "The Spirit was really strong there. And then, we had a testimony meeting, and it was really, really, really amazing. I don't think I've ever felt the Spirit stronger than it was in there." Having the opportunity to share his testimony with his peers allowed Alex to understand his own feelings. "I ended up crying because I talked about my little brother, who has mental problems. I know that through the atonement, he can be healed." At the end of the week, Alex reflected on the things he'd learned and how he had changed. His goals resurfaced, and when we asked how he planned to take the things he learned home with him, he said, "I think by just remembering the feelings of the Spirit that I had here, remembering how I felt it reading my scriptures, and being reverent. It'll help me remember to do those things, because it's really good to feel the Spirit." A few months later, we asked Alex how his goals were progressing. Even after he'd gone back to New York, where he started high school this year, Alex continued to focus on the things he learned at EFY. "The biggest difference in my life since EFY is my daily scripture reading. It has become much easier to read the scriptures because they seem more interesting and meaningful. I'm also much steadier at reading the scriptures--daily scripture reading is actually daily." h3. Erin This was Erin's third year at EFY, and while she felt pretty confident that she knew the ropes, she came this time with a specific goal in mind. "I set a goal of preparing myself fully to receive my patriarchal blessing. I also set the goal of writing in a journal and gaining a stronger testimony overall." For Erin, a discussion of "The Family: Proclamation to the World" hit home. "We talked about the proclamation and the instructor asked us to underline important parts about it. I underlined parts about the family being united eternally, and I think that's really important." Erin says that discussing the proclamation made her realize how much she values her own family, and how much love she has for them. "I know that my family is eternal because my parents were sealed in the temple." On her last day at EFY, Erin planned to take what she'd learned home "by doing all the things that they teach, like reading your scriptures, saying your prayers to Heavenly Father, and being a good missionary." She expressed her belief that all of these things are important, and while they may sound trite, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. "[Your testimony] is not something tangible. It's just in you. You have to build it yourself." Four months later she said, "As of now, I am on my way to getting my patriarchal blessing. I have wanted it for so long, and now I feel like I'm ready for it. Also, with my journal, I write about every other day. It has become such a great experience writing down my feelings and thoughts or recording when I feel the Spirit. Last week I was at the Sacramento Temple planting flowers. Afterward there was a speaker and I felt the Spirit so strongly. Later that day I wrote the experience down. When I have a bad day, I flip to a page in my journal where I wrote down a good experience and I feel better." h3. James "I made a goal to volunteer more in family home evening--say a prayer, conduct the song. My mom is usually in charge of all that and she volunteers me, so I want to take the burden off of her. I also set a goal to be friendlier and open to people." Coming from Hampton Bays, New York, James was amazed by how warmly people received him in Provo. "It's really nice here. In New York, they don't have things like this where everyone is so nice and friendly. It's cool because I made a whole bunch of really good friends in five days." James's goal to become more outgoing was off to a good start, and he began to focus on other things. The testimony meeting on Thursday was a high point for James, as it was for many of the others. "The spirit was really strong that day. Pretty much everyone in my company gave their testimonies. I did, too. I haven't given my testimony in a long time. The strongest I've ever felt the Spirit was that night. I feel pretty good about it." That experience also opened his eyes to another goal he has for himself--going on a mission. "My counselor said that what I felt in testimony meeting is what it's going to be like on my mission. Now I can look forward to that even more." Even though James still has four years before he can put in his mission papers, the motivation he found at EFY will help him to prepare for that experience. Summing up the week, and the effect it has had on his life, James says, "My experiences helped me become more social and open. I was pretty shy, but now I feel no reason to be shy or self-conscious. EFY helped me get into the habit of studying and pondering the scriptures not just reading them. I pray more often and it helped me want to be more like Christ. EFY helped strengthen my testimony so much. It still surprises me sometimes." h3. Emma This year was Emma's first EFY experience, and at age eighteen, it was also her last. She had high hopes for the week, but having been to education week and similar programs, she also had a few concerns. "When you're at home, you always kind of go back to your old ways, and I hope that maybe some little bit that I'll be about to be better after I leave," she says. "I've always had a hard time keeping steady scripture study, and I hope that while I'm here I'll be able to get more into the scriptures, and read them more. I hope I study them." While she came to EFY focusing on personal goals, many of the things she learned had to do with the strength and faith that comes with unity. "The FHE games were awesome. I loved it. I guess it was the first time that we had ever really done something so much together and so much fun. We talked about what the things meant, and it was kind of cool to see what everybody thought and it really showed that everything in this world really testifies of Christ. How even something like a game can testify of the gospel." Later in the week, Emma came to a realization. "A lot of kids had been talking in our group a whole bunch, and they had been kind of goofing off, and I wanted to learn, and I thought, 'Hey, I want to learn. You're keeping me from learning.' And then I got a prompt, I guess, that told me that I shouldn't worry about myself so much." Searching the scriptures, she came across Moroni 7 which says "Charity seeketh not her own," and she took that as her motto for the week. "I hope that this week I'll be able to not worry about what I'm going to learn and how everybody else is stopping my growth. I'll try to figure out how to help others to learn and try to help them have a better time at EFY. And as soon as I changed that mind set, the whole time just started being fun, and I was thinking and dreaming of all the types of things that I could do to make everybody happy." It's not always the best idea to surrender personal learning to the group, but in this case bringing her focus outside of herself helped Emma to learn and grow in ways that she couldn't have realized otherwise. Looking back, she says, "I'm still struggling with some of the goals I set, and honestly, some I've forgotten. The one I'm struggling with I've been struggling with for a long time--it's reading my scriptures everyday. EFY made it more conscious in my mind, just that I really need to do it." h3. Joe "I'm pretty shy. I guess my goal is to make some new friends," said Joe at the beginning of EFY. This was not Joe's first experience at EFY, and he had some goals that he had not met in previous years. "Every time I come to one of these programs, it helps me feel less shy." Yet, after going back home, he seems to lose that confidence. This time, Joe hoped that he could make a lasting change. One of the most obvious places for teens to feel shy is at a dance, but there Joe showed no sign of that difficulty. "I like to dance." After only a few days, Joe became outgoing and even daring. "I taught two of the people that I danced with how to swing dance--I used to swing dance. It was a lot of fun." Joe's social endeavors did not hamper his spiritual progress, and he had a great experience at the testimony meeting as well. "It was really cool because one of our kids, Sam, was sick and another kid, Neil, was talking about him in his testimony. Then our counselor, got up and said, 'If we say a prayer, maybe he'll be able to join us.' And then like two minutes later, Sam walked through the door." Back home, he says, "EFY has altered my everyday life because I have taken it home by picking a set time everyday to study my scriptures and say my prayers. While I was there, I made a goal to read my scriptures every day. At school it's hard sometimes because there is only one other kid who's LDS and it's not easy to stand up for what you believe in. But while reading my scriptures I came across Matthew 5:10-12: 'Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' This verse has really helped me to stay strong and I only found it because of my experiences at EFY. Kids can learn amazing things at EFY, but the most amazing part is when they come home spiritually strengthened and able to face the challenges of everyday life with a new perspective. Erin illustrated the point beautifully when she said, "EFY is a great way to make new friends, and I love to make new friends, but there is nothing more important to me than knowing of the love Christ has for me and how I can work towards being with Him again." ***************************** h3. Meet the Teens *Alex, age 14* Alex traveled all the way from his hometown of Elmira, New York, to have his first EFY experience. He has one older sister and three younger brothers. Alex enjoys playing basketball, the saxophone, and the piano. He also has a rather unusual hobby: training homing pigeons. In the future, he hopes to study "some sort of science" at BYU. *Erin, age 16* For the third time, Erin has made the trip to EFY from northern California. With three sisters and one brother, she is the middle child. During the summer, Erin worked as a lifeguard, but she also enjoys basketball, being involved in school leadership, and traveling. Once she graduates from high school, Erin wants to get a cosmetology license and study English or journalism at BYU. *James, age 14* For the first time in twelve years, James has traveled from his hometown of Hampton Bays, New York, to Provo, where he was born. Perhaps James's first time at EFY will encourage his four younger brothers to follow suit. In his free time, you'll find James playing the trumpet in his school band, running on the track team, and studying French. One day he hopes to attend medical school. *Emma, age 18* Emma is a recent graduate of Lehi High School, located just fifteen miles from the BYU campus. She is the third of six daughters. Although Emma is eighteen, this is her first year at EFY. She spends her time reading fantasy books, drawing, and playing in the school band. She plans to attend Utah Valley State College. *Joe, age 16* Joe hails from Oswego, New York, which is located on the shore of Lake Ontario. Although he's been to EFY once before, this will be his first session at BYU, where he hopes to play lacrosse and study computer science or engineering. Joe has two older brothers and an older sister. *************** h3. EFY Registration Dates: Jan 15, 2008 - Application Begin Date
Jan 22, 2008 - Application End Date
Jan 28, 2008 - Check Status Begin Date
Feb 05, 2008 - Check Status End Date
Feb 05, 2008 - Open Registration Begins

© LDS Living Magazine, Jan/Feb Issue
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