Most people look forward to Fridays; however, Linn Jensen, Director of the Cardston Alberta LDS Family History Center and his staff cherish them.
Three years ago, The Cardston Alberta and Cardston Alberta West Stakes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teamed up to create a program to “... turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” (Malachi 4:6) Starting out with just six youth, the weekly program slowly climbed to twenty participants before doubling its size in year two.
This year, as many as 65 students have attended the Youth Temple and Family History Program. It is held every Friday in the Family History Center, adjacent to the Cardston High School and Middle School and just a short walk from the Cardston Temple. Each week, students filter in following noon school dismissal. The program begins with an opening prayer followed by a spiritual thought and then a student led family history lesson.
“The students sign up to teach--weeks in advance,” Sister Kristen Creason, a stake family history youth consultant said. Following the lesson, students enjoy a pizza lunch. After lunch, on a rotational basis, students participate in one of the following activities: 1) Take names to the temple 2) Work on family history or indexing at one of the center’s computers 3) Provide help and support for those working on computers. “The youth help the advisors teach...these youth are amazing; they inspire us,” Sister Creason said.
“Sometime we have investigators or less active students come in,” Sister Patricia Beazer, a stake family history youth consultant, said. “Even if they just stop by for some pizza, they benefit from the spiritual thought and the family history lesson before they go.”
“This is a tool to help the youth to know and experience the blessings and power that come through family history,” Sister Creason said. When students face challenges finding a name, “We tell them to go home and pray--ask for help. I promise them the answer will come.”
“This is the most spiritual calling that you will ever have,” Sister Beazer said. “The Lord will answer our prayers regarding missionary work. With current technology, you no longer have to be a detective. Family history is also about recording and preserving memories.”
With the proliferation of family history apps available on Smartphones and computers, many students can do family history work “...while they are waiting to be picked up from school...and that is what the youth do,” Sister Creason said. “I think the youth of this generation have been saved for this time--to bring family history forward; they have been given this responsibility to fulfill this work. The Church recognizes this and is putting it (family history work) where the youth are (on their Smartphones).”
In addition, Cardston’s youth are preparing themselves for full-time missions as they participate in “missionary work” beyond the veil. “Young people who serve missions for the Church are asked to be familiar with family history work and are asked to bring their three-generation family chart with them into the mission field,” Brother Linn said.
”People have an inborn desire to know something about their ancestors. That becomes a natural opportunity for our missionaries. As missionaries learn to love the people they are contacting, missionaries will naturally ask about their families. ‘Are your parents living? What about your grandparents, are they living? Do you know your four grandparents?’ Conversations flow easily when those who are drawn to speak with the missionaries are invited to talk about the people that they love, “ President Russell M. Nelson said during the 2017 Rootstech Conference in Provo, Utah.
Sister Lybbert, an assistant stake indexing director, said, “A lot of kids have pioneer ancestors, so they don’t have many names to do, so they do indexing.” Indexing is the process of entering information from historical records into an online, searchable database. These students are making “spiritual connections” through indexing.
Students are highly engaged and invested in the program; in fact, Sister Lybbert recalls how kids showed up to the family history center one Friday when the Internet was down. The kids didn’t leave. “They waited patiently,” Sister Lybbert said. “Some went to the temple hoping the Internet would come back up later, but it didn’t.” On the occasions where Friday is a school holiday, and the Family History Center is closed, Sister Lybbert said the frequent refrain is, “Can’t we come anyway?”
The youth program is so successful, quite a few other stakes have called to inquire how to start their own programs. What is the key? Is it the pizza?
“I like the pizza,” Katie Ranger, a first-year participant, readily admitted. “But I love going to the temple too.”
“This program helps me to feel the spirit and helps me get to know my family better,” third year participant Clara Beazer said. “Without the program--I would still probably go to the temple, but I would probably not be bringing my own names. I have been to the temple every week this school year,” she said.
“When you have family history questions, you can come here because there are so many people to help. You can get answers to your problems,” Brad Ranger, a third year participant said.
Donald Campbell, a seventh grader, enjoys tracking down names.
“I have more than 4,000 thousand relatives that are recorded in Family Search,” he said. “That’s only twenty-six generations!” On this day, he was intrigued by a forebear from northern Israel. Count Raoul de Lusignan the First, was born in the year 1164. “He died in France in May 1219,” Brother Campbell said before checking the count’s lineage. “I want to go back as far as I can!”
Grateful for his staff and amazed by the diligence of the youth, Brother Linn said some of the family history staff began attending RootsTech when the youth program first started, and more students and staff attend the conference each year. “I love this facility and the youth program,” Brother Linn said. “The dedication and commitment of the staff in teaching classes, helping patrons, and supporting the youth program astounds me.”