Pioneer is a great word to describe the youth of the DR Congo. On 23rd, 800 young men and young women gathered at the Kinshasa Stake Center for the first ever youth conference. Three stakes, Kinshasa, Mont Ngafula, and Ngaliema, participated in phase-one of the combined stake youth conferences. Because of the distance and numbers of youth, the other two stakes in the area: Masina and Kimbanseke will meet on Saturday, July 30th.
The Bishops were asked to provide the number of youth attending from their wards. The number came back that 900 youth would attend the July 23rd conference. When several bishops were asked if that was the number of youth on their ward rolls, they responded, "yes, those are all the youth on our membership records." When asked, how many they think would attend the said (in typical African style), "most of them."
So, Saturday morning, we began registering youth. Now, you need to understand that African time in very unpredictable. We knew that the students would travel by transport from their wards. Example: there were only about 6 vehicles in the parking lot. Four of them belonged to the missionary couples. In other words, no one has cars. The kids boarded transports to get to the stake center - some taking up to two hours to travel to the conference. Many just walked.
A Sister from D.C., who is here on temporary assignment at the U.S. Embassy on a temorary assignment, was conscripted into helping. She was a great help at the registration desk.
At 9:00, start time we had about 100 youth signed in. That we thought was good. Then, they started ariving in groups (transport loads). By 10:00 am we had 300 hundred, by 10:30 it was up to 500, and they just kept coming.The youth were divided into six groups. As the morning continued, the groups grew in size, chairs were added to classrooms, more snacks were prepared, and everyone was accomadated.
By the morning break there were over 700 young men and young women ready to eat a snack. Our final count was just about 800 youth. AMAZING.
The conference included, classes (1/2 hour each), music (Suzanne played the piano all day long - note the picture of her and the young men at the piano - she is like the pied piper of the Congo, everyone wants her to teach them to play), games, and a dance. At the end the entire group sang the two songs they had learned. The host stake president and the Area Seventy closed the meeting with very stiring (and short) talks.
Two young men, who are summer interns at the US Embassy led the games - which were played on the basketball court behind the church. One is a returned missionary who speaks French and the other is a good Catholic boy from Virginia. The kids loved them and they had a great time doing it. I asked the Catholic kid, "did you ever dream that during your Congo experience you would be teaching a bunch of Mormon kids how to play "tag?" His response, "no way, but this is the highlight of my trip."
A young couple taught the Temple mariage class. Other classes included missionary preparation, importance of being on time, Book of Mormon, etc.
It was the first time the youth of these three stakes had ever met together. It was an awesome experience for them. And for their leaders. The office missionary couple, who are very vested in the youth, were the advisors to the stake and ward young men/young women leaders.
All in all it was an awesome experience for everyone.
These young people are literally the future of the Church in the Congo. They will break old tribal traditions such as the dowery, tribalism, and lead a generation of strong leadership in a country that Heavenly Father is blessing every day.
In a country with poverty, illness, strife and a million other problems, these youth found an island of peace, safety, and the Spirit of our Heavenly Father.