Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were invited to reach out and embrace youth who feel alone.
In the Saturday afternoon session of the 186th Annual General Conference, Elder Andersen said children come from many different “complex family configurations,” and said it is necessary that the pattern of the Lord be continued.
He quoted The Family: A Proclamation to the World, which says, “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another.”
Elder Andersen said, “But my plea today is for the hundreds of thousands of children, youth, and young adults who do not come from these, for lack of a better term, ‘picture perfect’ families. I speak not only of the youth who have experienced the death, divorce, and diminishing faith of their parents, but also of the tens of thousands of young men and young women from all around the world who embrace the gospel without a mother or father to come into the church with them.”
He said that these children and youth are blessed with “believing hearts and spiritual gifts.”
He told the story of children in the church who had no mother or father to go with them to worship. He said, “While a child’s earthly situation may not be ideal, a child’s spiritual DNA is perfect, because one’s true identity is as a son or daughter of God.”
Elder Andersen spoke of a friend named Max who was baptized at age 8, but whose father was not a member of the church. When Max decided to go back to church after a period of inactivity, he approached the doors to realize a new bishop was standing there. He became nervous, but the bishop knew his name and welcomed him.
Max said, “A warm feeling came over me and I knew I had done the right thing.”
Elder Andersen said, “The greatest influence on helping our youth feel included, is other righteous youth.”
Elder Andersen then told the story of Joseph Ssengooba from Uganda. Joseph was on his own at age nine and baptized at age 12. He went to church and thought it was time to go home, after Sacrament meeting was over. A young boy befriended him and eventually became his trainer on his mission.
When Elder Andersen went to Africa, he and his wife were attending church outside when his wife noticed that children were watching from the fence. The children were then invited inside. He said “The children not only came, but came running – more than 50, perhaps 100, some with tattered clothes and bare feet, but all with beautiful smiles and excited faces.”
“I was deeply moved by this experience and saw it as symbolic of our need to reach out to the youth who feel alone, left behind, or outside the fence,” Elder Andersen said. “Let us think about them, welcome them, embrace them, and do everything we can to strengthen their love for the Savior.”