As the only member of the LDS Church in her home in Nicaragua, Cinthya Peña said it’s easy to feel alone.
But when she walked in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City and saw thousands of people also striving to live the restored gospel, Peña said she remembered she isn’t alone, and hasn’t been alone all along.
Millions of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world watch the broadcast of General Conference, but 21,000 members each session get the opportunity to watch the speakers live in the Conference Center.
For many like Peña, coming to see General Conference is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Some travel internationally, others are recent converts listening for the first time, and some have been members their whole life and now have the chance to attend in person.
“I think that being at a live session of general conference is a dream for each member of the (LDS) Church,” Peña said.
Peña’s dream of coming to conference started long before she was even a member. Even though she heard about the LDS Church at age 16 and wanted join then, Peña said her parents wouldn’t allow her be baptized until she was 18.
After her baptism, Peña served a mission in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. She said serving a mission and getting baptized are the two most important decisions she’s made up until now, and the opposition she’s faced has only convinced her more that what she’s doing is right.
Since Peña has many friends who live in Utah, she said it was an easy decision to come all the way from Nicaragua to hear the voices of prophets of God.
“The most significant moment for me was feeling the Spirit testify that this is the Church of Jesus Christ and that these are his prophets and no matter what happens, if I do my part, the Lord will do His part and everything will be okay,” Peña said.
Jessica Jenkins of Canfield, Ohio, said she had never heard of the LDS Church before this summer when a friend invited her to attend church with him.
“I wasn’t really happy with my life, I was kind of depressed … and I just needed something new, something to change,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins was baptized in July after receiving the missionary lessons over the course of just three weeks. She said she is much happier now and is grateful she found the church when she did.
Because she is currently applying to BYU and UVU, Jenkins said it made sense to come watch General Conference and tour each college all in one trip.
Jenkins said going to conference was “an exciting day” full of pictures, note-taking and inspiration that she’ll never forget.
“I didn’t realize that this is such a big deal and people come from all over the world for it. And coming within a few months of being baptized (is) a huge deal. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity,” Jenkins said.
BYU student Sabrina Winsor grew up in Illinois and has been a member of the church all her life, but had never been to General Conference until this weekend.
Winsor said she and her family would gather in the front room and use a projector to watch conference on a big white sheet at home.
“My mom would get out our conference bingo cards and fill up bowls with candy,” Winsor said. “Conference was always a relaxed pajama day where we got to eat candy and listen to God’s chosen leaders.”
Winsor said general authorities don’t often visit Illinois, so having the chance to be in the same room as all of the apostles excited her.
“As soon as I walked into the conference center and saw the stand, I felt the spirit,” Winsor said. “I couldn’t believe that the people I had watched for years on a television were right in front of me.”
It is easier to be attentive and really listen to what the speakers are saying when in the Conference Center, according to Winsor. She said the Spirit was so overwhelming she almost started to cry.
“I was amazed to find answers to questions that I didn’t know I had,” Winsor said. “The spirit was constantly confirming to me that Heavenly Father was aware of me, my struggles, and what I need to know in my life.”
Winsor said she left the Conference Center feeling blessed and grateful for the opportunity to be there in person.
Whether LDS Church members came from Illinois, Ohio, or Nicaragua — Peña, Jenkins and Winsor agreed the shared experience of seeing apostles speak at the Conference Center for the first time was unforgettable.
“I will always remember it as the day I made one of my dreams a reality,” Peña said. “(Going to general conference) helped me realize I can get whatever I want in life as long as I work for it with the Lord’s help.”
Editor’s note: Cinthya Peña’s interview was translated from Spanish to English by Eleanor Cain.