News Release

Johannesburg FSY 2022 – A Modern-day River Crossing

How a miraculous river crossing taught 530 faithful youth and 70 young leaders how to “trust in the Lord”

Written by Lee Wright, Session Directing Couple, Johannesburg FSY

On the afternoon of Sunday December 11, 2022, three buses pulled in to Konka, the facility rented for FSY – a five-day youth conference held for young people in the Gauteng, South Africa area. The following morning, 530 young men and young women would descend on the facility, but these first three buses carried the 70 faithful Young Single Adult men and women who had accepted the call to be coordinators, assistant coordinators and counselors for FSY; dutifully arriving the night before to set up for the exciting week to come.

Little did these young leaders know what the night would bring.

That evening, the rain arrived. Rain was forecast for each day, but the intensity of the storm took all by surprise. The night sky was almost constantly lit with the presence of lightning. Roars of thunder and a tumultuous downpour went through the night and continued, heavy and strong, as dawn arrived.

The venue in Rustenburg, South Africa was flooded due to heavy rains (December 2022)2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Konka is located approximately two hours north of Johannesburg. To reach the venue, the buses had to travel some distance on dirt roads and cross a river using a low-water bridge before entering the facility.

The morning that the youth were due to arrive, we looked at the river and saw it had swelled to the point that nothing could cross the bridge. The roar of the water flowing over the low water bridge sounded like Victoria Falls. We began praying that the rains would subside soon or there would be no accessing the facility when the youth were to begin arriving at 11 am. Yet the rains continued. That is when the calls of concern began to come in from leaders and parents. “Are you cancelling FSY? You should cancel FSY.” “Should we send the buses in this weather or are you putting things on hold?” “Perhaps you should delay the start of FSY until the water levels drop.”

As we prayed to know what to do, the words of President Nelson kept coming to mind. “Seek and expect miracles.” Yet as we prayed it seemed the rain was simply becoming more intense. We still had four hours until they were to arrive. Perhaps it would slow down enough by the time they got here that the water level would drop sufficiently, though it was appearing unlikely. “We are not cancelling. Just come. It will work out,” we responded. As we spoke those words in faith, we knew it would take a miracle.

We had some additional motivation not to cancel FSY. The year before at almost the same time, the FSY had been planned for this same group, everything organized and ready to go. On the morning FSY was to begin it had to be cancelled because the Omicron variant of COVID that originated in South Africa was spreading quickly. The youth had been unable to participate in any activities the years before due to Covid, and now at the last minute in 2021 the light at the end of the tunnel had been ripped away from them. Would we have to repeat this again in 2022? We hoped not.

We inspected the bridge to see if it would be possible for the youth to cross it by foot. We observed that most of the bridge straddled the river, but if we were to use it, the youth would still have to cross a portion of the river in at least knee-deep water that was running swiftly for the last 30 meters. We asked the Konka staff to begin setting up ropes across the bridge, emphasizing that we would not take any risks with the youth, many of whom do not swim at all. If it was clear we could cross the river safely, we would go forward with this plan.

A few hours before the youth began to arrive, we held a meeting and quick spiritual thought with the YSAs. As a Church our pioneers have crossed rivers in times of extreme difficulty before. “Let me tell you about the Sweetwater River in Wyoming and the story of the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies,” I told the YSAs. I recounted the events of November 4, 1856, where the members of the Martin handcart company could go no further and wept at the thought of crossing that river in the frigid cold to find shelter from the storm at Martin’s Cove.

I told them of three members of the rescue party from Salt Lake City, all young adults, who stepped forward and volunteered to carry the entire company across the frigid river at great personal cost. I then asked, “who is willing to carry on this tradition and carry our 530 youth across the river this morning so a different kind of rescue can continue today, right here?”

The YSAs leapt to their feet volunteering in excitement to be a rescuer for the 2022 FSY and carry our youth across the river. They ran to their dorm rooms and changed into suitable clothing, knowing they were about to get very wet and dirty in the river and mud.

At 10:45am we walked down to the water. The youth had already begun to arrive. The Konka staff had fixed the ropes to hold while crossing the water and were ready for the assistance of the YSAs. Several leaders grabbed onto the ropes and walked across the river and foot bridge to greet the youth and their parents and leaders as they arrived, to give them confidence and assurance that everything was safe and we were moving forward.

There was shock on the faces of the youth and leaders as we explained the situation and instructed the youth to remove their shoes and socks and pull up their pant legs as far as they could. An umbrella to protect them from the rain was all most had planned on. Now they were about to cross a river on foot. As they walked down to the footbridge, several slipped, a few even falling in the deep and slippery mud. “Hang on to the rope!” was the yell that echoed for the next three hours as group after group arrived.

The YSAs took every suitcase and all the bedding and carried it across the footbridge. Over 500 youth made it across the river, either on the backs of YSAs or picking their own cautious paths across the river whilst holding onto the safety ropes. A few hours later, the rain began to lessen. We had made it, and the FSY experience could go forward.

Uniformly, the youth expressed thanks that FSY had not been cancelled and we had found a way forward. Several analogies to our river crossing followed during the week, all relating back to the theme, “trust in the Lord.” The YSAs acting as counselors not only carried and guided the youth across a literal river, but then spent the week teaching and strengthening the youth in a way that has had a deep and meaningful impact—teaching them and sharing tools for navigating an increasingly difficult world. Lives have been forever changed.

Elder Edward Dube, the Africa South Area President, spent most of Thursday at FSY, interacting personally with the youth. He listened as they shared their experiences and heard their testimonies. In his devotional he talked about how these youth are our future leaders that the Lord trusts and loves and who in turn love and trust the Lord. “Where will you be in 50 years?” He asked. “You will be here. This Church needs you to lead.”

The youth enjoyed five days of spiritual, social and physical growth at FSY Johannesburg in December 20222023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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He testified that our future leaders were here at FSY learning and growing and preparing for the important work they are to do. He invited all young men to stand and choose right there and right then that they would fulfill their priesthood duty to serve a mission. “YES!” they responded to his invitation with enthusiasm and power in the spirit-filled hall. He invited the young women to stand and choose right then and there to settle for nothing less than a temple marriage, blessed by the covenants of the Gospel. “Yes!” they responded with faith and determination. His personal interactions and care helped the youth to know the Lord loves and knows them personally.

Brother Ahmad Corbitt, first counsellor in the General Young Men’s presidency, joined the group via Zoom. Reflecting back on their river crossing, he spoke about the symbol of holding tight to the rope, trusting our leaders, working together hand in hand, and how marvelous things happen when we trust in the Lord.

"I hope you will be forever changed and take home a commitment to be permanent. And if you slip along the way, repent and STILL be permanent.” The invitation was accepted with enthusiasm. Elder Clement Matswagothatha, a local Area Authority then concluded this special gathering by testifying that not only would the youth be blessed because of their participation in FSY and their desire to be forever changed, but that future generations would also be blessed because of what was happening at FSY.

As Saturday morning arrived, the buses scheduled to take the youth home crossed the low water bridge easily. The dangerous waters of Monday had subsided, and all was back to normal. As the final bus departed across the low-water bridge and FSY came to an end, we all went away forever changed, knowing we can trust in the Lord with all our hearts.

He has and will forever direct our path if we will let Him.

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