The Jatobá Ward was created in Brazil in March 2009, but it wasn’t until November 2018 that its members were able to attend church in their own dedicated chapel. Although the Saints were grateful for leased buildings to worship in, not having a permanent building made it more difficult to keep the youth excited about staying, especially when the surrounding neighborhood had high rates of violence, drug use, and abandonment. And yet the youth group has now grown to over 85 members, reaching a historic milestone in the ward.
What led to that increase in youth participation? The miracle came in following the direction of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
In the October 2019 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson taught: “In each ward, the Lord’s youth battalion is led by a bishop, a dedicated servant of God. His first and foremost responsibility is to care for the young men and young women of his ward. The bishop and his counselors direct the work of the Aaronic Priesthood quorums and the Young Women classes in the ward.”1
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and President Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women General President, later announced several adjustments relating to the rising generation and their leaders. Elder Cook taught that one purpose for the adjustments was to “help bishops and their counselors focus on their core responsibilities to the youth and Primary children.”2
This counsel was then emphasized by the Area Presidency, the Area Seventy, and the stake president for the stake that includes the Jatobá Ward, President Nivaldo Mauro dos Santos. President Santos said: “In Alma we are told that ‘the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength’ (Alma 1:26). As I seek to learn my duty, I have meditated on my responsibilities. I have no doubt that one of my responsibilities is to help young people understand and develop their divine potential. This requires love and patience. I love Church youth and am grateful for the opportunity to serve them.”
Seeking to follow prophetic and local direction, leaders of the Jatobá Ward focused on helping youth develop their divine potential in their councils and made several adjustments. They periodically focused ward youth council meetings only on gathering Israel on both sides of the veil. They started holding weekly quorum and class presidency meetings, with a member of the bishopric attending. And they involved the youth in the work of salvation. That work involved not only ministering and Aaronic Priesthood service but also cleaning the chapel, indexing, reaching out to reactivate others, and more. The ward youth council even planned a missionary week to focus on sharing the gospel in their community. All that involvement has made a difference.
Willian M., age 15, shared: “The missionaries were the first to bring me to church. Then what kept me going was everyone’s reception. I thought that coming to this Church would be just to hear something about the gospel and then go back home, but I realized that it wasn’t just that—it was something very welcoming. When Bishop Gil Santos was called as our bishop, he invited young people to work, with the aim of bringing more young people to the Church. He knew that young people are the future of the Church. That’s why I’m here!”
Cleusiana Teles, a Young Women leader, said that the young women “are very animated and have a desire to serve. We do not lose contact with them, and we promote activities—even if they are virtual. All of the young women’s assignments are fulfilled. And they convey their joy. That has made it easier to continue the Lord’s work and strengthen each other, even during the pandemic.”
The bishopric has also remained close to the youth to help minister to them. Suelen Lopes, age 18, remembered: “As soon as I got baptized, the pandemic came. The bishop was very nice to me and helped my brother a lot when he was sick.”
Jatobá Ward leaders also made adjustments to the youth activities. They started to hold activities weekly, and they involved the ward youth council to make the activities more effective.
Bishop Santos said, “In a spirit of prayer, we discovered the interests of the young people and what made them happy at that time.” The leaders wanted to engage the youth in good and virtuous activities to help counter the activities of the world. Bishop Santos continued: “We fill this space with love, sports, and gospel teaching. Young people were able to see in their leaders a friend.”
As part of those activities, the leaders wanted to make the Church meetinghouse a center for new friendships and spiritual strengthening. Seminary attendance has thus been a big focus with those activities.
Daily sporting activities are enjoyed at the ward building after seminary. Eliseuda Santos, a seminary instructor for nine years, noted, “Going back to seminary in the ward building helped a lot.” The love that Sister Santos has for the youth and “the attention given by the bishopric” have been “essential for us to keep these young people steadfast in the gospel,” she shared. Sister Santos has also maintained good communication with family members of the youth, especially with parents who are not members of the Church. A devotional and dinner for these parents is offered at the beginning of each seminary school year to explain the program to the family members and ask for their support.
Some people may have expected that the large increase in youth attendance in the Jatobá Ward is the result of extravagant efforts. But these results have come from simply following the counsel of Church leaders to help bishoprics focus on the rising generation and to involve the youth in the Lord’s battalion to gather Israel on both sides of the veil.