“Sweet Home Alabama,” New Era, Jan. 1998, 28
Fight in the Civil War. March with your high school band. Strap into a space shuttle and prepare for blastoff. If you live in Huntsville, Alabama, you can do all three in the same day (although the Civil War and space travel parts will require the help of imagination, museums, and reenactments).
Huntsville is a city where you can be part of the past, present, and future all at once. And that’s just what it’s like for the teenage Latter-day Saints who call it home. Building on a heritage rich in faith and history, they set a good example for others as they prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.
Digging in the mud isn’t necessarily Amanda Worthington’s favorite activity. But it’s something the 14-year-old from the Winchester Ward is often involved in. Her father, Tom, collects arrowheads and other relics left by the thousands of Native Americans who in ancient times camped and hunted throughout northern Alabama. And where Papa goes, the whole family goes.
“I like searching by the banks of rivers and looking in caves,” Amanda says. “We come home all hot and tired and muddy, but we’ve found arrowheads, spearheads, tools, paint pots, pieces of pottery, all kinds of things. A friend of Dad’s even found a little statue of a quail carved in stone.”
Now don’t start thinking that the Worthingtons would dream of taking artifacts from a historical site or intruding on territory that’s been set aside as a preserve. That’s illegal, and there are places in some states and countries where even touching old things is prohibited. But in Alabama, arrowheads are so plentiful that people discover them every day while digging in their gardens or walking by cotton fields that were freshly plowed. Often such remnants are broken or destroyed if they aren’t rescued.
The Worthingtons have books that help them put dates on their finds. And that has helped Amanda think a lot about the Book of Mormon. Of course, nobody knows exactly where the events ancient prophets describe in that scripture took place, but “when we find something that’s from the same time period, it makes me stop and think that at least there were real people who lived then, that maybe a Nephite or a Lamanite actually held this. It brings it all to life and helps me know that the scriptures are real. They aren’t just a story somebody made up.”
Finding relics also helps Amanda feel thankful. “I’m grateful for technology,” she says with a smile. “Can you imagine spending all day chipping pieces off of rocks just so you could have a tool?”
But then her comments turn serious. “Sometimes we find Civil War bullets along with the arrowheads,” she says. “When I think of all the wars that have been fought, it makes me feel grateful to live in a time of peace.”
Of course the gospel brings a sense of peace too, a comfort and reassurance the youth of Huntsville want to share with their friends. So when Amanda and the rest of the youth in her ward wanted to know how to be better missionaries, they called in some experts—the elders serving in their area! And since ward members already take turns inviting the missionaries to dinner, the youth promised to feed their guests before hearing from them.
“It was a lot of fun,” says Jared Mayfield, 13, who craves almost anything associated with cheese and pepperoni. All of the youth helped in making, baking—or at least eating—the pizzas. After dinner, the elders gave advice about how to prepare for a mission and told how they felt when their own calls came. They suggested ways to bring the gospel into everyday conversations and discussed how to tell if people are interested in what you have to say.
But most of all they bore testimony of the Restoration of the gospel and the change it can bring in the lives of those who embrace the truth. And they encouraged the youth to do their part in sharing the gospel right now and in preparing themselves for future missionary service.
“Whenever the Church says anything about missionary work, I like to jump in there and motivate the other youth to do it with me,” says Cari Mayfield, 18. “My oldest brother went on a mission, and I know what it meant to him when members got excited, too. Besides, I want to be able to help my friends know that the Church is true.”
“Almost every day, I see the missionaries going up and down my street on their bikes,” says Sophrona Dieterich, 16. “They’re going door to door, preaching and teaching the gospel. Their example is awesome.”
After the missionaries have gone, Tasha Higgins, 17, talks about a recent Young Women activity.
“The Laurels set up a maze with chairs,” she explains. “We blindfolded the others and had someone doing what the Holy Ghost does, giving quiet directions to them. Then we had someone right behind them saying no, don’t go that way, and giving them wrong directions. They had to decide who they were going to listen to.”
That’s just like life, Tasha says. The way to make it through the maze is to listen to the still, small voice. And when you do, it prompts you to be more Christlike in whatever you do. Those are promptings the youth in the Winchester Ward are eager to heed, and so are other LDS youth in the Huntsville stake, which includes additional towns nearby.
“There are a lot of temptations, and you have to be strong,” says Tyrah Mohandessi, 16, of Athens. “But if you spend your time doing good things, you don’t have time for bad things.”
She practices what she preaches. For example, she is deeply involved with the Limestone County Youth Leadership organization.
“It’s based on helping people,” she explains. “We work with a lot of leaders in the community to try to solve problems, and we do service projects, like cleanups and visits to hospitals.”
She also spends two or three evenings each week with a mentally and physically challenged friend whose single mother has to work nights and can’t afford to hire help. And she’s on a soccer team and plays bass in a jazz band.
In fact, many LDS youth here look at music as a worthwhile way to employ their time. For example, Sara Williams, 16, her brother, Tyler, 18, and Rebecca Howell, 15, all members of the Byrd Springs Ward, are among 10 Latter-day Saints in the award-winning Virgil I. Grissom High School marching band.
“Through band, you learn to appreciate all kinds of music,” Sara says. “But band teaches you a lot of other things, too.”
“It teaches teamwork, especially marching band, because you can’t march a solo,” she says. “You gain good friends in the band, because you work so hard together.”
And yet, in some ways, Sara is familiar with the all-alone routine. It’s an experience born of standing up for her standards.
“Someone would say, ‘We want to watch this movie.’ And I’d say, ‘What’s it rated?’ At first they’d say, ‘Oh, come on.’ But now they know I will not watch an R-rated movie. And they know I don’t come out on Sundays and go places with them, because it’s the Sabbath. They respect me a lot for what I believe.”
And the respect is mutual. “The kids in the band all have pretty good standards, to where you’re not the only one who is saying, ‘No, I will not drink or smoke,’ or ‘No, I will not have sex before marriage.’ Like it says in For the Strength of Youth, they’re a good influence, so I enjoy hanging out with them.”
Tyler says being drum major has provided missionary opportunities. “I’ve had a couple of band members talk to me seriously about the Church,” he says. “You get to be friends, they see how you live the gospel, and it’s normal to tell them how you feel about it. The impression that you make as a Latter-day Saint stays with people.”
Rebecca agrees. “We’re just normal kids,” she says, “but living the gospel makes us stand out because we’re doing things a lot of others don’t even try to do in their lives. That makes people curious about us.”
Eighteen-year-old Brandy Smith of Decatur also loves music. She has been playing piano for eight years and recently won a music scholarship for college. “I love music and I love the words that are written to the Church hymns,” she says. “I love to play the hymns and to have people sing while I play. It increases my testimony.”
That love of the hymns took on an even deeper meaning when, for a three-month period, the Young Women organization in her ward provided weekly visits to Nell Whitt, an older sister who was dying of cancer.
“We would clean her house and spend time talking with her,” Brandy says. “Then we would sing hymns with her. She loved Church songs.” The hymns were sweet to Sister Whitt. They made her feel at home.
Finding peace. Feeling at home. Whether you live in Huntsville, Alabama, or anywhere else in the Church, those are things the gospel can provide.
The LDS youth in the Huntsville stake know their region has been through centuries of history. They also know they can cope with the present and be ready for whatever comes in the future. Not only are these teenagers at home where they live; they’re at home praying to their Heavenly Father, at home giving service, developing talents, and following the Spirit. And they’re confident that, whatever the future might bring, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will see them through.
“Ask people what they think of when they think of Huntsville, and it would most likely be the space program,” says Chris Carlson, 14, of the Madison Ward. “That’s a big thing here. But I just think of Huntsville as my home. Besides,” he adds, “with the Church and with the gospel, anywhere you go can feel like home.”
And that can make Alabama, or any other place, a home that’s sweet indeed.