“In Search of the Tree of Life,” New Era, Jan. 2004, 30
Teens find themselves standing in a variety of places: in line for movies, in their homes, in the halls at school, and in their various workplaces. A recent youth conference for the young men and women of the Salem Oregon Stake encouraged them to heed the Lord’s counsel to follow the strait and narrow path and to “stand in holy places” (D&C 45:32).
During the conference, the youth played games, had a dance, cleaned up two cemeteries, and walked an unusual path through the woods. After the conference, they went to the temple to do baptisms for the dead.
The conference began in a beautiful wooded area near Scio, Oregon. The huge trees, blooming meadows, and its distance from civilization made it the perfect place for the teens to be away from the influences of the world and to partake of the quiet reverence of nature.
For a service project, the teens cleaned up two overgrown pioneer cemeteries. “It was more than just a service project,” says Nephi Stewart. “There was a great spirit there.”
The youth were humbled as they found headstones of children and teenagers buried there. They were touched when they found grave markers of families who had lost several children.
During their service project, it began to rain heavily. Despite that, the youth cooperated, enjoyed their work, and buoyed each other up.
The leaders were nervous about the steady rain because they had planned a nighttime hike through the woods. The 45-minute hike would simulate the journey described in Lehi’s dream and lead to the “tree of life” (see 1 Ne. 8). A rod of iron had been constructed to help guide the youth along the path.
The teens set out in the dark, rainy night wearing plastic garbage bags as ponchos and with only one flashlight per group of five to seven people.
In Lehi’s dream, those who made it to the tree had to hold to the iron rod to navigate the mists of darkness. Others wandered off “in strange roads” and “were drowned in the depths of the fountain” (1 Ne. 8:32).
Similarly, these youth had their own obstacles to deal with on the way to their “tree of life.” In addition to the rain and darkness, they walked in mud and around stones and logs. Looking for a shortcut or an easier way, some lost their way in the darkness. Even those who stayed on the path stumbled, and many fell, having to let go of the iron rod. Members of the youth committee were asked to try to tempt their peers to leave the safety of the path. A “spirit prison”—a place off the trail where the teens had to wait—detained those who left the path.
After clinging to the rod of iron and singing hymns on the way, those who endured to the end finally saw a large tree with white fruit. “Father Lehi,” standing at the “tree of life,” offered them the fruit of the tree.
In the Book of Mormon, Nephi describes eating the white fruit: “As I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; … it was desirable above all other fruit” (1 Ne. 8:12). An imaginative youth committee had made desirable fruit. Caramel apples, dipped in white chocolate, rewarded those who reached this “tree of life.”
At a testimony meeting the next day, youth shared the lessons they had learned. Shelby Cook, 15, said: “The hike was like our lives. There were many parallels. The most important one is that you have to hold on. I want to be worthy when I meet my Heavenly Father.”
Shaunelle Lakey, 17, testified: “The fact that it was so muddy and rainy that night relates a lot to life, because lots of times we have so many trials, especially as teenagers. Near the end, when we came to the tree of life, it was so beautiful. Coming to the tree that night was a relief for a lot of people. That’s how I think it’s going to be when we go back to our Heavenly Father, so that’s what we have to look forward to.”
They learned to help one another make it to the end. Kayla Merriman, 17, said: “You need to always keep trying. The person above me on the hill reached out his hand and said, ‘Here, I’ll help you.’ When we made it to the end, everyone was so happy, even though we were wet and muddy and cold. You just have to endure!”
“We need our own testimonies,” said Haley Prychun, 17. “We can’t always rely on our parents. I’m so glad to be surrounded by strong youth.”
Isaac Bergevin, 18, related his experience to the conference theme: “The holiest place was at the hill, because it was there that people worried about each other. That brought us together.”
One of the most memorable lessons was learned by those who left the path. They felt disappointed as they had to wait in “spirit prison” and watch their brothers and sisters walk by them on the path.
Jackie Haws, 18, said: “Because I was on the youth committee, one of my jobs was to try to lead others astray. Because of this, I ended up going to ‘spirit prison’ and being separated from the others. I felt such shame in prison. But I’m so grateful for repentance. I need it every day.”
After the conference, the youth went to the Portland Oregon Temple to do baptisms for the dead. It was a fitting end to a conference which taught that the strait and narrow path leads back to Heavenly Father. And their love for the Lord leads them to obey His counsel to “stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come” (D&C 87:8).