Posted by: rusch | August 1, 2006

EFY And Life Then

I finished EFY a week ago and have been thinking during that time about how to convey that experience to everyone who reads The Truth. It is difficult. A day-to-day account of things would not be the best way and would simply end up being the boring anyways. The best thing to do will be to share some of my thoughts and feelings about attending EFY as a teenager, and then returning to work as a counselor almost ten years later.

EFY is part of a much larger narrative and it is my hope that it will be shown how it fits in my life and who I am today.

In 1994, ’95, and ’96, I attend Especially For Youth. This program is run by Church Educational System youth programs which is part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This year EFY celebrated its’ thirtieth anniversary. Since its’ inception in 1976 hundreds of thousands of young men and women in North America have attended. I attended for the first time 1994.

When those who attend EFY return home, they usually say they had a great experience. Some might go so far and say that their lives were changed during that week. Honestly, my first year at EFY was none of those things. I had some fun, but it was nowhere near what other young people I knew made it out to be. I remember going to Emory University for a week, perhaps feeling the spirit a few times, but as far it being a life changing, testimony building experience it was not.

Perhaps this reflects where I was spiritually when I was fifteen.

After moving to Atlanta from Portland, things changed a lot. In so many ways, church became a burden. The “standards”, as my parents called them, were impediments not only my, but to anyone’s happiness. Most of my close friends were not members of the Church and in retrospect, the way they lived their lives at the time was not different from other young people in my ward. In fact bringing one of my friends to Scouts, ended in disaster and he never came back, nor expressed a desire to come back.

As the months went by, I became more and more defiant. More and more I was interested in doing my own thing, and being what I considered was my own person. Grudgingly I went each Sunday and Wednesday, but also took advantage of opportunities to miss Church when they came. When someone asked me if I believed in my religion, I responded that most of it was probably true, but there were some things, the “standards” that were probably not. I regret that to this day.

In so many ways, mostly intellectual, I was on my way out of the Church; most of my friends were not members; I believed and acted in ways most members would consider worldly; I liked feeling the spirit, but had no interest in having personal experiences and probably would have found my way out if not for divine intervention.

In the fall after my first EFY experience, our ward boundaries were redrawn, and our family was in a new ward. Often my parents expressed gratitude that we were put in a different ward. At first I was excited about the change. While I was not all that interested in Church, to me any change was welcome, and if it helped Mom and Dad lighten up that would be great too.

Our ward had a relative new Bishop named Bill Brown. Bishop Brown was a very youth centered bishop. I don’t know much about what he did with everyone else in the ward, but looking back, he did a lot for the youth who attended regularly. I feel that Bishop Brown was a factor in my salvation, and helped me to see that the Church was a good thing. Not the greatest thing, mind you, but something that was worth giving another chance.

I quickly became friends with his Son Jeff, who for a long time was my only real Mormon friend. I seemed to split my time between hanging out with Jeff and with my other friends not of our faith. It was around this time that my non-Mormon friends began doing drugs in a major way. No longer were they merely experimenting, but were dealing and doing them often.

As time went by Jeff and his friends seemed like a better choice. There was always the possibility of getting arrested with my group of Non-Mormon friends for drug related stuff, while that was not a possibility with Jeff.

I also started working for Bishop Brown on the weekends. Most of the other young men and women in our ward were going to EFY in Florida that year, and worked for him on the weekends as well (Bishop Brown is very wealthy and could afford to pay the youth to work and earn money for Scout camp and other things). My parents really wanted me to go, and perhaps signed me up and told me about it later. I did not object.

The months being in the new ward had softened me enough to see that Church was just okay. I had also felt the spirit a few times and had talked to Bishop Brown a number of times about some things I felt needed fixing and was starting to feel that great change was needed in my life.

When EFY in Florida came around, I was in a group with guys who were a lot like me. One was still trying to figure it all out, another had been recently released from rehab, and another who, looking back, probably had some emotional problems as well. While we probably drove our counselor nuts, I know that EFY helped that year helped reinforce the desire to change that began months before, which was an indirect result of the Church taking care of administrative business in re-drawing ward boundaries.

In a testimony meeting at EFY, I had a strong desire to repent. I had not been involved in drugs or immorality. Theft was not a problem. It was more the recognition that my heart needed changing. My attitude about the Church needed to change; and also the kinds of friends that I had needed to change as well.

When I returned from EFY, I did one of the hardest things in my life. Without a word, I cut myself off from my friends who were now using on a weekly basis. In part I know what Jesus meant when he spoke allegorically of cutting off an offending body part. It was hard, I didn’t want to do it, but it had to be done.

When I saw them around the neighborhood, it was not as though they were dead to me and I would not speak with them anymore, simply I limited the time I spent with them to riding the bus in the morning and in the halls and cafeteria at school. Aside from that, I became less a friend to them and more an acquaintance. In the end this was the best thing.

The friends situation at Church did not improve much. Jeff graduated in ’95 and I had a hard time connecting with most people at Church. I pretty much had non-member friends with the exception of two brothers from a previous ward, but other then that, I spent most of my time with people who were not members.

On the whole, my nom-Mormon friends that I had now acquired shared the same moral beliefs about illegal drugs. Our interpretations of the law of Chastity and the rest of the word of wisdom were different, but we shared enough in common where I felt comfortable around them, and they felt comfortable with someone, who in their eyes, might as well have been Muslim or Jewish.

I went to EFY for the last time in ’96. This was really to check out Rexburg as a possible college to attend and to meet girls. I guess that EFY had done all that it could do and I just wanted to have fun. And fun was had.

In examining all this, EFY played a very small roll in my youth. Many of the things that I was changing between fifteen an seventeen came from an inner desire to change, and investigating the Church for myself and seeing that it had much more to offer then I at first realized. If anything, it helped to strengthen a commitment that I had already made, but did not initiate the commitment.

EFY helped me see the Good the Church had to offer. But EFY was not the only place where I was seeing and feeling those good things.

EFY did not save me, but was perhaps a thread in a rope that I used to pull myself out of a dark chasm.

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