We did an exercise where we had the people in our session line up in two rows facing each other. They were given some questions to choose from to use for sharing family stories.
As each pair began talking with each other there was much laughter and some tender expressions, even some tears as they told one another things they remembered about various extended family members or relayed stories that had been handed down over the generations.
We had each pair talk with each other for just two minutes and then we would ring a bell. That signaled the row of people on the right to all step down one slot with the person on the end moving up to the top so everyone had a new partner. Then we started again with the next question. We repeated it three times so everyone in the group got three different chances to share a story and they all got to meet new people rather than just staying with the people they already knew.
The YSA had so much fun doing this exercise that things got pretty loud in our room with everyone talking at once. I was worried we were being disruptive to the class going on at the same time in the room next to us, but at the same time I was thrilled to see the young people in our session so completely engaged.
Afterward we asked them to identify the emotions they had experienced while they were telling their stories or listening to others. Over and over people mentioned things like love, pride, joy, happiness, excitement. We told them that those good feelings they were experiencing while telling family stories is what we call The Spirit of Elijah.
Elder Russell M. Nelson has taught that the Spirit of Elijah is “a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family” (“A New Harvest Time,” Ensign, May 1998, 34). This distinctive influence of the Holy Ghost draws people to identify, document, and cherish their ancestors and family members—both past and present.
We also pointed out that by doing activities where they will experience this feeling they can get more familiar with the communication from the Holy Spirit. That can come by entering names in FamilySearch, interviewing a family member, putting together photo collages or albums - really any activity that draws them closer to their family. As they do this, their love for their family will become stronger and the Holy Ghost will manifest to their hearts that families matter.
Then, when they have other spiritual questions - like wanting to know if the Book of Mormon is true or wanting to get confirmation about major life decisions they will have experience recognizing the way they feel when the Holy Spirit communicates with them.
It was so powerful how the whole room went from rather rowdy excitement and enthusiasm to a more subdued reverence as people began making comments testifying how they knew that family history really is important and they wanted to do more of it.
Experiences like this are so precious to us in this mission. It was a very special day indeed.