The gospel doctrine teacher in our ward introduced the lesson on Joshua by asking a group of young women to recite the 2010 Mutual theme. Without hesitation and with conviction in their voices, the girls said in unison: “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9).
Although it was only May and the Young Women will be reciting this scripture many more times this year, I believe that this verse is already firmly planted into their minds and hearts and will surely guide them “whithersoever” they go — to their schools, activities, “hanging out” with friends, to dating in a few years, and to the many other venues of their lives.
These “Young Women of Zion” are blessed, as are a half million other Latter-day Saint teens, to belong to the greatest (and likely the largest) organization for adolescent girls in the world. Young women today, like their predecessors, are much blessed by this auxiliary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The organization’s name has changed several times over the years:
The Young Gentlemen and Ladies’ Relief Society of Nauvoo (1843)
The Young Ladies’ Department of the Cooperative Retrenchment Association (Young
Ladies’ Retrenchment Association) (1869)
Young Ladies’ National Mutual Improvement Association (1877)
Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (1904)
Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association (YWMIA) (1934)
Aaronic Priesthood MIA, Young Women (1972)
Young Women (1974)
Yet the purposes — to help young women improve themselves, develop their talents, serve others, and strengthen their testimonies of Jesus Christ — have not.
Many years ago, Marba C. Josephson, then editor of the Improvement Era and a YWMIA general board member, described the young women’s organization as “aiding the LDS girl to gain a testimony of the gospel through wholesome lesson work and spiritualized recreation.”
Church leaders have long recognized the vital role that this auxiliary fills in helping adolescent girls develop testimonies of the Savior and to become faithful, covenant-keeping women. The guidance and strength available through the “Lord’s organization for [young] women” today is more needed, more vital than ever before.
When I was serving as stake Young Women president in the early 1990s, my husband gave me a book titled Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, whose practice focused on teenage girls. She said, “This book is an attempt to share my thinking with parents, educators ... and anyone else who works for and with girls.” (She is also the author The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families.)
My husband thought the book would help me to better understand the world of young women. At the time our only daughter was serving a mission, we had four of our five sons at home, and my only other calling in Young Women had been assistant camp director one summer. I did need to become better acquainted with the environment of the young women I would be serving; this book would be one avenue to explore.
As I read about the moral challenges and lack of family structure and involvement described by Dr. Pipher, I was astonished — yet even more committed to help the young women in my stake navigate the challenges of the 1990s. Although Pipher’s studies did not involve Latter-day Saints, unfortunately, in many areas of social behavior, the percent of the Church population following national trends is fairly high (i.e., divorce, blended families, teen pregnancy, drug use, and other challenges). And young women are not isolated from the world at large.
Since the book’s publication sixteen years ago, the general moral climate and the status of marriage and the family as an institution has deteriorated at an alarming and accelerating rate. Add to the mix the technological temptations, and one wonders how a young woman could possibly survive to adulthood, let alone to become a virtuous woman, prepared “to make and keep sacred covenants,” and to become a righteous and loving wife and mother.
Mary Pipher noted that adolescent girls need mentors and role models, good friends, meaningful activities, leadership opportunities, and to be emotionally connected to a whole.
Regarding mentors, she observed: “In the past, many young women were saved by conversations and support from a beloved neighbor, a kindhearted aunt or a nearby grandmother. Many women report that when they were in adolescence, they had someone they could really talk to, who encouraged them to stay true to who they really were.