By Deborah Wene
The Ninth annual World Congress of Families was packed with people from all over the world who came together to talk about the importance of families, the threats that families are facing, and how to go about addressing those threats. In my opinion, it was more like a big family reunion than it was a conference because everyone came together, leaving their differences aside and focusing on that one thing that brings them together, the family. Every individual that participated in the conference, despite of their religion and cultural background, had one thing in common: Their love and passion for family and their belief in the natural family.
Not only was the conference for leaders and those with experience or background dealing with family threats, but it was also opened to scholars and to young adults ages 18-30 who were referred to as the Emerging Leaders. Those Emerging Leaders came to Salt Lake City from all over the world, including Panama, Guatemala, Kenya, and other places! They were given scholarships to come and learn not only about the World Congress of Families but how they as future leaders can make a difference in the world.
I had the opportunity to talk with many of those scholars about their experiences.
Stephanie Marie Steward, a student currently attending BYU-Idaho said,
“Sometimes, for me, it feels like I am in a losing battle. The fight for traditional marriage and families can seem discouraging, but the World Congress of Families IX gave me hope and a renewed motivation to stand up for what I believe in. There were many discussions about the forces that are attacking the family such as abortion and pornography and I believe knowledge is the first step toward action. I was very privileged to attend the conference. I feel that I am so much more prepared to fight for traditional marriage, family, and life. As a result of my attendance at this conference, I am sharing what I learned with others and it was great to see that there are people with beliefs similar to my own that are doing the same around the world.”
Taeja Afalava, a scholar and Emerging Leader from the Pacific Islands shared her experience.
“The World Congress of Families was a life-changing event for me. My eyes were opened and my heart was warmed with a fire that continues to grow as I recognize all that needs to be done to protect my family and to stand with God in protecting His family.
Being together as a massive group from all over the world has been an empowering experience. There were specific presentations geared toward Emerging Leaders.They gave me confidence to know that I can and must do something. A friend of mine has an organization called Represent and their motto sums up how I feel about this work, “Honor our ancestors. Defend our descendants.” A passion has built up amongst the Emerging Leaders who attended World Congress of Families IX last week. It is my prayer that this passion alongside God’s power, be spread like a wildfire around the world; and because of the purpose behind that prayer, may faith carry our actions every step of the way.”
Afalava is planning to work and study these important issues as she prepares to attend some of the conferences at the United Nations next year.
Some of the scholars admit that the conference was more instructive and more educational than they expected. One in particular, Krystina Giles, stated,
“My experience at World Congress of Families was a dream come true. It was great to be around people who have a similar point of view and who also see how sacred the family is in our society. The words spoken and the data given helped me better understand my experience as a child. My father was not a part of my childhood. I had personally felt the negative effects the data represented. There were so many times during the Plenary panels that I teared up due to what the speakers were saying. Their warnings hit home, because I had lived them. Many times during the conference I had the distinct feeling that the purpose of this conference is to save the family. The family is the backbone of society and if that crumbles, then what will follow after that? This World Congress of Families and the Advocates that presented made me want to be on the frontlines and make a difference to protect the sanctity of the family”.
These are just few of the many scholars and future leaders I was able to interview! These scholars have hope in the future and standing of the family. I stand with them on these and I hope to be able to get out of my comfort zone and do something about what I learned.