The Scout motto, “Be Prepared,” parallels the title of the Aaronic or “Preparatory” Priesthood. But how exactly does Scouting prepare young men to be honorable priesthood holders and missionaries? In my opinion, Scouting provides opportunities for boys to connect with heaven in difficult situations away from home. Here are a few experiences my own son had as a Scout.
The first significant spiritual experience I remember him sharing was as an eleven-year-old Scout. Our family spent one week at Philmont Scout Ranch and he participated in activities with the other boys his age. One day the staff leaders took this large group of rambunctious Scouts on a long day hike. Our son prepared as requested with a daypack, several water bottles, food, sunscreen, hat, and rain gear. When he returned from the hike later that afternoon, he shared the following story with me:
“The hike started out fine. Everything was beautiful and we were having a lot of fun. But after a few hours I started to feel really tired. My pack was very heavy. I was hungry, hot, and thirsty. We had already rested during the hike but I wanted to rest again. However, I was too embarrassed to tell my leader that I needed another break. I didn’t know what to do or how I could go on. Then I had the idea that I should say a prayer. So I did. I didn’t stop hiking or close my eyes, I just prayed silently in my mind and asked Heavenly Father to please help me to make it through this hike.
“As soon as I said, ‘Amen,’ my pack felt lighter. I didn’t feel as hot, thirsty, and tired and I suddenly had plenty of energy to go on. I didn’t need to ask my leader to take a break, and I finished the hike without any problems. I know that Heavenly Father really does answer our prayers.”
It is hard to express the tremendous gratitude I felt when my son shared this experience with me. At church he had learned about praying to Heavenly Father, but Scouting provided a pinnacle experience to test what he had learned.
As a young deacon he attended his first weeklong Scout camp at Camp Buffalo Bill—a beautiful camp located just outside the East Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. One afternoon each troop made a boat out of cardboard and duct tape and participated in a rowing race across the small lake. My son and his fellow Scouts crafted a boat and started the competition with high hopes. But halfway across the lake the boat disintegrated and sank. They were forced to grab their paddles and swim to shore. My son was sopping wet, cold, and mad. He even cried and wanted to come home. But instead his good Scoutmaster took the boys back to camp, built a fire, and soon they were all feeling better. By the time my son returned home that weekend the boat experience was just a funny story. He had learned at church to be cheerful, but Scouting gave him the preparatory opportunity to practice what he had learned.
As a 14-year-old Scout my son attended the 2010 National Jamboree in Virginia. He spent two weeks mingling with youth from all over the nation and world. He met dozens of Scouts who pledged duty to God and country despite their differing backgrounds and beliefs. At the jamboree he observed these boys and leaders while they camped, competed, and participated in high adventure. When he came home from the jamboree he stood in sacrament meeting and shared a powerful testimony of what he had experienced.
My son had learned in church that all people are children of God. But Scouting gave him the preparatory opportunity to mingle with boys from around the world and truly experience tolerance and appreciation for all.
When he was 16 years old he worked on staff at beautiful Camp Bartlett in southern Idaho. He lived away from home for 10 weeks, sleeping in a leaky staff tent in a mosquito-infested valley. During the day he taught lifesaving, canoeing, rowing, and swimming to young Scouts. It was exhausting work.
One very rainy night the call was made for the staff to go to the participant campsites and help Scouts dig ditches and divert water from their tents. It was late, and my son didn’t want to go out into the rain. Still, he pulled himself from his dry sleeping bag and spent the next few hours digging trenches for others. Two years later, at his missionary farewell, he bore testimony that this difficult experience was life changing. He had been taught in church to put others above self, but Scouting gave him the opportunity to do so.
Two years ago my son left to serve as a missionary in Denmark. Days in Denmark are often cold, dark, and rainy. Serving a mission isn’t easy, but as a young Scout he has already practiced relying on his Heavenly Father, remaining cheerful in difficult times, loving all people, serving others, and caring for himself away from home. These vital missionary skills were taught in church and solidified through Scouting. Yes, Scouting worked for us.
I’m sure most mothers can understand the joy I felt at hearing about my son’s struggles, his prayers, and ultimately his answers—and to know that he discovered for himself that Heavenly Father knows him. I’m grateful for difficult Scouting activities that continue to help all of my sons learn and understand their relationship with God and that continue to connect them with heaven.
I believe that the LDS-BSA partnership is inspired for our day when young men need experiences to test what Church teachers and parents have taught them. The defining moments of life don’t always happen when a boy is wearing a white shirt and tie and sitting in a church pew. For my son they happened while his hands were dirty, when he was sweaty and uncomfortable, and when he was wearing a Scout uniform—an outdoor activity shirt that reminded him of his duty to God, prepared him to be a missionary, and connected him to heaven.
~Nettie Francis is the mother of 5 sons: 2 Eagle Scouts, 1 Cub Scout, and 2 WannaBe Scouts