Members Hike 120 Miles Round-Trip to Attend YSA Updated
Many Church members have heard stories of Saints leaving their homes and trekking across rugged terrain to gather with other Church members. But 12 modern-day pioneers in Papua New Guinea now understand for themselves the faith that motivated and sustained those early Saints.
In 2009, Church leaders organized a young single adult conference in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Its success led leaders to make it a yearly event.
Because of what they had heard about the earlier conference, a group of 15 young single adults from the Oro District in Popendetta on the northern coast decided to attend the 2010 conference, held in Port Moresby on the southern coast. However, standing between them and the host city lay the infamous and often treacherous Kokoda Trail.
After pooling resources from their budget and local fund-raising, they realized they had enough money to fly only five people to the conference.
The group decided that five of the six women would use the plane tickets and take the bulk of the group’s luggage with them. The remaining 10—including one woman and two new converts of only two days—along with their district president, Tossip Salaiau, and his wife, would make the more than 77 mile (125 km) journey through the jungle and over mountain ranges to Port Moresby on the ground.
The Kokoda Trail
The journey would require the group to traverse the Kokoda Trail, a single-file foot path that runs 60 miles (96 km) over the rugged and isolated terrain of the Owen Stanley Range. In 1942, the trail was the site of the World War II battle between Japanese and Australian forces over control of the island—a bloody campaign that sealed the relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea.
The Kokoda Trail crosses a number of ridges and valleys, dropping as low as 1,000 feet (300 m) above sea level and rising to a height of 7,185 feet (2,190 m). The days are warm and humid, but torrential rainfall can appear unexpectedly and cloud cover will often descend to 3,200 feet (1,000 m), leaving hikers in dense fog. Temperatures at night can sink as low as 41 degrees (5 degrees C).
There is on average a death a year from foreign trekkers undertaking this challenge, which they usually complete in five to ten days. The young single adults knew they only had the minimum of five days to complete the entire journey if they were to make it in time for the start of convention.
“On the first day at 6:00 a.m., with faith and courage after our morning devotion and breakfast, we were all up and walking,” said President Salaiau.
Ahead of them was dense bushlands with nowhere to sleep but the ground, and with no food other than that which they could carry themselves. They began their journey literally with faith in every footstep.
Most members of the group had never hiked the trail before, so every mountain they climbed and every river they crossed presented a new challenge. At one point, the trail was so steep that their guides advised them to avoid looking either up or down—both ways could cause dizziness.
Just as early pioneers did, the Walking Squad—as they called themselves—used hymns to cheer them up along the difficult journey.
The difficulty of the trail strained their bodies, but they were determined to make it to the conference. “We have learned a lot about faith and relying on the Lord,” said President Salaiau, who had problems with his knees on the hike. “It didn’t stop me from walking. I just strapped them up and prayed all the way. I had to keep going because I was their priesthood leader. The Lord protected me; it was truly a miracle.”
The night before the group completed their journey, they gathered for a prayer. “We evaluated our four-days’ walk,” President Salaiau said. “Everyone spoke words of encouragement to each other to be strong and be good examples after the YSA convention in Port Moresby. Shaking hands and hugging confirmed that we were one and would complete our walk as the best team ever.”
The next day, the group reached Owens Corner, the end of the trail, and congratulated each other with tears of joy as local Church members loaded them into vehicles for the ride to Port Moresby.
The average group completes the journey from Kokoda to Owens Corner in about 56 hours. The Walking Squad was anything but average, and their speed proved it. According to President Salaiau, they completed the trek in 39 hours and 35 minutes.
Members of the Walking Squad made a lot of sacrifices to attend the conference, but they had faith that they would be blessed.
The four-day YSA conference in July was held with an attendance of 270 young single adults, many with their own stories of great sacrifices made in order to attend. During the conference, young single adults were invited to participate in a dance, a talent night, workshops, sporting events, a service project, Sunday meetings, and a fireside.
The conference fostered an environment for the building up of testimonies, and many attendees said they wanted to submit their mission papers when they got home. After spending several days with other faithful Latter-day Saints, the members from the Oro District knew that attending the conference had brought them the blessings they had trusted would come.
“They told me, ‘We’d do it all over again to relive the experience we had of being with so many of our young single adult brothers and sisters,’” President Salaiau said. “I liken our walk to living in this world. Though it is hard, we climb up and we climb down, but once we reach our destination we are happy, hugging and sharing tears of joy.”