First-Ever Micronesian Pioneer Trek Presents Missionary Opportunity for Pohnpeian Youth
Contributed By Sarah Harris, Church News staff writer
Micronesian youth pulled bamboo travois, or sleds, along a trail through the jungles of Pohnpei during the Asia North Area’s first-ever pioneer trek July 18–20.
The event also commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Church in Pohnpei, a 129-square-mile island about 2,500 miles east of the Philippines, where the activity was held.
The trek was a good missionary opportunity, as people around the island saw the group traveling through their villages.
Micronesian youth pull sleds made of bamboo in lieu of handcarts during the area’s first-ever pioneer trek. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
“There was a car that came by and asked what we were doing,” said Nixon Redes, trek master and a counselor in the Panasang Pohnpei Stake presidency. “I explained to them that we are doing this to strengthen the faith of the youth and also that we are remembering an event that [happened] long ago in the Church as the pioneers journeyed from Missouri to Utah.”
The youth conference was organized by a missionary couple serving in Pohnpei, Elder Wesley Fulton and Sister Robynn Fulton, at the request of their mission president, John S. Zarbock, earlier this year. The Fultons had previously been on two pioneer treks with their home ward and stake, which they said helped them in their planning.
Elder Wesley Fulton and Sister Robynn Fulton, left, the missionary couple who organized the pioneer trek, speak to the youth during a trek activity. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
“The role that they played in the event was phenomenal,” said Jason Killian, assistant producer of a documentary the Area Presidency requested be made to record the event. “They just played a really big part in making the whole thing work.”
Elder Fulton said he was proud of the youth and their endurance throughout the trek. The group of 90 youth and 40 leaders walked for about five to seven miles each day and ended the three-day trek having traveled a total distance of 18.5 miles.
“These youth here are awesome,” Elder Fulton said in an interview for the trek documentary, which is planned to be distributed among the youth and members in Pohnpei to remember the trek and share the experience with others. “They are definitely our future leaders.”
The Fultons planned activities throughout the trek to help the youth understand what it was like to be a pioneer. On the first evening of the trek, they gave the youth ice cubes to hold in their hands until they had melted completely while they listened to pioneer stories in order to simulate what it was like to travel through freezing weather.
“It was interesting seeing their faces and their reaction to their cold hands,” Sister Fulton said.
At one point during the trek, the men and young men on the trip stood silently in a line on the side of the road with their hats over their hearts as the women and young women pulled the travois uphill by themselves. Ann Ardos, a Young Women adviser who attended the trek, said she felt the Spirit during this women’s pull and knew the Lord was helping them up the hill.
Men and young men on the trek stand silently on the side of the road during the women’s pull. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
“On the way, I said a prayer in my heart for the Lord to help us. The [travois] all of the sudden became very light. I heard some of the young women saying, ‘It feels like we are not pulling anything,’” Ardos said. “By the time the men caught up to us, we didn’t even want them to take over because it was so light.”
Young women pull a travois, or sled, up a hill during the women’s pull during Micronesia’s first-ever pioneer trek. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
The trek also included pioneer games, service projects at the schools where they stayed overnight, and a river crossing, during which the young men helped and carried the young women across.
One disappointment the Fultons faced in planning the trek was not being able to combine the activity with the youth from Chuuk, a neighboring island about 460 miles west of Pohnpei, as they had originally planned. Killian said the timing was off for the Chuuk youth’s boat transportation to get to Pohnpei for the trek, so it was decided the Chuuk youth would do their own trek later on their island.
Killian said what impressed him most as he observed the Pohnpeian youth throughout the trek was their positivity. He said one example of this was when the youth continued dancing after an abrupt and heavy rainstorm began during their talent show on the second day of the trek.
Pohnpeian youth dance during the trek talent show, despite pouring rain. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
“To me it just kind of felt like watching God’s children shine in spite of the rainstorm, and there was just nothing that could really stop them,” Killian said. “That’s kind of the way that the whole trek seemed is they just … really kept pushing through.”
Elder Kazuhiko Yamashita, General Authority Seventy and member of the Asia North Area Presidency, and his wife, Sister Tazuko Yamashita, also visited the youth on the second day of the trek. They gave a devotional that evening encouraging the youth to listen to the Holy Ghost as a personal Liahona in their lives.
Elder Kazuhiko Yamashita and his wife, Sister Tazuko Yamashita, applaud the youth talent show. The Yamashitas gave a devotional at the trek, encouraging the youth to listen to the Spirit as they plan out their futures. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
“I encourage you to seek guidance from your Father in Heaven with all your heart as you think about and decide your future,” Elder Yamashita said in his remarks to the youth. “Ask Him in faith to send the Holy Ghost to teach you what to do.”
Lucy Lainos, a young woman who participated in the trek, said she was inspired by a story Sister Yamashita shared during the devotional about following the Spirit in her decision to serve a mission.
“Now I have made up my mind that what I will do now is strive very hard to serve a mission,” Lainos said.
Later that evening, the group separated and had testimony meetings with their wards and branches. Williamson Rodriguez, bishop of the Eirike Ward, said he was moved to hear the youth talk about how they were strengthened through their experiences on the trek.
“I was touched by the spirit of their testimonies,” Rodriguez said. “I am grateful to witness some of their testimonies gain and see attitudes change.”
Rockson Hebel, the stake Young Men president, said Mutual attendance following the trek doubled from the usual 20 to 40 at the next activity. He said this was because the youth who attended the trek had experienced something and “were not so shy about inviting people on the road anymore.”
“Before I went on the trek, I did not have the faith that I would be able to do something like this,” Lainos said. “Now I can say that my faith is stronger because of what I did.”
A group of 90 youth and 40 leaders attend the pioneer trek in Pohnpei, Micronesia. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
A group of Micronesian youth and leaders stands in formation representing the trek’s commemoration of 40 years of the Church in Pohnpei. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
The Micronesia Guam Mission logo was printed on T-shirts for the youth group to wear. The handcart design in the sun was added especially for the trek. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
Pohnpeian LDS youth and leaders cross a river during their first day of the area’s first-ever pioneer trek. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
Young men help and carry young women across the river during Micronesia’s first-ever pioneer trek. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
Micronesian youth play pioneer games, including three-legged races, during their first day on pioneer trek. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
Pohnpeian youth participate in a stick-pull activity during the area’s first-ever pioneer trek. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
Youth participate in a hoop roll race during the area’s first-ever pioneer trek. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
The hoop roll competition eventually became a hula hooping race, according to Jason Killian, assistant producer of a documentary the Area Presidency requested be made of the pioneer trek. “It was actually pretty hilarious to watch them swinging the hula hoop around their waist while running,” Killian said. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
Pohnpeian youth, divided into families according to their wards and branches during pioneer trek, meet together for prayers and a devotional. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
A trek family meets for a morning devotional before starting their journey for the day. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.
Elder Kazuhiko Yamashita, General Authority Seventy, interacts with youth on the pioneer trek. Photo courtesy Asia North Area.