This Pioneer Day, Celebrate These Six Modern Pioneer Stories
Contributed By Kaitlyn Bancroft, Church News staff writer
Pioneer Day isn’t just for the men and women who walked the plains—today’s Church members can be called “modern pioneers,” according to President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency.
In a general conference address given in 1989, President Oaks, who was Elder Oaks at the time, stated, “Members of this Church face hardships, overcome obstacles, and follow the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ as valiantly as the pioneers of any age.”
Prominent position, he said, “does not put anyone on the fast track to exaltation. … The criteria for that ultimate goal is the same for every person.”
One example of a modern-day pioneer is Elder Augusto A. Lim, who was called to the Second Quorum of the Seventy in 1992. Elder Lim served as president of the first three stakes in the Philippines, established respectively in 1973, 1977, and 1980. He also served in the presidency of the first mission of the Philippines, established in 1967, and as the president of the Manila Philippines Temple.
Elder Lim and his wife, Myrna, joined the Church in 1964, a time when most members in the Philippines were expatriates. He gave up several comfortable jobs in order to devote time to his Church service, and his member missionary work helped the Church grow steadily in the Philippines.
In 2016, Taiwanese members and missionaries line up for a group bicycle ride to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Church in Taiwan. The ride included many of the “pioneer” leaders of the Church on the Asian island. Photo courtesy of Felipe Chou.
Another example of modern-day pioneers is that of John D. and Barbara Lee Jones Sherwood, who moved their family out to Arkansas in 1960 when they felt the Church needed them there. The Sherwoods’ arrival helped the Church grow in that area, and four years later in 1964, the Searcy Branch was formed with John as its first president.
Stake president Bruce K. Berkheime said in 2014, “We of the Searcy Arkansas Stake love, honor, and deeply appreciate Brother Sherwood for his pioneering spirit in blessing countless lives with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The service he has rendered to this stake and surrounding areas, especially his family, has been invaluable. He is a devoted disciple of Christ.”
Additionally, modern pioneers can be found all over the world. In 2014, Taunalyn Rutherford—then a doctoral candidate in religious studies at Claremont Graduate University—gave a presentation on the Church in India, including modern pioneers such as Paul Thiruthuvadoss from Coimbatore. Thiruthuvadoss found a Church tract in a used bookstore in 1954, requested baptism in 1957, and was finally baptized in 1965, beginning the modern era of the Church in India.
India isn’t the only place modern-day pioneers come from. Dora Situmorang, from Indonesia, was introduced to the Church by her sister’s friend and was baptized when she was 15. In 2017, when she was an accounting student at LDS Business College, she told the Church News: “Living as the only member in my family sometimes is not easy. But I know that if I [am] like the pioneers and show my faith all the time and live my faith, it will let the people around me to be able to recognize the truth that comes from the gospel.”
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf visits historic sites in Berlin, Germany, with pioneer Church members on May 14, 2018.
Matias Pedreira, who was also an LDSBC student when the Church News interviewed him in 2017, is from Uruguay and was also the first person in his family to join the Church. Though his family initially disapproved of his decision, he eventually baptized his family a year later.
“Even though everything maybe today looks dark and looks difficult and seems that whatever you do is not enough, if you just trust in God and keep putting one step in front of the other, things will work out in the end, and you can see the power and the mercy of God in your life,” Pedreira said.
A final international example of modern pioneers comes from Ukraine, where Vladimir Bevziuk helped grow the Church in the 1990s. Bevziuk traveled to France in 1995 looking for work, but met the missionaries and joined the Church instead. Upon returning to Ukraine, he began a petition to get missionaries to come to his hometown, which eventually resulted in a new branch.
“You reach a certain point in your life [when] you think, ‘What have I done with my life so far?’” Jeremy Beck, one of the missionaries who taught Bevziuk, said when he was interviewed in 2017. “When I heard how the story played out over the subsequent 15 to 20 years, I thought, ‘Wow, I made a difference in someone’s life.’”
Pioneers of three stakes in Kumasi, Ghana. The pioneers were honored in 2018 at a celebration for the 100th stake and 30th anniversary of the first stake in the West Africa region.