Utah Youth Reenact Pioneer Heritage
By Ryan Morgenegg, Church News staff writer
- Youth of the Fort Herriman Utah Stake reenacted events from Church history that occurred during the years 1820–1847.
- The youth conference centered on building a structure that represented the Nauvoo and Kirtland Temples.
- The history of the Church came to life for the youth as they experienced the joys and adversities of the early Saints.
“Can we somehow muster the courage and steadfastness of purpose that characterized the pioneers of a former generation? Can you and I, in actual fact, be pioneers? I know we can be. Oh, how the world needs pioneers today!” —President Thomas S. Monson
In April of 2012 the leadership of the Fort Herriman Utah Stake had a problem. The stake had grown faster than anticipated and there would be too many youth to put together a traditional pioneer trek the following year. It was decided that instead of going on the traditional trek, the youth of the stake would experience the Restoration of the gospel through reenacted events from Church history occurring during the years 1820–1847.
For the next year more than 100 adults and youth spent thousands of hours preparing for the special event. On July 17, the special trek began. Dressed in clothing reflecting the period from the mid-1800s, leaders and youth arrived at the stake center and were assigned to “families” and spent the next four days doing team-building activities, journal writing, working, having fun, and dancing.
In the woods north of Park City, Utah, they witnessed depictions of major events of Church history through little productions performed by members of the stake. The productions included the religious revival in Palmyra, New York, the First Vision, the angel Moroni’s visits to Joseph Smith, Joseph’s obtaining of the gold plates, the restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, the organization of the Church and Relief Society, Joseph’s experiences in Liberty Jail, the events and martyrdom at Carthage Jail, the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple, and the succession of Church leadership after Joseph’s death.
A memorable part of the conference for Quinton Fisher, 17, was the reenactment of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. “It really brought everything to life,” Quinton said. “He sacrificed and gave his whole life to the gospel.” At the center of all the activities was the building of a structure that represented the Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples. The youth helped in the construction, which was completed in a single day. They painted and applied stucco to the walls, painted an angel Moroni for the Nauvoo Temple, created “stained-glass” windows, and raised the temple up after construction. The temple stood over 20 feet in height and was 12 feet wide and 16 feet in length. The youth participated in a production where it was dedicated. During the four days, many historical characters visited the youth as they ate and participated in various activities.
On the last day of the conference, a man portraying Brigham Young asked the youth to gather at the temple. He told them that because of persecution, they were going to have to leave to find a place of safety in the West. As he was speaking, a mob came. “When the mobs came, my heart sank,” said Amber Crane, an 18-year-old young woman from the stake. “In the back of my mind I had an idea of what would happen, but I never thought that it would be as horrible as it was. It was devastating. We had put so much hard work into building our temple, and it was hard to sit there and watch them ruin it. I was angry and I wanted to stop them, but I knew that I couldn’t because the pioneers had to sit there and watch just like me. It was one of the worst experiences, but it showed me just how hard the pioneers really had it.”
The final part of the event was entering the Salt Lake Valley and witnessing the fruits of the Restoration with four modern-day temples in sight. In addition, a special lunch was prepared for the returning youth. President James W. Nielsen of the Fort Herriman stake presidency spoke and asked the youth to remember the experiences and Spirit they felt during the event. He explained these things could act as stone in the foundation of their testimony in a troubled world.
“My favorite part of youth conference wasn’t so much of an actual thing that we did but the Spirit we felt,” said Britnee Iverson, a 16-year-old who plans to be baptized soon. “Being part of an activity like that, you feel so closely connected to the people that came before you.”