Youth Begin Their Pioneer Trek at Columbus Ohio Temple
Contributed By Nicki Wilpula, Church News contributor
“The goal of the covenant path is to take us back into the celestial kingdom. When we focus on the covenants, we are completely aligned with Heavenly Father’s plan and unlock the blessings of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” —Sid Connor, Youngstown Ohio Stake president
In 1846 the Nauvoo Saints were being driven from their homes by angry mobs, but they refused to leave until they had made sacred covenants and received blessings from on high in the house of the Lord. Their temple endowments gave them strength to begin their journey westward.
Symbolically, the youth of the Youngstown Ohio Stake began their pioneer trek by performing baptisms for their kindred dead in the Columbus Ohio Temple on June 20.
“Baptism is the beginning to the covenant path,” said Youngstown Ohio Stake President Sid Connor. “My very clear impression was that the theme of the pioneer trek should be ‘The Covenant Path.’ We started off wanting to culminate the youth trek at the temple, but this didn’t work with the temple schedule.”
President Connor said when the stake was not able to schedule the dates they wanted at the temple, temple president Walter Selden mentioned that the “real” pioneers started their trek at the temple.
“That was a big ‘aha’ moment,” President Connor said, “and starting at the temple set the spiritual tone for everything else on the trek.”
President Dana Harju, second counselor in the stake presidency, helped coordinate efforts at the temple. He said the youth did 347 baptisms and 347 confirmations for their kindred dead in a special morning session. It was a historical occasion for the stake, the first time the priests did the baptizing and served as witnesses, in accordance with the new temple policies (see related story).
President Connor said it was also the first time every single youth submitted his or her own names. “We had a lot of people helping them create their own FamilySearch accounts and finding names,” he said.
While waiting their turn at the temple, the youths attended classes and participated in activities in the Gateway Chapel next to the temple. A class on the temple, taught by stake patriarch Timothy Headrick, set the tone for the trek theme, “The Covenant Path.” He impressed the importance of temple covenants and how they bless you throughout your life.
Brother Headrick shared personal experiences in his life, the blessings of being sealed to his wife in the holy temple, holding the priesthood, and being able to bless his family. When his second child was born with severe health issues and was not expected to live, Brother Headrick got permission to give him a name and a blessing in the hospital. He said that blessing is very personal and sacred, but his son did live and is now a thriving adult. But if his son had not lived, he and his wife, Debra, had the promise from the Lord that their child would be theirs in the eternities.
After the temple session the youth and adult leaders dressed in their pioneer clothes and boarded a bus for Danville, Ohio, a rural area about 60 miles away, to begin their handcart trek.
The youth of the Youngstown Ohio Stake began their pioneer trek by performing baptisms for their kindred dead in the Columbus Ohio Temple on June 20. Photo by Nicki Wilpula.
Richard Dutson, stake executive secretary, shared with the youth a brief story of his pioneer ancestors, his mother’s paternal grandfather, Joshua Sawyer Holman, and his father, who had helped to build the Kirtland Temple.
On Dutson’s mother’s maternal side were James and Amy Loader, who were given the ultimatum to give up the Church or lose their comfortable home in England. So James left his job as head groundskeeper on a wealthy estate. After a few very difficult years they were able to acquire the resources they needed to sail to America. They arrived in the summer of 1856 with just enough money to purchase a handcart and a few supplies and joined the Martin handcart company. James died along the way and is buried on the north bank of the Platte River somewhere in Nebraska. That left Amy to continue the journey on her own with her four daughters, a 9-year-old son, and a son-in-law.
“You and I owe a great debt to the pioneers,” Brother Dutson said.
President Craig Wagley counseled the youth. “This will be a difficult day,” he said. “There will be times when you will think you just can’t do this. You will have to rely on the Spirit. You have leaders to help you and your family. This will be symbolic of what you will do for the rest of your lives.”
Trek chairman Jim Moore and his committee had previously traveled to the area several times to carefully mark out the trail, to make sure it was safe but also to include some difficult areas—areas that would give the youth opportunities to work together, to solve obstacles, to pray for the Lord’s help, and to rely on the Spirit for guidance.
Youth pull a handcart through deep mud on the trail made especially muddy and slippery from rain. Pictured from left are Ken Dickey, Craig Wagley (back) and youths Gaia Peddicord, Teja Fallon, Michael Lawrence, and Anden Marler. Photo by Karyn Nicoll.
Near the end of the second day the youth came upon a huge fallen tree that blocked the trail. The youth discussed what they needed to do and how to remove it, because they couldn’t go around it or over it. They set to work breaking the smaller branches and clearing them away and then sawing the larger log so it could be moved.
“It was so cool to see the youth eliminate that obstacle from their path in mere minutes and move on in their trek,” said Steve Williams, stake Young Men president.
The weather was a major concern throughout the three days. Local weather reports threatened severe thunder and lightning, heavy rains, and flooding. But prayers were answered and the storms passed around them, but not without rain. The light rain made the trail increasingly muddy and slippery.
“Weathering the storms, like a little thunder and lightning, is a good thing,” said Brother Moore. “These youth are strong physically and spiritually, willing to do whatever they were asked. They chose to be here, as hard as it is, and that’s very commendable.”
Large stones and deep ruts in the trail made the women’s pull a challenge during the Youngstown Ohio Stake’s pioneer trek June 20–22. Photo by Karyn Nicoll.
“We have such a strong testimony of trek,” said Leslie Moore, trek co-chair with her husband, Jim. “The Lord will enable us when we cannot give any more. He will pick up where we are not humanly able. That’s what trek teaches us. Anything that takes this much effort is worth it.”
Ginny Williams, a youth from the Warren Ward, said, “I was thinking while we were pulling our carts, why would anyone do this—leave their homes, friends, and family? They did it because they knew the Church is true.”
Madison Carl, from the Youngstown Ward, said, “My favorite part of trek was the women’s pull. I just felt the women can do this.” They only had three girls to pull their handcart, but out of the corner of her eye she saw all the other girls rush up to help them. “This gospel is all about unity. We need each other. We couldn’t do this alone,” she said.
“I’m grateful for trials because they make you a better person. We can’t do it without each other, and we can’t do it without the Lord,” said Olivia Saxey from the Alliance Ward.
“President Nelson invited the youth to be involved in the Lord’s youth battalion and to gather Israel on both sides of the veil. That’s exactly what we are doing,” President Connor said. “The goal of the covenant path is to take us back into the celestial kingdom. When we focus on the covenants, we are completely aligned with Heavenly Father’s plan and unlock the blessings of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
Leaders and youth participate in Youngstown Ohio Stake’s pioneer trek June 20–22. Photo by Nicki Wilpula.