Julia and Emily: Sisters in Zion


My ancestors’ experiences as handcart pioneers on Rocky Ridge in 1856 reminded me that we are not alone in our struggles.

My second great-grandmother Julia Hill and her sister Emily were baptized as teens in England, and then their parents, Thomas and Elizabeth Hill, disowned them. Nevertheless, Julia and Emily earned their own passage to America and sailed from Liverpool on the ship Thornton. Also on board this ship was Captain James G. Willey, who led the fourth handcart company west.

Once 23-year-old Julia and 20-year-old Emily arrived in Iowa, they joined the Willey handcart company. Early winter snowstorms caused everyone to suffer from hunger and exposure. On Rocky Ridge in Wyoming, many starved or froze to death. Those who survived were comforted in their suffering by their testimonies of Jesus Christ. But I believe what saved Julia and Emily, in addition to their testimonies, was their love for each other as sisters.

Drawing Strength

During one particularly difficult time for me, I prayed for understanding and had a dream about Julia and Emily. Their example of sisterhood lifted and encouraged me. Whether what I saw in my dream really happened exactly as I imagined does not matter to me. What does matter is the lesson I learned. I came to see clearly the parallel between it and my own struggle.

In my dream, I could see Julia and Emily stranded in the snow on the windy summit of Rocky Ridge with the rest of the Willey handcart company. They had no heavy clothing to keep them warm. Julia was sitting in the snow, shaking. She could not carry on. Emily, who was freezing as well, knew that if she did not help Julia stand up, Julia would die. As Emily wrapped her arms around her sister to help her up, Julia began to cry—but no tears came, only soft whimpering sounds. Together they walked slowly to their handcart. Thirteen died that terrible night. Julia and Emily survived.

We all have trials, but like Julia and Emily we needn’t perish on the windswept summit alone. Though we may feel abandoned, we are not. The Savior is near, and our brothers and sisters in the gospel are near as well. Perhaps we can even do as Emily did and lift another, even though we ourselves are suffering. When we do this, our brothers and sisters become as important as ourselves. We become sanctified—made clean and holy through our service. We become more like our Savior.

Julia and Emily understood this.

Writing Music

Years after passing through the intense trials on Rocky Ridge, Emily penned the words to the hymn “As Sisters in Zion.” I have often drawn strength from them:

As sisters in Zion, we’ll all work together;
The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek.
We’ll build up his kingdom with earnest endeavor;
We’ll comfort the weary and strengthen the weak.
The errand of angels is given to women;
And this is a gift that, as sisters, we claim:
To do whatsoever is gentle and human,
To cheer and to bless in humanity’s name.
How vast is our purpose, how broad is our mission,
If we but fulfill it in spirit and deed.
Oh, naught but the Spirit’s divinest tuition
Can give us the wisdom to truly succeed.

(Hymns, no. 309)

I love Julia and Emily for their example to me. I love my sisters in the gospel. I know we must love and serve others with tenderness if we would live with God. If we do, we will be of one heart and one mind and therefore will be His.

In Times of Need

Elder Richard G. Scott

“Life never was intended to be easy. Rather, it is a period of proving and growth. It is interwoven with difficulties, challenges, and burdens. … Yet these very forces, if squarely faced, provide opportunity for tremendous personal growth and development.” Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Plan for Happiness and Exaltation,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 11.

[illustration] Painting by Clark Kelley Price

Debbie J. Christensen is a member of the Sherwood Hills Ward, Provo Utah Edgemont North Stake.