A Different Kind of Pioneer

Maria stirred her scrambled eggs around and around with her fork. “Mom,” she asked, “do we have to go to church next Sunday?”

Mother looked surprised. “Why, of course!” she declared. “We always go to church on Sunday.”

Maria continued to play with her food. Finally her mother asked, “Are you still worried about your talk?”

Maria nodded. She and two other children had been asked to give talks in Primary. Because it was the week of the Mormon Pioneer celebration, the topic of the talks was to be “pioneers in my family.” Maria and her mother had been members of the Church for only a few years.

Mother had told Maria that her Primary teacher probably didn’t realize this. She suggested that Maria talk about the early Mormon pioneers instead. Maria had followed her mother’s advice, but she felt uneasy about it because she wasn’t really following the assigned topic.

Maria finished her breakfast and hurried to school, but all day long she worried about her talk. It seemed forever until the three o’clock bell rang. When she came home, the apartment was empty. Mother wouldn’t be home from work until six o’clock, so Maria fixed herself a snack and thought about her talk. Finally she decided that since she couldn’t talk about pioneers in her family, she simply wouldn’t give a talk at all. Maria was sure Sister Robinson would understand. Besides, Jason and Nancy would still be speaking.

When her Primary teacher answered the phone, Maria explained why she couldn’t give the talk. Instead of agreeing with Maria, Sister Robinson said, “I gave the assignment to you, Maria, for a very special reason. Why don’t you ask your mother if you can come over to my house after dinner, and we’ll talk about it.”

Later that evening Maria went to Sister Robinson’s house. When she returned home, she had a talk all ready for Sunday.

After the opening exercises in Primary on Sunday, Jason stood up and told about his ancestors who had left Norway in 1860 and sailed to America. They had been persecuted in their homeland because they were Mormons.

Nancy read excerpts from her great-grandmother’s diary. It told how she had traveled west in a covered wagon and settled in the Salt Lake Valley.

When Maria walked up in front of the class, her knees were wobbly because she had never given a talk in church before. She was grateful for her notes, because suddenly she had forgotten everything she was supposed to say. Finally, after a quick look at her notebook, Maria began: “Five years ago my mother and I were living in Germany, where I was born. I was in kindergarten then, and my mother was in medical school, studying to become a doctor. My father had just died. The following year my mother graduated, and she had the opportunity to do her internship in Baltimore, Maryland. That’s how we came to the United States.

“On the plane coming over, we sat next to two young men who said they were Mormon missionaries. They had spent two years in Germany preaching the gospel. My mother and I had never met a Mormon before, and we thought they were very brave to leave their homes for such a long time.

“After we had been living in Baltimore for about six months, my mother found out that a doctor she was working with was a Latter-day Saint. She told him about the two missionaries she had met and how impressed she had been by them. The doctor invited us to his home later on, and we began to attend church with him and his family. After a few months my mother was baptized. When I turned eight, I was baptized too.”

Maria paused and looked out over the room. “When Sister Robinson asked me to talk about pioneers in my family, I told her we didn’t have any. I thought pioneers were only people who lived a long time ago, like Nancy’s great-grandmother. Then Sister Robinson asked me to look up the word pioneer in the dictionary. I did, and it said that a pioneer is a person who goes before others and prepares the way for them. So, because my mother and I are the first Latter-day Saints in our family, we are pioneers!

“It’s a great responsibility to be a pioneer, because it’s up to us to set the example for our descendants. But I know that if I stay faithful to the Church, maybe a hundred years from now another girl will stand up in Primary and tell about how her great-grandmother Maria came from Germany with her mother and joined the Church.”

When Primary was over, several people came over and told Maria how much they enjoyed her talk. One sister said that she, too, was a convert but that until Maria’s talk she had never thought of herself as being a pioneer.

When Maria left church, she knew that this was one Pioneer Day that she would always remember.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Julie Young