My family lived in California when I was growing up. In 1947, we traveled to Salt Lake City for the pioneer centennial. We went to the dedication of the This Is the Place monument, and I remember the special feelings I had as I saw the large statue of Brigham Young and heard the stories of the pioneers coming to Utah.
When he was a very young boy, my great-grandfather, Benjamin Lillywhite, came from England with his parents after they joined the Church. When they arrived in St. Louis, his father and little sister died of cholera. His mother did not have enough money to buy a wagon to travel the rest of the way to the Salt Lake Valley, but she wanted her son to go to where the Saints were gathering as soon as possible. So she sent six-year-old Benjamin with another family, and under their care, he walked to the Valley. I was told that when his shoes wore out along the trail, he wrapped his feet in rags. But in spite of their hardships, he made it to the Valley.
As a child, I heard this story over and over. I heard of my ancestors’ sacrifices, and I wanted to be like them. I knew that Heavenly Father was now depending on me to be as courageous and faithful as they had been.
Where we lived in California, my brother, one other boy, and I were the only members of the Church in our elementary school. As members of the Church, we were different from everyone else. Instead of going to Saturday morning cartoons at the movie theater, we went to Primary, which in those days was held on Saturday. When my friends went to the beach on Sunday, our family went to church.
Right from the time that I was very young, I knew that I had to be an example because most of my friends and neighbors were not Church members. One of my favorite scriptures is 1 Timothy 4:12: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” [1 Tim. 4:12] People were always watching my family, knowing that we were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I knew that Heavenly Father was depending on me to be a missionary by example. That is true for all Primary children. You can be an example to your families, to your friends, to everyone who is watching you.
I learned an important lesson about Heavenly Father and prayer when I was nine years old. I loved horses. Sometimes my friends let me ride their horses, and together we’d ride bareback through the orange groves. But I longed for a horse of my own.
That year, a new store opened in a neighboring town. As part of the opening festivities, they had a drawing for a pony. I entered the drawing, and each day I prayed that I would win. Heavenly Father had always answered my prayers, and I was sure that He would answer this one. I made arrangements for the pony to live in a friend’s corral. I even wrote to my grandparents and told them about the pony that would soon be mine.
When the drawing was held and the winner announced, it wasn’t me. I was very disappointed and sad. Lovingly my mother said, “It isn’t that Heavenly Father didn’t hear and answer your prayers, but that He knew what was best for you. Remember, dear, that when you pray, He will answer what is best for you.” Heavenly Father does know what is best for us. He loves each of us, and He hears and answers our prayers.
In Primary we sing, “You don’t have to push a handcart, Leave your family dear, Or walk a thousand miles or more To be a pioneer.”* My dear friends, you can be a pioneer by leading the way and being an example to others. You bring light and happiness to the world when you courageously choose the right. Your leaders love and pray for you. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love you, and They are counting on you. You are the pioneers whom your children will feel gratitude for and whose examples they will follow.