Primary children all over the world learn about Council Bluffs, Iowa, a place rich in Latter-day Saint history, and about nearby Winter Quarters, Nebraska, where LDS pioneers paused in their journey west to repair wagons, grind flour, and wait for the bitter winter weather to thaw. But for eight-year-old Angela Miller, Council Bluffs is more than just a star on a Church history map. It’s home. And living so close to such historic sites has helped her to gain a better understanding of the pioneer spirit that she tries to use in her own life to bless those around her.
Part of this pioneer spirit is enjoying eternal family units and placing family as a top priority. Angela likes nothing more than spending time with her family camping, hiking, swimming, bicycling, or just playing with their pet birds, Oliver, Kate, and Tweety.
“They’re always there for you,” Angela says about why families are so important. “They are there to give you some discipline, but they are also nice.” Angela fondly remembers the day in 1994 when her family went to the Las Vegas Nevada Temple. Being sealed together was a most special experience of her life.
She has worked hard to cultivate another aspect of the pioneer spirit—missionary work. Learning from her parents’ experiences as stake missionaries, Angela has participated in ward missionary programs, and she has tried to set a good example for her nonmember friends.
Recently the Miller family participated in a ward program that helps new converts learn more about the gospel by attending group family home evenings. The Millers transformed their backyard into a stage. While her father, Dan, taught a lesson from Doctrine and Covenants 27:15–18 on putting on the whole armor of God, Angela became a living object lesson. As her father taught that each part of the armor represents a quality that will help guard against temptation, such as the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, Angela added that piece to her costume. Everyone’s favorite part of the lesson was when Brother Miller taught about the fiery darts of the adversary, and the missionaries got to throw “fiery darts” made out of yellow cellophane and popcorn kernels at her “armor.”
Angela tries her best to set a good example for investigators, recent converts, and lifelong members alike, no matter where she is. In church she does this by always trying to be reverent. “I fold my arms sometimes when I walk down the hall from class to the Primary room,” she said.
As the only member of the Church in her school, Angela has plenty of opportunities to be a missionary there. At a birthday party she attended, the girls began watching an inappropriate movie. Angela soon realized that it was not a movie she should be watching. “I told them, ‘I can’t watch this because I’m a member of the Church.’” She left the room, and another friend who was not a member soon followed. Together they watched a more appropriate movie until the other girls were finished. “When I left, I saw that I was wearing my CTR ring,” she said. She is glad that she was able to choose the right and set an example for her friends.
Her missionary experiences don’t end there. She invited a friend over one night, and as the girls were talking, the friend asked, “What are those books for? They are pretty big.” Angela told her that they were the Book of Mormon and the Bible, and she was able to talk to her about Jesus Christ. Later that evening, she saw her friend reading from her scriptures.
The Miller family often visits nearby historical sites, such as the cemetery and visitor’s center at Winter Quarters, and the tabernacle in Council Bluffs. This tabernacle is a replica of the structure built in only two weeks by the pioneers. Brigham Young was sustained President of the Church there. As she learns more about the pioneers, Angela remembers about how hard they worked and how they used their talents to bless others. She tries to do this, too, by learning to play the piano, taking ballet lessons, and performing in local performances of The Nutcracker.
She and her thirteen-year-old brother, Jake, have chores at home. Angela’s favorite is helping to take care of the family’s birds. She and Jake change the water in the cages every day and make sure that the birds have plenty of food.
Angela has a great love of learning. The Miller family enjoys visiting exhibits in Council Bluffs and Omaha. Recently they attended an Egyptian exhibit, where they learned the meaning of some ancient hieroglyphics. They often visit the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, where Jake works as a volunteer. Angela can name almost any bird in her favorite zoo spot, the Garden of the Senses. She also spends time in the children’s reading room at the new Council Bluffs city library. She works very hard on her schoolwork and likes to talk with Jake about things she has learned.
President Hinckley visited the area in 1996 to dedicate the replica of the tabernacle in Omaha and to celebrate the faith and dedication of the men who fought as part of the Mormon Battalion. The Miller family joined a host of other families there in dressing up like pioneers and doing pioneer activities. Angela even sang in a children’s choir. When she wears her pioneer dress and bonnet, she seems to feel more appreciation for the pioneers.
Life is very different for Angela than it would have been for a pioneer child. But as she has been able to learn about the struggles and the values of the pioneers, she has been able to become a modern-day example of the pioneer spirit. More than anything, Angela seems to live by the motto of John Taylor, quoted on one of her favorite paintings at Winter Quarters: “The Kingdom of God or Nothing.”