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Marking the entrance to the valley of the Great Salt Lake and standing as a sentinel pointing the way, is a monument of President Brigham Young with his words “This Is the Place.” President Young’s back is turned away from the privations, hardships, and struggles of the long desert journey across the Plains. His outstretched arm points to a valley of precious promise.
That first trek of 1847, organized and led by Brigham Young, is described by historians as one of the great epics of United States history. Mormon pioneers by the hundreds suffered and died from disease, exposure, or starvation. There were some who, lacking wagons and teams, literally walked the 2,000 kilometers across the Plains and through the mountains, pushing and pulling handcarts. In these groups, one person out of six perished.
For many, the journey didn’t begin at Nauvoo, Kirtland, Far West, or New York, but rather in distant England, Scotland, Scandinavia, or Germany.
Tiny children could not fully comprehend the great faith that motivated their parents to leave behind family, friends, comfort, and security. A little one might ask, “Mommy, why are we leaving home? Where are we going?”
“Come along, precious one; we’re going to Zion, the city of our God.”
Trusted to God
Between the safety of home and the promise of Zion stood the angry and treacherous waters of the mighty ocean. Who can tell of the fear that gripped the human heart during those perilous crossings? Prompted by the silent whisperings of the Spirit, sustained by a simple yet abiding faith, they trusted in God and set sail on their journey. The old life was behind, a new life lay ahead.
On board one of those overcrowded wooden sailing ships were my great-grandparents, their little family, and a few belongings. The waves were high, the voyage long, the quarters cramped. One little girl, Mary, had always been frail, but now with the passage of each day, her anxious mother saw the little one becoming weaker. She had a serious illness. There was no neighborhood clinic, no doctor’s prescription, no hospital—just the steady roll of the tired old ship. Day after day worried parents watched anxiously for land, but there was none. Little Mary could not withstand the hardships of the voyage. After days of feverish sickness, she peacefully passed beyond this veil of tears.
As family and friends crowded around on the open deck, the ship’s captain directed the service; and that precious, little body was placed tenderly in a tear-stained canvas, and dropped into the angry sea. Her strong father, in emotion-choked tones, comforted Mary’s grieving mother, repeating, “‘The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ (Job 1:21.) We’ll see our Mary again!”
The Glory of Zion
Such scenes were not uncommon. Tombstones of piled rocks marked graves all the way from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City. It was a price many pioneers paid. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their names live on evermore.
Tired oxen walked slowly, wagon wheels squeaked, brave men toiled; our faith-inspired and storm-driven ancestors pressed on. They, too, had their cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.
Often they sang:
(Hymns, number 13.)
These pioneers remembered the words of the Lord: “My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion.” (D&C 136:31.)
As the long, painful struggle approached its welcomed end, a jubilant spirit filled each heart. Tired feet and weary bodies somehow found new strength.
In the worn pages of an pioneer’s old journal, we read: “We bowed ourselves down in humble prayer to Almighty God with hearts full of thanksgiving to Him, and dedicated this land unto Him for the dwelling place of His people.”
Another pioneer remembered: “There was no window of any kind in our one-room home which had been dug into a hillside. Neither was there a door. Instead, my mother hung an old blanket over the entrance way. That was our door for the first winter. My dear mother said that no queen who ever entered her palace was ever more happy or proud of shelter and the blessings of the Lord than was my mother when she entered that completed dugout.” The trials, the hardships, the struggles, and the heartaches were met with resolute courage and an abiding faith in a living God. The words of their prophet-leader provided their pledge: “And this shall be our covenant—that we will walk in all the ordinances of the Lord.” (D&C 136:4.)
What of Today’s Challenges?
The passage of time makes us forget, and we lose our appreciation for those who walked the path of pain, leaving behind a tear-marked trail of nameless graves. But what of today’s challenge? Are there no rocky roads to travel, no rugged mountains to climb, no trails to blaze, no rivers to ford? Or is there a very real need today for that pioneer spirit to guide us away from the dangers that threaten our society?
Standards of morality are lowering. Today there are more people in jail, in reformatories, and in trouble than ever before. From small to great, crime spirals upward. Decency appears to head rapidly downward. Many seek the thrills of the moment while sacrificing the joys of eternity. We conquer space but cannot control self. Thus we forfeit peace.
Can we somehow find the courage and that steadfastness of purpose which characterized the pioneers of a former generation? Can you and I, in actual fact, be pioneers today? A dictionary defines a pioneer as “one who goes before, showing others the way to follow.” Oh, how the world needs pioneers today!
The Greeks and Romans prevailed magnificently in their day but their triumph ended when they wanted so-called freedom without regards to the rights of others. They wanted a comfortable life without having to work for it. They wanted security and safety without any effort on the part of the individual. In the end, they lost all—freedom, comfort, and security. We see the same kind of pattern in our day as people seek their own selfish goals. Others are tossed to and fro as they seek leadership and guidance in their lives: “To whom shall we listen?” “Whom shall we follow?” “Whom shall we serve?” And Satan is ever ready to provide false leaders and prophets to cunningly guide us downward, away from that which is righteous and good.
Stand Firm for the Truth
But if we have ears that truly hear, we will be mindful of the words of the Savior who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). His is the voice we must listen to so that we do not yield to temptation, so that we stand firm for truth. Remember, the unsatisfied yearnings of the soul will not be met by an endless search for joy in the thrills of sensation and vice. Vice never leads to virtue. Hate never promotes love. Cowardice never gives courage. Doubt never inspires faith. Contention is never of the Lord.
Some people find it difficult to withstand the mockings and insulting comments of foolish ones who ridicule chastity, honesty, and obedience to God’s commands. Others stand firm and find strength in the lives of the righteous whose example can span the centuries. When Noah was instructed to build an ark, the foolish populace looked at the cloudless sky, then scoffed and jeered—until the rain came.
Centuries ago, on the American continent, people doubted the reality of the Savior and his mission. They disputed and disobeyed until, at his crucifixion, unstoppable fire consumed Zarahemla, the ground shook, earth covered Moronihah, and water engulfed the city of Moroni. The jeering, mocking, profanity, and sin of man was consumed by a stifling darkness and a terrifying silence. The word of God was fulfilled.
Must we learn such costly lessons over and over again? Times change, but truth persists. When we fail to learn from the experiences of the past, we are doomed to repeat them with all their heartache, suffering, and anguish. Haven’t we the wisdom to obey him who knows the beginning from the end—our Lord, who designed the plan of salvation?
Can we not follow the Prince of Peace, that pioneer who literally showed the way for others to follow? His divine plan can save us from the Babylons of sin, complacency, and error. His example points the way. When faced with temptation, he shunned it. When offered the world, he declined it. When asked for his life, he gave it!
(Hymns, number 14.)
As we face a new year ahead, let us decide to pioneer the righteous trail for others as we lovingly and faithfully follow him, our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.
Ideas for Home Teachers
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
1. The trials, the hardships, and the heartaches of the early pioneers were met with resolute courage and an abiding faith in a living God.
2. President Monson asks: Is there a very real need today for the pioneer spirit to guide us away from dangers that threaten our society?
3. Many seek the thrills of the moment while sacrificing the joys of eternity.
4. When we fail to learn from the experiences of the past, we are doomed to repeat them with all their heartache, suffering, and anguish.
1. Share your feelings about how we, as Latter-day Saints, can set an example of righteous living for others to follow, and come unto Christ.
2. Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
3. Would this discussion be better after talking with the head of the household before the visit? Is there a message from the bishop or the quorum leader?