From 1846 until 1869, when the railroad came to Utah, many members of the Church traveled across the plains to the Salt Lake Valley. They came by wagons and on foot. From 1856 to 1860, many pushed or pulled small handcarts with their worldly possessions packed inside. The trip was hard and long, and the Saints who made it to the valley arrived tired, sick, and hungry. Some turned back, and, unfortunately, many died along the way.
In the general conference of October 1856, word came to Salt Lake City of the plight of the Willie and Martin handcart companies. They had started out late and had been struck by an early winter storm in the plains of Wyoming. President Brigham Young adjourned the conference and called able-bodied men to quickly gather supplies and organize a rescue party. Among the many valiant men who rode out of Salt Lake City to help the stranded Saints were young men by the names of C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant, David P. Kimball, and Stephen W. Taylor. When they left, they could not have known what would be required of them or what contribution they would make to the building of the kingdom.
Arriving at the banks of the ice-filled Sweetwater River, the rescuers found the handcart companies bogged down in snow 46 centimeters deep. Men, women, and children among the group were too weak to cross the river. Their energy was spent; their strength was gone; and no doubt they felt the effects of frostbite, hypothermia, and extreme fatigue.
It was then that these strong young men made a sacrifice that few are ever called upon to make. They waded into the stream time and time again, carrying members of the company across the icy stream. Back and forth they crossed until every member was safe on the other side and on their way to shelter and finally into the Salt Lake Valley. These young men, by then cold, wet, and suffering themselves, joined the ranks of the heroes that day. They were not perfect—they were probably regular young men with faults and shortcomings, with their own problems, fears, and weaknesses. But they answered the call of the prophet—they were where the Lord could find them when they were needed to bless the lives of others.
I believe you young men of today’s Aaronic Priesthood are no less valiant, no less able, no less willing to give of yourselves to bless the lives of others. You live in a time when the kind of sacrifice made by C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant, David P. Kimball, and Stephen W. Taylor isn’t generally required of you. Your sacrifices are of another kind. Nevertheless, today’s deacons, teachers, and priests face challenges perhaps much more treacherous than those of the young men who carried the handcart survivors across that icy stream.
Young men today are faced like no generation before them with raging assaults on their ability to withstand the temptations of the world. You are bombarded daily by movies, television, radio, videos, music, dress styles, magazines, books, and even newspapers that reach out to you and either subtly or bluntly attempt to convince you that any behavior is acceptable in today’s society. This is a lie that makes black look white and bad look good. It teaches that there are no more standards, that no one cares what you do, and that the only person you have to answer to is yourself.
This challenge is every bit as dangerous as the icy water faced by those valiant young men of 1856. They faced the task with a respect for the river’s ability to cause their death. The trials and temptations that you face today must also be regarded as powerful enough to cause death—spiritual death—the kind of death that comes when we no longer feel sorrow, compassion, brotherly love, or other wholesome and uplifting feelings that help us grow and progress and draw nearer to the Savior, Jesus Christ.
These great temptations are also robbing many young men of the opportunity to be husbands and fathers, to be righteous, loving leaders in their homes, and to know the joy and happiness that come to a couple who are eternally joined in marriage by the Lord’s authority and given the blessings of temple ordinances which they observe and cherish.
Immorality and sexual transgression keep many from knowing the beautiful experience of becoming full-time missionaries and giving their lives to the Lord to seek out those who are searching for the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Following a lifestyle that includes such transgressions convinces us that it is not important to worthily receive priesthood ordinations, use that priesthood power to bless the lives of others, or receive confirmation from the Holy Ghost that this is God’s work on earth.
So how can you overcome the negative effects of these strong influences so prevalent in today’s society? Like anything else of value, it takes work. It should be easy, but it isn’t always, and you won’t always be successful. You may be the kind of person who finds it easy to resist temptation, or it may be more difficult for you. You may have friends who try to convince you to join them in watching questionable movies, reading degrading materials, or engaging in all types of immoral activities. Or you may live in a home where the gospel is not lived or taught. You might be the only member of the Church in your school or your neighborhood, or you might live in an area where most of your school friends are Church members, so it becomes easy for you to “slip” now and then because everyone knows you are “usually good.”
As I have said, it will take work, but if you really want to overcome the negative influences and remain faithful to your beliefs, I want to share some helpful ideas with you. There are five things every one of us can do each day to help us learn, understand, and live by the teachings of Jesus Christ, whatever our circumstances, wherever we live, however we relate to others, or whatever the level of our commitment to gospel truths. They help me, they help many others, and I know that they will help you.
First, prayer is “the key to the day and the lock to the night.” If you begin now to pray every morning and every night, I promise you that it will become a strength and a force in your life that will bring you great comfort, great blessings, and increased ability to remain faithful to the lessons you have learned in Primary, Sunday School, and your Aaronic Priesthood quorums.
Second, daily service to others will help you gain valuable perspective while providing needful assistance to those you serve. The act of identifying the need of another and finding a way to meet it is one of the most fulfilling experiences of life. If in your youth you develop the ability and desire to perform this work, it will bring a lifetime of happiness to you and others.
Third, strict obedience to gospel truths helps us learn and grow in the gospel and places us in a position to receive the blessings Heavenly Father has promised. In Doctrine and Covenants 130:21 [D&C 130:21], Joseph Smith taught us that all blessings come from obedience to the laws God has given us. Each day is an opportunity to assess how obedient we have been and to resolve to be more obedient tomorrow. Those who love Jesus Christ and God the Father and are obedient to the commandments they have given us will receive the blessings they have promised.
Fourth, each one of us needs to learn and know for ourselves that God lives, that Jesus Christ is his Son, and that their purpose is to help us find our way back to live with them for eternity. Daily acknowledgment of Deity through prayer, scripture study, pondering gospel truths, and trying to understand and live by God’s laws can help us reaffirm our belief—and knowledge—that God really does exist and that we are his children. We have been taught that the day will come when we will no longer be able to exist on borrowed light, but that we will have to have our own sure knowledge that God and Jesus Christ live and that they love us and want the best for us. We cannot know that without a testimony of their divinity.
Fifth, daily scripture study is one of the most effective means of ensuring that we will obtain and strengthen our testimonies of the gospel. You may not be convinced of it, but answers to every problem we face from day to day are already given in the scriptures. The answers come either through direct example of how to solve a problem or through the inspiration and guidance that one receives with regular scripture study. I urge you to put this to the test in your own lives. If you develop the habit of daily scripture reading while you are still young, you will reap lifelong blessings of increased wisdom, understanding, spirituality, compassion, and the blessings of a fulfilled life.
My young brethren, we love you. I join with your parents, your priesthood leaders, your teachers, and those whom you trust and confide in to tell you I desire the very best and greatest reward for you. That reward is to return with your family to the presence of God and Jesus Christ and live forever with them. May God bless and strengthen you and make you equal to the challenges that lie ahead.