To help class members understand how the pioneers’ journey to the Salt Lake Valley parallels our journey back to our Heavenly Father and to help class members appreciate the sacrifices made by the pioneers.
Prayerfully study the following scriptures and other materials:
Review the material for this lesson in the Class Member Study Guide (35686). Plan ways to refer to the material during the lesson.
Ask class members to prepare to summarize the following sections in Our Heritage:
If the following pictures are available, prepare to use them during the lesson: Mary Fielding and Joseph F. Smith Crossing the Plains (62608; Gospel Art Picture Kit 412) and Pioneers Arrive by Ship in San Francisco Bay (Gospel Art Picture Kit 421).
Suggestions for Lesson Development
As appropriate, use the following activity or one of your own to begin the lesson.
Write Promised Land on the chalkboard. Explain that many times in the scriptures the Lord has led groups of people from where they were living to a “promised land.” The scriptures often refer to such a place as a choice land, a land of peace, or a land of inheritance (1 Nephi 2:20; D&C 45:66; 103:11).
Can you name any groups from the scriptures who were led on a journey to a promised land? (Write class members’ answers on the chalkboard. Answers could include the Jaredites, the family of Lehi, the children of Israel in the Old Testament, and Brigham Young and the pioneers.)
Explain that our mortal life is like a journey to the “promised land” of the celestial kingdom. Speaking of the pioneers who laid the foundations of this dispensation, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve said:
“Their journeys parallel our own. There are lessons for us in every footstep they took—lessons of love, courage, commitment, devotion, endurance, and, most of all, faith” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1997, 81; or Ensign, May 1997, 59).
This lesson discusses one of the greatest journeys in history—the trek of the pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley. During the lesson, invite class members to compare the pioneers’ journey to their own journey toward eternal life.
Discussion and Application
Prayerfully select the lesson material that will best meet class members’ needs. Encourage class members to share experiences that relate to the scriptural principles.
1. The Lord instructed the Saints regarding their physical preparations for their journey.
Ask the assigned class member to summarize the account of the Saints in Winter Quarters from Our Heritage, pages 71–72.
The Saints in Winter Quarters suffered much from sickness and other hardships, yet they continued working and making preparations for their journey. In what ways were they and others blessed for their continued determination? (Answers could include that their preparations made their journey easier and helped those who would come after them.) How have you been blessed by persevering in a time of hardship? How can persevering in a time of difficulty help those who come after us?
Explain that at Winter Quarters in January 1847, President Brigham Young received a revelation concerning the Saints’ westward journey. This revelation is recorded in D&C 136.
What instructions did the Lord give the Saints regarding preparations for their journey? (Read the following verses with class members and identify the instructions in each passage. Select some of the questions to help class members discuss and apply these instructions.)
D&C 136:2. (Make a “covenant and promise to keep all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”) Why was this instruction so important for the Saints? How can we apply this instruction to our journey?
D&C 136:3. (Organize companies under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve, with a president and two counselors and with captains of hundreds, fifties, and tens.) How is this organization similar to the way wards and stakes are organized?
D&C 136:5. (“Let each company provide themselves with all … they can.”) Why is it important that we strive to be self-reliant?
D&C 136:8. (Care for “the poor, the widows, [and] the fatherless.”) How can we fulfill these responsibilities today?
D&C 136:10. (“Let every man use all his influence and property to remove this people to … a stake of Zion.”) How can this instruction apply to us?
2. The Lord instructed the Saints regarding their conduct.
Teach and discuss D&C 136:17–33. Explain that in addition to giving instructions on physical preparations, the Lord gave the Saints directions regarding spiritual matters and their conduct toward each other.
What instructions did the Lord give the Saints about how they should conduct themselves? (Read the following verses with class members and identify the instructions in each passage. Select some of the questions to help class members discuss and apply these instructions.)
D&C 136:19. (“If any man shall seek to build up himself, and seeketh not my counsel, he shall have no power.”) Why would humility be important to the Saints on their journey? How do people sometimes seek to build themselves up? How can we more fully seek the Lord’s glory rather than our own?
D&C 136:23–24. (“Cease to contend one with another; cease to speak evil one of another. … Let your words tend to edifying one another.”) How do contentions and evil speaking hinder us as a people? How can we overcome contentions with each other? What can we do to edify each other?
D&C 136:25–26. (Return borrowed or lost items.)
D&C 136:27. (“Be diligent in preserving what thou hast.”) What do you think it means to be a “wise steward”? How can our stewardship over physical possessions affect our spiritual well-being?
In D&C 136:28, the Lord gives instruction on appropriate recreation. Speaking on this subject, Elder David O. McKay taught:
“On the plains, after a day’s march, the wagons were drawn up in a circle, a man with the violin would take his place by the campfire and there on the prairie the sturdy Pioneers would join hands in a dance, opening it by prayer, and participate in amusement that fostered the spirit of the gospel. … President Brigham Young … once said, in substance: ‘The atmosphere of the dance should be such that if any elder be called from the party to go to administer to a sick person, he could leave with the same spirit that he would go from his elders’ quorum meeting’” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1920, 117).
How can we apply this counsel?
What did the Lord instruct the Saints to do to learn wisdom? (See D&C 136:32–33.) In what ways have you found these instructions to be true in your life?
3. Under the direction of President Brigham Young, the Saints journeyed to the Salt Lake Valley.
Refer to map 3 on page 276 in this manual and
Display the pictures of Mary Fielding and Joseph F. Smith and of the Saints arriving in San Francisco. Explain that there are many stories of faith and courage as the Saints journeyed to Utah.
Ask the assigned class members to summarize the following sections from Our Heritage: “The Brooklyn Saints” (pages 74–75), “The Gathering Continues” (pages 75–76), and “This Is the Right Place” (pages 76–77). As time permits, you may want to tell other inspiring pioneer stories (see the first additional teaching idea for an example). You could also invite class members to tell pioneer stories that are inspiring to them. These pioneer stories could also be from other periods in the history of the Church and from other countries where the Church is established.
How do you feel when you consider the legacy of faith and sacrifice that the pioneers and other Saints have given us? Who are the pioneers of the Church in your area? How can we pass on this same kind of legacy to those who will follow us?
What lessons can we learn from the pioneer trek to help us on our journey back to God’s presence? (After class members have had a chance to respond, read the following statement from Elder M. Russell Ballard.)
“Life isn’t always easy. At some point in our journey we may feel much as the pioneers did as they crossed Iowa—up to our knees in mud, forced to bury some of our dreams along the way. We all face rocky ridges, with the wind in our face and winter coming on too soon. Sometimes it seems as though there is no end to the dust that stings our eyes and clouds our vision. Sharp edges of despair and discouragement jut out of the terrain to slow our passage. … Occasionally we reach the top of one summit in life, as the pioneers did, only to see more mountain peaks ahead, higher and more challenging than the one we have just traversed. Tapping unseen reservoirs of faith and endurance, we, as did our forebears, inch ever forward toward that day when our voices can join with those of all pioneers who have endured in faith, singing, ‘All is well! All is well!’” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1997, 82; or Ensign, May 1997, 61).
Emphasize that in many ways our journey toward eternal life is similar to the journey of the pioneers across America. The pioneers crossed the plains at profound personal sacrifice and often under severe hardship. Demonstrating great faith, courage, and endurance, they set an example for us to follow.
Explain that this is our day in the history of the kingdom of God on the earth. The pioneers laid the foundation, but it is now up to us to complete the work. As President James E. Faust testified, “Faith in every future footstep will fulfill prophetic vision concerning the glorious destiny of this Church” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1997, 58; or Ensign, Nov. 1997, 42).
Elder M. Russell Ballard said: “We are the inheritors of a tremendous heritage. Now it is our privilege and responsibility to be part of the Restoration’s continuing drama, and there are great and heroic stories of faith to be written in our day. It will require every bit of our strength, wisdom, and energy to overcome the obstacles that will confront us. But even that will not be enough. We will learn, as did our pioneer ancestors, that it is only in faith—real faith, whole-souled, tested and tried—that we will find safety and confidence as we walk our own perilous pathways through life” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1997, 83; or Ensign, May 1997, 61).
Bear testimony that many of the ways in which the pioneers were counseled in D&C 136 to prepare for their journey apply to our journey also. Encourage class members to show their gratitude for the pioneers by continuing their legacy of faith.
Additional Teaching Ideas
You may want to use one or both of the following ideas to supplement the suggested lesson outline.
1. Sacrifices made by the pioneers
In addition to prophesying that many of the Saints would live to become a great people in the Rocky Mountains, Joseph Smith foretold of their suffering. He said that some would “be put to death by our persecutors or lose their lives in consequence of exposure or disease” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 255).
Share the following account related by Elder Thomas S. Monson while serving in the Quorum of the Twelve:
“Mormon pioneers by the hundreds suffered and died from disease, exposure, or starvation. There were some who, lacking wagons and teams, literally walked the 1,300 miles across the plains and through the mountains, pushing and pulling handcarts. In these groups, one in six perished.
“For many the journey didn’t begin at Nauvoo, Kirtland, Far West, or New York, but rather in distant England, Scotland, Scandinavia, and Germany. … Between the safety of home and the promise of Zion stood the angry and treacherous waters of the mighty Atlantic. Who can recount 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 their God and set sail on their journey. …
“On board one of those overcrowded and creaking vessels [ships] of yesteryear were my great grandparents, their tiny family, and a few meager possessions. The waves were so high, the voyage so long, the quarters so cramped. Tiny Mary [their daughter] had always been frail, but now, with the passage of each day, her anxious mother knew the little one was becoming especially weak. She had taken seriously ill. … Day after day worried parents peered for land, but there was no land. Now Mary could not stand. … The end drew near. Little Mary peacefully passed beyond this veil of tears.
“As the family and friends gathered on the open deck, the ship’s captain directed the service, and that precious, ever-so-small body, placed tenderly in a tear-stained canvas, was committed to the angry sea. Strong father, in emotion-choked tones, comforted grieving mother, repeating, ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. We’ll see our Mary again!’” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1967, 55–56; or Improvement Era, June 1967, 55).
2. “Faith in Every Footstep” video presentation
If the videocassette Teachings from the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History (53933) is available, consider showing “Faith in Every Footstep,” a 16-minute segment.