When many of us talk about pioneers, we usually think about covered wagons, sun bonnets, handcarts, and the western United States. And we almost always think about the long walk from east to west—and the blisters, exhaustion, and frozen toes that came with all that walking.
Cesar Gaspar, a 15-year-old teacher from Guadalajara, Mexico, has never ridden in a covered wagon. He’s never pushed a handcart, and he’s never been to the United States. But he knows all about walking. He walks to seminary, to school, to church, to activities, and then back home again. Walking is a constant in Cesar’s life.
“Sometimes I feel like that’s all I do,” he says with a smile. Not that he’s complaining, mind you. It’s just a fact. And that’s not all this young man has in common with the pioneers.
Cesar began looking for the gospel without really realizing it. Although he was already active in a church, Cesar became interested in other religions and started taking his first baby steps toward the truth.
“I would read literature from other churches and I would then pray to Father in Heaven saying, ‘If this is the true church, send your servants to me and have them teach me.’”
Cesar started his search, he says, without even really thinking about what a huge change it would be in his life. But not long after Cesar started praying for an answer, one came.
Cesar’s last name is Gaspar. Fortunate for him, his name fell right after Betty Garcia’s on the alphabetical seating charts for most of his junior high school classes. Since they sat next to each other most of the school day, they became friends, sometimes studying together after school.
“One day she mentioned that she was a member of the Church,” says Cesar. “I got very interested and started asking her what her beliefs were, what her principles were.”
Soon Cesar knew he needed to know more. His thirst for knowledge led him to follow Betty’s brother home from school one day so he would know where her family lived. After working up the courage to knock on her door, Cesar was invited into the house, and Betty and her family had a long talk with him about what it meant to be a Latter-day Saint.
But it was another name that led him to find the family’s house in the first place.
“When I was first learning about the Church, the thing that impressed me the most was its name. There was something very special to me about the fact that the Church had Jesus Christ in its name. It has a very spiritual and good feeling.”
Soon Cesar had a copy of the Book of Mormon—compliments of the Garcia family—and lots of questions.
Attending sacrament meeting for the first time was a real switch for Cesar. It wasn’t anything like the meetings he was accustomed to.
“There was a man carrying the bread and water trays. He was very busy fixing the microphone and saying hello to everyone. There were so many people there, I wondered if they would all fit in the church! It seemed funny that the man fixing the microphone was the bishop.
“It was also a real change to be in church for three hours; that seemed like a long time. I still remember that first Sunday School class. We talked about the birth of Jesus Christ, and I asked a lot of questions. After class, Betty’s brother, Isaac, helped me find the missionaries. I didn’t go to priesthood meeting that day; instead, I had my first discussion with the missionaries.”
That discussion led to more discussions during the week. By Thursday, he had had an interview with the bishop, and the following Sunday—exactly one week after his first attendance at Sunday meetings—he was baptized.
“It was pretty fast,” Cesar admits, “but by that time I had already read the Book of Mormon. Before meeting the missionaries, I had also read Doctrines of Salvation, Truth Restored, and The Miracle of Forgiveness. I had started reading Jesus the Christ. I felt I was ready.”
That was two years ago. Cesar is the only Church member in his family, and it would be easy for him to maybe skip church once in a while, or decide against important programs like seminary—especially since he almost always has to walk to get there! But he doesn’t even think about that. Instead, he thinks about who sees what he does.
“I have to be an example to my family,” he says. “I really try not to make mistakes and to be as perfect as I can because I know they’re watching me.”
As any convert knows, joining the Church can be a big change. Cesar was no exception.
“The Church is more than principles. It’s a way of life,” he says. “The Word of Wisdom, the blessing of the food at every meal, prayer morning and night, early-morning seminary—that was a big change! And there are other things, like studying the scriptures on your own and getting up early for church on Sundays.”
But after two years, Cesar seems comfortable with all those changes. He’s so comfortable, in fact, that he will share the gospel message with anyone who will listen.
“I try to be very careful about comments I make to my friends so that I can teach them about the Church without offending them,” he says.
Although he’s still relatively new in the gospel, you’d never know he hasn’t been a member all his life. Part of it can probably be attributed to the fact that Cesar’s a quick study and that he has a great desire to know the truth. But Cesar says that there’s another, more important reason he’s learned so much so fast.
“When I was reading the Book of Mormon, before I joined the Church, I came to the part about Jesus Christ in America, and I knew it was true,” says Cesar. “At the time, I didn’t really know that it was the Holy Ghost, but I felt very peaceful. That moment was a new beginning in my life. I felt like I could start all over and do things in a different and better way.”
And that strong prompting has translated into bold action. It’s the secret to Cesar’s great energy in living and sharing the gospel, despite the usual obstacles and weaknesses that he, like most people, has to overcome. Cesar keeps a journal to remind himself of, and to eventually share with others, the reasons he lives the gospel. It helps him keep his spirits up when the going gets tough.
“Being an example and writing in my journal will help me leave a legacy. When they read what I have written, my children and grandchildren will know that being the only member of the Church in my family isn’t easy at all, and I have had to work very hard.”
They’ll know a lot of other things about him, too—like the fact that he loves his calling as a stake missionary; that he loves to be around other Church members, especially the young men and women in his ward and stake; and, most important, that he has a testimony.
“I’ve noticed that many people think I’m not old enough to know or to receive an answer about something important, like religion. But I have a testimony that no matter your age, if you have a sincere heart and if you ask, you will receive an answer for sure,” says Cesar.
Cesar hasn’t ever sung the lyrics “Pioneer children sang as they walked, and walked, and walked, and walked,” but when he hears those words, his eyes light up, and he says with a smile, “That’s my song! I walk a lot.”
There are differences, of course, between Cesar and the pioneer children of old. Cesar walks through the busy streets of Guadalajara, not the open plains. And Cesar doesn’t gather fuel for the evening’s fire or feed livestock at the end of the day. But he, too, is a pioneer.
One day his children and grandchildren will talk about their ancestor Cesar Gaspar and how he loved to gather friends together and give them the wonderful gospel message. And they’ll talk about the fact that, even though he had to walk most of the places he wanted to go, he was always singing a song—even if you couldn’t hear it. It was a song about how happy the gospel made him and how strong his testimony was. He may or may not have even been much of a singer, but it was a tune he loved to carry.
Right in his heart.