This anniversary year we commemorate the arrival of the Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. There has been much remembering. It has all been to the good. All of us need to be reminded of the past. It is from history that we gain knowledge which can save us from repeating mistakes and on which we can build for the future.
These are days for remembering and celebrating the past. These are anniversary days.
I think of what occurred 141 years ago in the old Tabernacle, which stood where Temple Square is now located. And I take you back to the general conference of October 1856. On Saturday of that conference, Elder Franklin D. Richards and a handful of associates arrived in the valley. They had traveled from Winter Quarters with strong teams and light wagons and had been able to make good time.
Brother Richards immediately sought out President Brigham Young. He reported that there were hundreds of men, women, and children scattered over the long trail from Scottsbluff to this valley. Most of them were pulling handcarts. They were accompanied by two wagon trains which had been assigned to assist them. They had reached the area of the last crossing of the North Platte River. Ahead of them lay a trail that was uphill all the way to the Continental Divide with many, many miles beyond that. They were in desperate trouble.
Winter had come early. Snow-laden winds were howling across the highlands of what is now western Nebraska and Wyoming. Our people were hungry, their carts and their wagons were breaking down, their oxen dying. The people themselves were dying. All of them would perish unless they were rescued.
I think President Young did not sleep that night. I think visions of those destitute, freezing, dying people paraded through his mind.
The next morning he came to the old Tabernacle. He said to the people:
“I will now give this people the subject and the text for the Elders who may speak. … It is this. … Many of our brethren and sisters are on the plains with handcarts, and probably many are now seven hundred miles from this place, and they must be brought here, we must send assistance to them. The text will be, ‘to get them here.’
“That is my religion; that is the dictation of the Holy Ghost that I possess. It is to save the people.
“I shall call upon the Bishops this day. I shall not wait until tomorrow, nor until the next day, for 60 good mule teams and 12 or 15 wagons. I do not want to send oxen. I want good horses and mules. They are in this Territory, and we must have them. Also 12 tons of flour and 40 good teamsters, besides those that drive the teams.
“I will tell you all that your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the Celestial Kingdom of our God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains” (in LeRoy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen, Handcarts to Zion, 1960, 120–21).
That afternoon food, bedding, and clothing in great quantities were assembled by the women.
The next morning, horses were shod and wagons were repaired and loaded.
The following morning, Tuesday, 16 mule teams pulled out and headed eastward. By the end of October there were 250 teams on the road to give relief.
Wonderful sermons have been preached from the Tabernacle pulpit. But none has been more eloquent than that spoken by President Young in those circumstances.
Stories of the beleaguered Saints and of their suffering and death have been repeated again and again during this year. Stories of their rescue need to be repeated again and again. They speak of the very essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I am grateful that those days of pioneering are behind us. I am thankful that we do not have brethren and sisters stranded in the snow, freezing and dying, while trying to get to their Zion in the mountains. But there are people, not a few, whose circumstances are desperate and who cry out for help and relief.
There are so many who are hungry and destitute across this world who need help. I am grateful to be able to say that we are assisting many who are not of our faith but whose needs are serious and whom we have the resources to help. But we need not go so far afield. We have some of our own who cry out in pain and suffering and loneliness and fear. Ours is a great and solemn duty to reach out and help them, to lift them, to feed them if they are hungry, to nurture their spirits if they thirst for truth and righteousness.
There are so many young people who wander aimlessly and walk the tragic trail of drugs, gangs, immorality, and the whole brood of ills that accompany these things. There are widows who long for friendly voices and that spirit of anxious concern which speaks of love. There are those who were once warm in the faith, but whose faith has grown cold. Many of them wish to come back but do not know quite how to do it. They need friendly hands reaching out to them. With a little effort, many of them can be brought back to feast again at the table of the Lord.
I would hope, I would pray, that each of us would resolve to seek those who need help, who are in desperate and difficult circumstances, and lift them in the spirit of love into the embrace of the Church, where strong hands and loving hearts will warm them, comfort them, sustain them, and put them on the way of happy and productive lives.
I leave with you my testimony of the truth of this work, the work of the Almighty, the work of the Redeemer of mankind.