Leandro Pedro, 16, has heard stories in Sunday School about the faith of the pioneers who crossed the plains. He has always admired the courage they had to walk into the unknown. It reminds him of some of the men who played a part in the history of his own country, Portugal.
Before the pioneers could cross the vast, uninhabited plains of North America, routes to the New World had to be discovered by courageous explorers such as Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and Ferdinand Magellan during the Age of Exploration in the late 1400s and early 1500s. Many of these explorers were educated as navigators in Portugal or were sponsored by the Portuguese government.
Leandro and his friends from the Lisbon Portugal Stake look out across the Tagus River toward the Atlantic Ocean. It was from near here at the Monument to the Discoveries that many of these great explorers sailed into unknown waters that were believed by many at the time to take a man to the edge of the earth or grow hotter and hotter until the sea boiled.
But like the pioneers, these explorers were courageous.
“It was dangerous,” says Guilherme Abreu, 13. “They had to be valiant.”
“Not everyone believed they could do it,” agrees Catiana Silva, 14.
“The explorers led and others followed,” Leandro says. “They had a purpose, and others followed their dreams.”
Just like the pioneers of 1847. Just like many of the youth in the Church today.
In a dangerous world where so many sail blindly through life with no compass or map, who will lead? Who will be the brave explorers with vision?
“We will be,” says Guilherme, speaking of the youth of the Church. “We have the faith of the explorers. We search. We explore. We have found the word of the Lord.”
These Portuguese youth understand that the courage and faith they have will inspire others to follow them.
“Our family will follow us through our example,” says Teresa Silva, 15.
“Our friends will follow us,” says Guilherme.
And in a few short years, today’s youth will be tomorrow’s Church leaders.
“We must prepare to be the future,” says Catiana.
Being an explorer during the fifteenth century was not the safest occupation in the world—Old or New. It required courage. Many suffered from poor nutrition, faced mutinous crew members, survived shipwreck, or were killed in unfamiliar lands.
Today’s world harbors dangers as well. Satan’s influence often strengthens the storms of life.
“Wherever we go, there’s always something dangerous waiting for us,” says Catiana.
She and her friends suggest a number of important instruments that every youthful explorer should rely on to navigate life’s storms. Prayer and scripture study top the list.
“We must follow the prophet,” Leandro adds.
“We need to be brave, too,” says 14-year-old Francisco Silva as he looks up at the long line of explorers portrayed along the Monument to the Discoveries. “It’s not always easy to stand up for what you believe when your friends are making fun of you.”
But what would have happened if Columbus had been more worried about being accepted than about doing what he was prompted to do?
The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi foresaw the Age of Exploration, that it was inspired by God:
“I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.
“And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters” (1 Ne. 13:12–13).
These explorers helped prepare the way for the Restoration of the gospel. They were part of God’s plan to put the right 14-year-old boy in the right place at the right time. The results are the blessings and promises enjoyed by members of the Church all over the world because of the Restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Leandro and his friends feel like they have been “wrought upon” by the Spirit as well, inspiring them to set a course, with faith in Christ, for another promised land—an earth “full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9) and, beyond that, returning to live with God.
“If we are faithful, we will have more people who are humble and righteous,” says Leandro.
“If we are faithful,” Guilherme concludes, “we will find eternal life.”
It’s a course that the Savior will help anyone travel, whether by ship, handcart, or tennis shoe.
There were a number of famous explorers who had ties to Portugal during what historians call the Age of Exploration. Some were Portuguese; others studied navigation in Portugal or sailed under the Portuguese flag. Among them were:
Christopher Columbus—This famous Italian explorer’s historic voyage that connected the Eastern and Western Hemispheres in modern times was based on learning he gained while living in Portugal.
Amerigo Vespucci—Sailing under the Portuguese flag, this Italian mapmaker showed that the Americas (a name based on his own) were continents rather than islands.
Ferdinand Magellan—This Portuguese explorer led the first circumnavigation of the globe, charting the Straits of Magellan at the tip of South America.
Bartholomeu Dias—This Portuguese explorer was the first from Europe to round the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southernmost tip in search of a shipping route to the Far East.
Vasco da Gama—Also from Portugal, he built on Dias’s success and was the first from Europe to make it to the Far East by sea.
Pedro Álvares Cabral—This Portuguese explorer firmly established Portuguese settlements in what would become Brazil.
Today, a new generation of explorers is growing among the more than 37,000 members of the Church who live in Portugal. The Portugal Lisbon Mission was formed in November 1974 with four missionaries who were transferred from Brazil. The Portugal Porto Mission was created in 1987, and the Cape Verde Praia Mission was formed in 2002, covering the Azores and Madeira Islands, Portuguese territories. The Lisbon Portugal Stake, the first of the country’s six stakes, was created in June 1981.
“God bless you, my dear young friends. You are the best generation we have ever had. You know the gospel better. You are more faithful in your duties. You are stronger to face the temptations which come your way. Live by your standards. Pray for the guidance and protection of the Lord. He will never leave you alone. He will comfort you. He will sustain you. He will bless and magnify you and make your reward sweet and beautiful. And you will discover that your example will attract others who will take courage from your strength.”
—President Gordon B. Hinckley, “An Ensign to the Nations, a Light to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 2003, 84.