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The Saints’ journey west parallels in some ways our journey back to our Heavenly Father. To get back to our eternal home, we will make sacrifices just as the pioneers did. Speaking of the early pioneers in this dispensation, Elder Russell M. Ballard 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” (Ensign, May 1997, 59).
We are trying to obtain a “promised land” just as groups of the Lord’s people have done at many times in the past. Those much desired places have been called a land of peace, a choice land, and a land of inheritance in scriptures such as 1 Nephi 2:20, D&C 45:66, and D&C 103:11. Groups led to these lands included the Jaredites, the families of Lehi and Ishmael, the children of Israel, and the pioneers led by President Brigham Young.
The Lord Provided Instruction on Physical Preparations to the Saints for the Trek
Even as the Saints suffered greatly from illness and difficulties during the time at Winter Quarters, they prepared diligently for their westward trek. Because they exhibited a dedication and determination, they were blessed with an easier journey and the opportunity to assist others who followed after them. We can have similar blessings in our lives today.
D&C 136 is the revelation President Young received at Winter Quarters in January 1847. It gives instructions from the Lord on preparing for the journey to the Salt Lake Valley. The following specifics were given:
- D&C 136:2 – Make a “covenant and promise” to obey the commandments and laws of the Lord.
- D&C 136:3 – Organize with the Twelve at the head, have a president with two counselors, and designate captains over hundreds, fifties, and tens. These leaders were to direct the daily journey and provide assistance and counsel. Today we are organized in wards and stakes with leaders who warn us of dangers and provide resources and counsel to help us in our times of need.
- D&C 136:5 – Be self-sufficient. Provide yourself with all that you can.
- D&C 136:6 – Make preparations for those who will be left behind. (D&C 136:7,9 tell us about those preparations for those who would tarry.)
- D&C 136:8 – Care for the needy, widows, and orphans.
- D&C 136:10 – Use your influence and property to get the saints to “a stake of Zion.”
The Lord Instructed the Saints Regarding their Conduct toward One Another
D&C 136:17-33 includes instructions from the Lord on both physical and spiritual preparations as well as their behavior toward other Saints. Instructions about their conduct included:
- D&C 136:19 warned against pride and encouraged humility and prayer
- D&C 136:21 instructed them concerning proper reverence and respect for deity
- D&C 136:23-24 warned them that contention and speaking ill of others must cease. We have a responsibility and opportunity to instruct and improve others
- D&C 136:25-26 counseled the Saints concerning respect for others’ property
- D&C 136:27 reminded them to be wise stewards over that with which they were entrusted
- D&C 136:28 instructed the pioneering Saints on appropriate types of recreation. Elder David O. McKay taught: “On the plains, after a day’s march, the wagons were drawn up in a circle, a man with a 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'” (Conference Report, April 1920, 117).
- D&C 136:32-33 contained the Lord’s counsel to develop wisdom by striving for humility and praying for enlightenment from our Father.
The Saints Journeyed to the Salt Lake Valley under President Young’s Direction
Some two years before the martyrdom, the Prophet Joseph Smith prophesied of the westward expansion of the Church. Specifically, he said that “the Saints would continue to suffer much affliction and would be driven to the Rocky Mountains,” and that some of the Saints would “live to go and assist in making settlements and build cities and see the Saints become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 255). In the years from 1847 to 1869, around 70,000 Church members from all over the globe migrated to Utah and fulfilled his prophecy. (See the map in the Class Member Study Guide on page 31).
There were many stories that capture the faith and courage exhibited by the pioneer Saints. For relevant examples, see these excerpts from the book Our Heritage: “The Brooklyn Saints” (pgs. 74-75); “The Gathering Continues” (Pgs. 75-76); and “This Is the Right Place” (pgs. 76-77).
We can learn lessons and principles from the pioneers’ trek that can assist us in returning to our Heaven Father. Elder Russell M. Ballard said: “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!’ ” (Ensign, May 1997, 61).
Our quest for eternal life is similar to the pioneers’ quest for freedom and safety in the West. They laid the foundation of the work and it is up to us to complete the tasks. As President James E. Faust testified, “Faith in every future footstep will fulfill prophetic vision concerning the glorious destiny of this Church” (Ensign, Nov. 1997, 42).
Elder Russell M. 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” (Ensign, May 1997, 61).
Sacrifices Made by the Pioneers
Elder Thomas S. Monson:
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 in 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!’ (Improvement Era, June 1967, 55).