In the 1840’s, Mormon Pioneers crossed the plains from Nauvoo, IL to Salt Lake City, UT. This was a difficult journey, but on July 24th, 1847 the first group of pioneers finally reached the Salt Lake Valley. Since that time, Mormons around the world have celebrated this momentous occasion.
Here is a recent talk given by one of our church leaders, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, speaking of those early pioneers- and how we can learn from their strength to make our own futures brighter. This talk was given at the Ogden Pioneer Celebration on July 13, 2014:
In a few weeks the eyes of the Church will be on this city as the Ogden Utah Temple is getting ready to be rededicated. The open house will begin August 1, and a cultural celebration will be held on September 20. So Ogden, get ready for this historic event. It will be wonderful and a time for a spiritual new beginning. You LDS members, I invite you to talk to your bishops to make sure that you have a current temple recommend—and take your friends to the open house. You who are friends of the Church, I invite you to ask your Mormon friends what the temple is all about. Don’t be shy about asking, and if your friends don’t know the answer, the missionaries surely will.
It is interesting to note that when the original Ogden Temple was dedicated in 1972 there were only 14 temples worldwide, and now there are 142. Church membership then was 3 million, and now there are more than 15 million members worldwide.
With such great things happening around us today, it is wise to prepare for the future by looking to the past. Lessons from the past can help us to better manage the present and prepare for the future.
More than a century and a half has passed since the first pioneers made the 1,300-mile trek from Nauvoo, Illinois, to the Salt Lake Valley. What they and those who followed them did was difficult and dangerous. I doubt that many of those who set foot on that journey really understood what they were getting into or that they looked forward to the daily effort it eventually required. But they did know it was going to be hard and that there was a possibility they or someone they loved would not finish the journey.
And yet they came.
And we—the Church, the nation, and even the world—are richer because they came.
Theirs was an act of faith and courage. They believed that God had a plan for them and a place prepared where they could worship God and live their religion in peace. It is no wonder that 160 years later we still commemorate their achievement with songs, speeches, parades, fireworks, commemorative treks, pins, balloons, banners, and T-shirts.
I am pleased to accept the invitation to be with you today to celebrate, remember, and honor those remarkable pioneers.
As you might know, none of my ancestors made the trek across the plains to these valleys in the Mountain West.
But then, even though my ancestors were not numbered among those who took part in that great enterprise, I claim the heritage of those noble pioneers as my own. Their example has influenced my life for good. I treasure the foundation they established for the restored gospel. I honor what they did, what they became, and what they gave to us as a result of their sacrifice.
Today it is my great desire that those of you who descended from those noble pioneers will allow me to praise and honor these great souls as if they were my own ancestors.
Whether we descended from the pioneers or not, it is wise to remember that the glory of their sacrifice belongs to them. We can’t place the trophies they earned for their faith and industry on our mantels. We can’t pin the medals they earned for their courage and bravery on our chests.
Our generation will need to stand on our own achievements, not on those of previous generations.
In the life to come, I will be eager to meet with those legendary giants who gave so much to found these cities here in the valleys of the mountains. I think they will be pleased by our interest in them. I think they will be humbled by our admiration. But I also believe that they will be far more concerned not about what they did, but about what we did as a result of their sacrifice.
I have a feeling they will be pleased far more by our performance than by applause, praise, or parades. They will want to know if we gained anything from the hard-won lessons they learned through tribulation and trial. They will want to know if their sacrifice and endurance made a difference to us and to our children.
All Is Well?
As I think about our pioneer heritage, one of the most moving things that comes to mind is the song “Come, Come, Ye Saints.”Those who made that long journey often sang this hymn during their trek. They sang it at night as the campfire was fading, giving way to the darkness of night.
When I think of the lyrics of that hymn and the context in which it was sung, it brings tears to my eyes. I am very much aware that all was not well with these Saints. All they had to do was to look around and see how it really was. They were plagued by sickness, heat, fatigue, cold, fear, hunger, pain, doubt, and even death.
But in spite of having every reason to shout, “All is not well,” they cultivated an attitude that we cannot help admiring today. They looked beyond their troubles to eternal blessings. They were grateful in their circumstances. I am in awe of those wonderful souls who, despite every evidence to the contrary, sang with all the conviction of their souls: “All is well.”
On a day such as this when our hearts and minds are turned to the great sacrifices of those pioneers, our praise for them is empty if it does not cause inner reflection on our part. Today I would like to talk about a few of the attributes that inspire me as I contemplate the sacrifice and commitment of those great souls.
Number 1: Compassion
The pioneers looked out for one another. They cared for each other irrespective of their social, economic, or political background. Even when it slowed their progress, even when it caused inconvenience, even when it meant personal sacrifice and toil, they helped each other.
In our goal-driven and partisan world, individual or party objectives can sometimes take precedence over taking care of fellowmen or strengthening the kingdom of God. In today’s society, reaching certain ideological goals can appear to be a measure of our worth. Setting and achieving goals can be a wonderful thing. But when success in reaching goals comes at the expense of disregarding, ignoring, or hurting others, the cost of that success may be too precious.
The pioneers not only looked after those in their company, but they considered those who came after them—they planted crops for the wagon trains that followed to harvest, whoever those harvesters might be. They included people of all walks of life.
They learned the practical benefits of helping others. It must have given them comfort to know that just as they reached out to others, when the time came that they needed help, others would reach out to them.
In our day, it is easy to isolate ourselves, look only to our own desires, and discount the interests of others. The pioneers knew the strength of family and friends. And because they depended on each other they became strong. Friends became family. They knew that becoming insulated and thinking primarily of themselves was a road that would lead to almost certain disaster.
In our world, examples of self-interest and self-indulgence are so abundant. It is very easy to slip into that mindset. The pioneers serve as a good reminder of why we must break away from the temptation to isolate ourselves and, instead, reach out to help each other.
We must have compassion and love for one another.
Number 2: Work
The pioneers knew the value of work. The first line of that great pioneer hymn is “Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear.”
This phrase became an anthem to the weary travelers—“No toil nor labor fear.” It is difficult to imagine how hard these great souls worked. Walking was one of the easiest things they did. They all had to pull together to supply and provide food, repair wagons, tend to the animals, minister to the sick and feeble, seek and collect water, and protect themselves from the pressing dangers of the elements and the many hazards of the wilderness.
Today we sometimes struggle in the morning to get out of our soft beds and into the bathroom for a hot shower. We eat a nutritious breakfast and drive in comfortable cars to air-conditioned offices.
We can learn something from the pioneers. They woke up each morning with clearly defined purposes and goals that everyone understood—to serve God and fellowmen and to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley. Every day those purposes and goals were clear to them; they knew what they needed to do and that each day’s progress mattered.
They knew they couldn’t simply take a day off. Each day they literally put their shoulders to the wheel in order to get closer to their new place of refuge. Some days they made good progress. Some days they made little. But they didn’t have the option to give up. In spite of feeling overwhelmed, in spite of many good reasons to become discouraged and disheartened, they did not give up. They could not give up. No matter how difficult, no matter how much they wanted to do something else, they kept their eyes on their goal and on their purpose. Each day and with every step they edged relentlessly closer to their destination.
In our time—when so much of what we desire is so easily within our reach—it is tempting to turn aside or give up whenever the road ahead seems a little bumpy or when the slope tends to rise so steeply before us. In those moments, it might inspire us to reflect on those men, women, and children who did not allow sickness, hardship, pain, and even death to deter them from their chosen path.
But the pioneers did not work only because they had to. In the process, their labors enlarged their character and broadened their understanding. Work diminished their natural tendencies toward self-love and magnified their understanding of their divine nature. It heightened their compassion for others. In the labors of each day they discovered and solidified an inner strength and profound spiritual depth.
They learned that doing the hard things—even applying themselves to the tasks they really did not want to do—deepened and strengthened body, mind, and spirit. This habit firmed their souls and became a blessing to them long after their trek across the plains and mountains had ended.
Lorenzo Clark was a baby when his English emigrant family arrived in Salt Lake City in 1853. He later wrote of what it was like growing up during that time: “My earliest impression is one of work,” he said. “The idea and ambition of everyone around me seemed to be to accomplish more and do it better than anyone else. Work was more [natural] than play, even among the young children who were expected to carry wood and water, run errands, feed the chicken and pigs, kill crickets and grasshoppers on sight with sticks, gather [alfalfa] seed, and help as far as possible with the gardening. … Though we … enjoyed and remembered the willow whistles and spool tops made and put into our hands by older persons, the real spirit of the pioneer group was industry and everyone [despised] the idler.”
President Ezra Taft Benson taught: “We play too much. We work too little. We overeat, overdrink, and overplay. We are the richest people in the world, but not the sturdiest. We are at ease in America. And so we need to recapture the spirit of our parents and grandparents.”
Number 3: Optimism
When the pioneers sang “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” they voiced a third lesson: “But with joy wend your way.”
It is one of the great ironies of our age that we are blessed with so much and yet we can be so unhappy. The wonders of prosperity and technology overwhelm us and shower us with security, entertainment, instant gratification, and convenience. And yet all around us we see so much unhappiness.
How many people do you know who are truly happy? Can you say the same for yourself?
The pioneers, those wonderful souls who sacrificed so much, went without and hungered for even the most basic of necessities to survive. The pioneers understood something about happiness. They understood that happiness doesn’t come as a result of luck or accident. It most certainly doesn’t come from having all of our wishes come true. Happiness doesn’t come from external circumstance. It comes from the inside—regardless of what is happening around us.
If they were here with us today there is no doubt in my mind that they would tell us we can be gloriously happy even if our favorite TV show is cancelled, traffic comes to a crawl, the rain spoils our picnic, or the fast food worker forgot to include straws or packets of ketchup at the drive-through window.
I do not need to tell you stories of pioneer tribulations or the deprivations they faced. I do not need to tell you of how they went without food, how they suffered in sickness, endured heat and cold, and how they tearfully buried their loved ones in shallow graves.
And yet, listen! Can you hear them? Can you hear their voices singing? “We’ll make the air with music ring, shout praises to our God and King.”
Oh, what inspiration we can take from this.
When we complain about a Church meeting that has gone four minutes over its allotted time, perhaps we can hear the voices of those blessed pioneers: “Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard? ‘Tis not so; all is right.”
When we cover our face with our hands and complain that someone else got the promotion, someone else got the part, someone else got the biggest slice of pizza, it might be helpful to remind ourselves that there is a difference between the profound and trivial.
The pioneers sang, “But if our lives are spared again to see the Saints their rest obtain, oh, how we’ll make this chorus swell—all is well! All is well!”
So often our excuses for not being happy are in reality trivial and vain, as though we are looking for a reason to be at odds with the world—as though we want to prove somehow that we cannot experience joy.
The pioneers knew that the things around them did not determine their happiness, but the things within most certainly did. And with that spirit they found happiness in every circumstance and in every trial—even in those trials that reached down and troubled the deep waters of their very souls.
The pioneers were not supermen and superwomen. They were just like you and me. How often did they wonder if they could go on? They must have asked themselves over and again, “Can I do what I have been asked to do?”
But they pressed on. In faith, one step at a time, they pressed on. They trusted in God and His divine and merciful plan. And they left a legacy that will inspire and strengthen generations to come.
Their Trials, Our Trials
The pioneers had their trials.
We have ours.
Some might say theirs were much more difficult than ours, but I am not so certain. You are familiar with Brigham Young’s famous saying: “This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution and be true. But my greatest fear is that they cannot stand wealth.” “The worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country [and] forget God.”
We sometimes look back on what the pioneers had to endure and with a sigh of relief say, “Thank goodness I didn’t live in that time. I couldn’t have survived.”
But I wonder if those courageous pioneers, had they been able to see us today, might not have voiced the very same concern. Of course times and circumstances are different today. They had their challenges—we have ours. They had their successes—we have ours. But as the circumstances may have changed, the principles for respectfully and successfully living together as a caring and prospering community under God have not changed. They remain the same.
If we think that we have become successful as a result of our own abilities and intellect only, if we worship our own capacities and idolize the gods of money, power, and fame,” we have much to learn from the pioneers.
From the pioneers we can learn to have faith and trust in God; we can learn to be compassionate to others; we can learn that work and industry not only bless us temporally but spiritually and that happiness is available to us no matter our circumstances.
In the end, the best way we can honor the pioneers—the best way for us to repay our debt of gratitude to them—goes beyond making and hearing speeches, marching in parades, or attending fireworks celebrations.
The best way we can show our gratitude is by incorporating into our own lives the faithfulness to God’s commandments, the compassion and love for our fellowmen, the industry, optimism, and joy the pioneers demonstrated so well in their own lives.
As we do so, we can reach across the decades of time and take the hands of those noble pioneers in ours. We can add our own voices to theirs as we sing with them the great pioneer anthem and “make the air with music ring, shout praises to our God and King; above the rest these words we’ll tell—all is well! All is well!”
May our hearts, spirits, and voices be filled with the same passion, industry, and faith of our pioneer forefathers today and always, and may we teach our children the same is my prayer and blessing, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.