– Since I’m moving to China soon, for about a year, and will be leaving my local church unit for a while, they asked me to give a talk last Sunday. For the most part how here is how I gave it with one major exception, I began running out of time so I cut Mary Goble Pay’s story to get to the last few things I wanted to talk about. I hope you find this helpful and uplifting. Enjoy. –
All is Well! All is Well!
A talk prepared and given by Kevin Earl in the Duncanville YSA Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
24 July 2011
Happy Pioneer Day! That’s the holiday we would be celebrating today if we lived in Utah commemorating the day 164 years ago when Brigham Young declared this is the place as the first company of Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. Although we don’t officially celebrate this holiday, it is still important to remember those who came before us.
So, today, I’m going to talk about pioneers. Some of us have pioneer heritage in our families while many of us are first or second generation Latter-day Saints, but all of us as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints share the collective pioneer heritage and should understand it.
For three and a half years right after my mission I worked at a place called This is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City. It’s a living history park similar to Dallas Heritage Village with historic buildings and people dressed in old-fashioned clothes showing and telling visitors what it was like to have lived during the historical period represented.
At the park I was the trail boss for more than 2,000 youth on many treks each year. Unlike the handcart treks some of you have been on, our treks only lasted a day and went right up the side of a mountain to a peak then back down. It was very strenuous. Along the way we met historical characters that told us about their journey and as trail boss I shared anecdotes and information to help those participating have a better experience and get the most out of it.
Today, I’m going to share with you some of these stories and take you on a brief pioneer journey. If you’ve had the chance to go on a trek, think back to that experience. If you haven’t, that’s okay; I never did as a youth either. Some of these stories will be familiar to some of you while others of you barely know what a pioneer is. I hope what I share today will help all of us better appreciate those who have paved the way and set us up for success.
In late June of 1844, Louisa Barnes Pratt wrote the following in her journal:
“It was a still night, and the moon was at the full. A night of death it seemed, and everything conspired to make it solemn! The voices of the officers were heard calling the men together and coming in the distance made it fall on the heart like a funeral knell. The women were assembled in groups, weeping and praying, some wishing terrible punishment on the murderers, others acknowledging the hand of God in the event.”
She was describing the night she found out about the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. She wasn’t alone in her mourning and confusion. Many of those early Latter-day Saints didn’t know what would happen next. The temple was still under construction, there had been plans discussed about moving to the West, and their prophet was now dead.
The mob that carried out this cowardice act had hoped that by killing the prophet and his brother, the patriarch, the church would fall apart. To their dismay, the opposite occurred.
Illinois Governor Thomas Ford said it best when he wrote:
“The murder of the Smiths, instead of putting an end to … the Mormons and dispersing them, as many believed it would, only bound them together closer than ever, gave them new confidence in their faith.”
Over the next two years amid continued persecution and mob violence, the members of the church in Nauvoo continued work on the temple. And in November of 1945 under the direction of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles with Brigham Young as president, they began preparations for the long-discussed journey to the safety of the Rocky Mountains with a departure date set for April 1846.
For most of the Saints, the idea of walking 1,300 miles across the plains was not necessarily a new idea but it was still daunting. They had just built this city in Illinois after forceful evacuation from Missouri in the dead of winter less than ten years earlier. If they weren’t counted among those saints expelled from Missouri then they most likely had given up everything and already traveled thousands of miles to get to Nauvoo from Europe or the East. But no matter their past trials, most were willing to once again leave their homes they built with their own hands and their land they tilled and cultivated, to follow a prophet because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
They were organized into companies with captains and started building wagons and gathering supplies. They only had the winter and early spring to get ready. Unfortunately, those six months turned into two months when persecution got worse. So, with little time for preparation, in the middle of winter and no time to properly sell their land and homes, the first group of pioneers set off down Parley Street to cross the Mississippi River on February 6.
Just imagine that. You’ve been in your new home for only a few years, built a nice house, planted and harvested crops and probably got the fields ready for the next spring when you have to leave. Now, think about your homes, your comforts, your air conditioning, running water, a soft bed, a kitchen with food, your computer and TV and video games. How would you react if the prophet said pack up only what you need and let’s walk 1,000 miles in this 100 degree heat? Would you grumble and murmur or would you go and do?
I’m sure there were some who murmured and said no, but most reacted with faith. For instance, Bathsheba Smith, who would later serve as the general relief society president, recalled the last things she did before heading out without complete knowledge of what was going to happen but with faith.
“My last act in that precious spot was to tidy the rooms, sweep up the floor and set the broom in its accustomed place behind the door. Then with emotions in my heart I gently closed the door and faced an unknown future, faced it with faith in God and with no less assurance of the ultimate establishment of the Gospel in the West and of its true enduring principles, than I had felt in those trying scenes in Missouri.”
She knew that if God wanted her to pack up and go then that’s what she would do.
She cleaned her home before leaving it for good, most likely knowing that it would be ransacked and destroyed once they were gone. Would we act the same way?
Now the saints were journeying west. Some may have had a general idea of where they were headed but didn’t know what to fully expect along the way. From their first camp in Iowa to their next stopping point for the winter, the saints were plagued with terrible weather which brought sickness, death and discouragement. There was so much mud in Iowa that some days they only traveled a short distance, being able to look back at the end of the day and see where they had set off from.
But even with the trials they faced, the pioneers found hope and joy in their ultimate goal of building up Zion in a place free from persecution, to worship God by the dictates of their hearts and build a temple to their God. It was during this muddy sojourn that William Clayton received news of his new-born baby back in Nauvoo. He was filled with so much gladness that he wrote what would become a pioneer anthem helping them to push along and helping us honor them.
Come, come, ye saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
‘Tis better far for us to strive
Our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell –
All is well! All is well!
Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
‘Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward
If we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we’ll have this tale to tell-
All is well! All is well!
We’ll find the place which God for us prepared,
Far away, in the West ,
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid;
There the saints, will be blessed.
We’ll 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!
And should we die before our journey’s through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell!
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!
That next winter they set up camp on the banks of the Missouri River in Iowa and Nebraska. Preparations were made to continue the journey in the spring. Many died from the conditions they were living in but that didn’t stop the rest from continuing onward when time came.
The next leg of the trek went by with less mud than Iowa, but it was still difficult as they climbed up and over mountains and through narrow canyons. However, another obstacle was thrown at them in Winter Quarters.
Imagine that while you’re at work one day, you get a call telling you that a mob is vandalizing your house and attacking your family. You rush home to see your house on fire and loved ones are injured and no one is doing anything to help. Later you find out that the mob was made up of the local sheriff and some deputies, the mayor and some city councilors, a fireman or two, maybe the local shop owners and your old teachers. So, you can’t really go to them for help. You try the governor and find out that he sent the mob. This just makes you angry. You want justice. You want these people to be punished. What did you do anyway that made them want to do this to you? Is it because of what you believe? Was it what you said at the town hall meeting?
You take your greviances to the next level. So, you go to the president of the United States. He is sympathetic to your plight but is worried about upcoming elections so he says it’s not his problem and to go back to local authorities. How do you feel about this? You decide to move and go where you can worship as you wish. As you’re in the process of moving, the army comes to you and asks you to enlist and fight in a war. Do you do it? Why should you help the system that wouldn’t help you?
This is what happened to the early saints. They were ravaged and pillaged in Missouri by mobs and eventually forced from the state by order of the governor. They took their grievances to the president who told them it wasn’t his concern and to go back to local authorities. Later, while in Winter Quarters, a contingent from the Army came to Brigham Young and asked for 500 men to serve. He could have easily said no, but that’s not what happened. Instead, President Young was inspired to send a battalion. He knew that it would be good in many respects for the saints. First of all, it provided much needed supplies and funding to complete the rest of their journey. Secondly, it left a very favorable impression on those that led the battalion and showed loyalty to the nation, which would be important in the future.
These men helped settle San Diego and Los Angeles. Some even worked at the site where gold was first discovered near San Francisco. They could have stayed and took part in the riches, but instead fulfilled their contract and yearned to return to the saints. Again, these pioneers showed faith and left the gold of California for their brothers and sisters who were pushing west over the Rocky Mountains.
James S. Brown explained that the decision to leave the gold was not hard:
“I have never seen that rich spot of earth since; nor do I regret it, for there always has been a higher object before me than gold. … Some may think we were blind to our own interests; but after more than forty years we look back without regrets, although we did see fortunes in the land, and had many inducements to stay. People said, ‘Here is gold on the bedrock, gold on the hills, gold in the rills, gold everywhere, … and soon you can make an independent fortune.’ We could realize all that. Still duty called, our honor was at stake, we had covenanted with each other, there was a principle involved; for with us it was God and His kingdom first. We had friends and relatives in the wilderness, yea, in an untried, desert land, and who knew their condition? We did not. So it was duty before pleasure, before wealth, and with this prompting we rolled out.”
Finally, on 21 July 1847, Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow entered the Salt Lake Valley. When they looked over the sight before them, they took off their hats and shouted “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna, to God and the Lamb. Amen. Amen. Amen.” Three days later, Brigham Young led the first company of Latter-day Saints through Emigration Canyon into the valley. When President Young looked over the valley he said “It is enough. This is the right place.”
This only marked the beginning of the emigrants who would enter the Salt Lake Valley having traveled more than a thousand miles and in most cases a few thousand miles to reach the place where they would gather once and for all. Their hardships didn’t end there. They still had to build homes and a city and learn how to work the ground in their new arid environment.
In addition to the tens of thousands who traveled by wagon train, several hundred pioneers chose other ways to get to there. One group left from New York City in 1846 by ship. They sailed all the way around South America and back up to California. Many stayed there while some made the rest of the trip to Salt Lake.
Another method was handcart. It was much quicker and cheaper than wagon train, which made it perfect for the many pioneers who started their journey in England and had very little money to continue with when they reached the states. This meant that they had to walk the whole way and could take fewer supplies. For all but two of the handcart companies, the journey was without major consequence. For the Martin and Willie companies however, it was fraught with trial and hardship. Winter came early for them. They ran out of supplies, both food and things to keep them warm like blankets and extra clothes.
While listening to others criticize the Church leaders for letting the Martin and Willie companies travel like this, one man defended with great emotion his decision to travel with them.
“I was in that company and my wife was in it. … We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? … [We] came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.
“I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it. … I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.
“Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.”
One of the historical figures youth would meet on the treks I led was Mary Goble Pay. She was a 13-year-old girl when she started her journey. She showed such faith not just on the journey but after reaching her destination and amid the many trials she passed through. President Hinckley shared her story in a First Presidency Message in 2005.
“She tells of her childhood in Brighton, that delightful city on the south coast of England, where the soft, green hills of Sussex roll down to the sea.
“It was there that her family was baptized. Their conversion came naturally because the Spirit whispered in their hearts that it was true. But there were critical relatives and neighbors and even mobs to deride and inflame others against them. It took courage, that rare quality described as moral courage, to stand up and be counted, to be baptized and recognized as a Mormon.
“The family traveled to Liverpool, where with some 900 others they boarded the sailing vessel Horizon.
“As the wind caught the sails, they sang, “Farewell, My Native Land, Farewell.” After six weeks at sea—to cover the distance covered today by a jet plane in six hours—they landed at Boston and then traveled by steam train to Iowa City for fitting out.
“There they purchased two yoke of oxen, one yoke of cows, a wagon, and a tent. They were assigned to travel with and assist one of the handcart companies.
“Here in Iowa City also occurred their first tragedy. Their youngest child, less than two years of age, suffering from exposure, died and was buried in a grave never again visited by a member of the family.
“Now let me give you the very words of this 13-year-old girl as I share a few lines from her story:
“We traveled from 15 to 25 miles [25 to 40 km] a day … until we got to the Platte River. … We caught up with the hand cart companies that day. We watched them cross the river. There were great lumps of ice floating down the river. It was bitter cold. … We went back to the camp and went to prayers, [and] … sang ‘Come, Come, Ye Saints No Toil Nor Labor Fear.’ I wondered what made my mother cry [that night]. … The next morning my little sister was born. It was the 23rd of September. We named her Edith. She lived six weeks and died. … [She] was buried at the last crossing of [the] Sweetwater.
“[We ran into heavy snow. I became lost in the snow.] My feet and legs were frozen. [The men] rubbed me with snow. They put my feet in a bucket of water. The pain was terrible. …
“When we arrived at Devils Gate it was bitter cold. We left lots of our things there. … My brother James … was as well as he ever was when he went to bed [that night]. In the morning he was dead. …
“My feet were frozen[;] also my brother Edwin and my sister Caroline had their feet frozen. It was nothing but snow [snow everywhere and the bitter Wyoming wind]. We could not drive the pegs in our tents. … We did not know what would become of us. [Then] one night a man came to our camp and told us … Brigham Young had sent men and teams to help us. … We sang songs, some danced and some cried. …
“My mother had never got well. … She died between the little and big mountains. … She was 43 years old. …
“We arrived in Salt Lake City nine o’clock at night the 11th of December1856. Three out of four that were living were frozen. My mother was dead in the wagon. …
“Early next morning … Brigham Young … came. … When he saw our condition, our feet frozen and our mother dead, tears rolled down his cheeks. …
“The doctor amputated my toes … [while] the sisters were dressing my mother for her grave. … When my feet were fixed they [carried] … us in to see our mother for the last time. Oh how did we stand it? That afternoon she was buried. …
“[I have thought often of my mother’s words before we left England.] ‘Polly, I want to go to Zion while my children are small, so they can be raised in the Gospel of Christ for I know this is the true church.’”
President Hinckley concluded with this question: “Should we be surprised if we are called upon to endure a little criticism, to make some small sacrifice for our faith when our forebears paid so great a price for theirs?”
The pioneers journeyed long and hard. They experienced many trials and tribulations we may never have to face. They lost loved ones, left their homes and everything they had for the unknown. But, they did it because of their faith. They had faith that Jesus Christ did restore his church to the earth. They had faith that God called another prophet like Moses, Abraham, Elijah or Paul and restored the authority and power to act in His name. That faith gave them hope to push along and not give up. They knew that in the end if they had done all they could do to build up the kingdom of God on earth than “All is well.”That’s what it means to be a pioneer.
Can we live up to their example? Yes, we can if we do as Joseph Smith said in Section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants: “Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! “
I am grateful for my pioneer ancestors who crossed the plains as directed by a prophet of God. I’m grateful to have the heritage. I am also grateful for modern-day pioneers like Kim Ho Jik who while studying at medical school in the US met someone who introduced him to the church. Kim noticed that this other student didn’t do things others would do like come into the lab on Sundays.
Kim listened to the Spirit and was baptized in 1951. He returned to Korea as the first member of the Church. He was not ashamed of the gospel and shared it with his friends and colleagues. He attained many positions of prominence in the Korean government and never once forgot his duties and covenants in the gospel. Because of him the restored gospel was taken to Asia and the Church grew.
Another modern-day pioneer was Anthony Obinna in Nigeria. His story has always touched me. He had a dream of the Salt Lake Temple not knowing what the building was. When he came across a picture in a magazine he jumped for joy and told his family. He wrote to the Church headquarters and in response received a copy of the Book of Mormon and some pamphlets. He persistently wrote Salt Lake asking for missionaries to come and to organize the Church in Nigeria but was told there were no plans for that.
For more than ten years, Anthony persisted. He taught what he learned from the Book of Mormon and pamphlets and spread the gospel. Finally, 13 years after seeing the picture, he was the first person baptized in Nigeria. Now there is a temple in Nigeria and many stakes.
You don’t have to walk the plains to be a pioneer. You don’t have to be the first of a nation to accept the gospel and share it to be a pioneer. I have friends who are pioneers in their families like Gabi, Keitha, Shelby and many others who chose to follow the example of the Savior and be baptized. They have accepted the restored gospel and are not ashamed of it. They and many others all over the world without direct pioneer ancestry live the gospel and go forward with faith following a prophet of God.
I know that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored. Joseph Smith was the instrument in God’s hand for that marvelous work. The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ, testifying of his divinity as our Savior and Redeemer. If we live according to his commandments then all will be well.
In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.