Today, in our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) we celebrate July 24th as Pioneer Day. A day when men, women and children arrived in the Salt Lake Valley after months of traveling the plains by foot, pushing handcarts.
They took all they had, which wasn't much, left their homes to be able to practice their religion in peace, after being driven out by mobs. Thousands of them crossed the plains (and oceans too) to come to the Salt Lake Valley, pushing handcarts; some dying along the way, full of faith in God that he would lead them to a land where they could live in peace. Their trials were many, their joys were sustained as they sacrificed time, health, and sometimes their lives to be able to worship how they may.
289 youth in the Oregon City area from our church had the opportunity to experience a tiny fraction of what they went through, for us, for all of us, last week as they ventured to Bing Canyon to push their own handcarts, taking only what they could fit in a 5 gallon bucket, sleeping on the hard ground, for 5 days. They left their comfortable bed, their iPod, laptop, and cell phone, to help them feel more like those that came before them. To feel more like those that endured things we will never have to experience in our lifetime. To feel more like those who, all they wanted more than anything, was to be able to live in a land where their freedom of religious worship was protected.
Hunter, my nearly 13 year old, was able to attend the trek this year, and I am so grateful he had the opportunity to do so. It is in experiences such as those that help us to feel more gratitude for what we have, more appreciation for the little things in life that we often take for granted.
Our youth are under so much pressure these days, and when they can feel close to their Heavenly Father, and know that HE KNOWS THEM, yes, them, each and every one of them individually. That if they can understand that their Heavenly Father wants only the best for them, that He is there for them in every trial and triumph that He is cheering them on, that He knows our youth CAN do hard things and stand up for what is right; if our youth understand that, then they can accomplish anything in life. When they are given opportunities to feel and understand what their ancestors went through for them, to have religious freedom, then they will come to appreciate all the more what they do have right now.
I heard there were some youth that didn't want to come home. There were some that wanted to stay on the trek forever. Why? Why would they not want to come home to their warm house, family, modern day conveniences? I would suggest because it was out there in the beautiful canyon, surrounded by the beauty created by our loving Heavenly Father, out there where they could feel their ancestors helping them on their trek, that they felt peace, love and acceptance. I would also suggest that they felt they COULD do anything. Our youth are stronger than we give them credit. They have to be.
What a blessing it is for me in my life to live in this time. We have so much at our fingertips to help us in our everyday lives. There are so many things we don't HAVE to do because of the day in age we live in.
Today, thousands of people in our church will gather at church, or a park,or a campground, eat some dutch oven food, participate in "mini" treks, be reminded our our pioneer heritage, and once again, be ever so grateful for all they went through, and that many of them died for. To live their lives in peace, worshiping a loving Heavenly Father
We don't HAVE to push a handcart to get from Oregon City, OR to Vancouver, WA. But it certainly doesn't hurt us either to get behind one, and experience first hand what our ancestors went through to reach the land they struggled to set foot on to be able to serve their God, and thank Him for all they had. I hope I live my life as the pioneers did so valiantly; with faith, courage and determination to reach the destination where we feel closest to God. I am grateful to be a Mormon, to be part of a migration of people who sacrificed so much to live a better life. I am grateful for their courage, their example. I did not have any ancestors cross the plains, but I am so grateful for each and every one of them that did. They are some of the most courageous people in history. May they never be forgotten.