Justin and I were called a year ago to serve as ma and pa for your stake Trek this summer. Justin read a ton of books and stories about the pioneers and we both prepared physically for the lengthy hiking we were told we would be walking(For the record we were told roughly 40 miles, and some pa's that brought their fit bit clocked 74miles! Wow!).
Our stake bussed all the ma's and pa's and our total 250 kids out to Wyoming to experience glimpses of what the pioneers sacrificed and trekked in order to reach the Salt Lake Valley(Zion). As hesitant about the bus ride and the feeling of "why us" as we had been feeling, by the end of our trip we felt like we had won the lottery and consider our experience to being a once in a lifetime kind of deal. If asked again we would say yes. But honestly what gets better than an opportunity to walk and see the actual trails and sites that our pioneers trekked?
We were blessed with the most amazing 8 kids for our family: Dan(Dan the Man), Jessica(Tressica, Mamasita), Angela(Shakira), Jackson(Pepsi), Erin(MaMoo, Work Horse), Stanford(Mallard), Emily(Paula Dean), and Gage(Beans). We connected with these kids in the most amazing way and I would fight for any one of them if I had to, that's how much we grew to love them. The Spirit each of them brought, and the Spirit of just walking hallowed ground, will have a special place in mine and Justin's heart and I think we are forever changed for the better because of our 7 day experience. It was for the kids, but we definitely benefitted as well and feel extremely lucky we got to go! Oh and did I mention the icing on the cake was hearing from an Apostle? Elder M. Russell Ballard is the grandpa to one of our Trek kids and our stake arranged for us to hear from him when we arrived at temple square. We all had the opportunity to shake his hand and we were lucky to get a family picture with him, 7 days without a shower, and all, by the way.
Here is Justin's talk he gave in sacrament meeting the Sunday after we returned, and I think it sums up our experience pretty well.
Good afternoon brothers and sisters. I am so grateful to stand here, to talk about trek and to share with you the thoughts and feelings I had as I walked where the pioneers walked.
After having done trek, I feel like I won the lottery. This was a once in a lifetime, opportunity for me and my wife to go to Martin’s Cove and spend time with the youth of our stake. What I have come to realized is that as much as the trek needed me, I needed it.
My trek experience started when we were called almost one year ago to be a Pa and a Ma to 8 youth from our stake ages 14-18.
Almost immediately upon receiving this calling, my preparation began as well. I dove all in, to studying pioneer journals, histories, and stories. I studied pioneer family histories and even my own family history. It is from this preparation that I began to have a serious appreciation for pioneers; I even started to love them for their amazing sacrifice.
Our trek preparation continued as we meet together as trek leaders and other Mas and Pas. This is where we would help create this wonderful spiritual experience for our youth.
As the time drew closer to go on trek, I became nervous and hoped that the youth would like us and would accept us as their Ma and Pa. We prayed often that we would be able to communicate and engage the youth, since it has been over 17 years since we were their age.
Now the day of trek arrived and as apprehensive as the youth were, I can promise, we were equally as apprehensive, if not more than they.
I feel like the youth have done an excellent job of giving you an idea about how difficult, how spiritual and how fun trek was, but what I would like to do is share with you some of the thoughts and feelings that I wrote in my pioneer journal as I experienced trek.
First though, I promised my AWESOME trek family that I would share during sacrament meeting my Top 8 favorite trek quotes. These are things that I was told directly or overheard from the youth while on trek. Yes, they are always more fun in context, so imagine you are a 14 to 18 year old boy or girl and you have walked almost 40 miles, slept in a down pour, were soaking wet, freezing, and hadn’t showered in days.
8. “I lost count of how many ants are on the trail.”
7. “I am going to try this bonnet thing again.”
6. “My tan lines are going to look so weird.”
5. “I have peed more in the last 3 days than I have in a month.”
4. “I’ll probably have a limp for the rest of my life.”
3. “My entire body feels like a blister.”
2. “I like, have to shave like once a week.”
1. “I am freezing my bloomers off.”
Now to the things I want to share with you, are thoughts, promptings and feelings I had as I experienced trek. And I know that many of the youth had these same feelings because I saw it.
First, we are all on this journey of life together. It is a journey similar to that of the pioneers. The trials we face might be different. Most of us are not walking 1,300 miles, or walking bare foot through snow, or watching our loved ones starve to death. But the principles and characteristics that the pioneers possessed like faith, obedience, sacrifice and charity NEED to be the same.
For me this is how I can honor the pioneers and keep that spirit alive. Which I know will help lead us back to our Heavenly Father.
Another thought that I had, was when I learned of Jens and Elsie Neilson, a Danish family, who immigrated to Zion. They were very prosperous and made a lot of money on the sale of their property as they prepared to go to Zion. They initially planned to travel to Zion via wagon pulled by oxen. But when they reached New York and found so many Saints that could not even afford a handcart to cross the plains, they decided to take their savings and contribute it so that other Saints would be able to make the journey to Zion. This left them with a handcart as well and would expose them to the harsh Wyoming winter. It would ultimately cost the life of Bodil Mortenson and their young son Neils and along the way, test the faith and strength of Elsie as she would have to load a sick Jens into the handcart and pull him much of the way.
This beautiful story of pioneer faith, charity, sacrifice and obedience made me realize that our stake, ward, and congregation has had to sacrifice so much for our youth to go on this trek. Members were charitable in donations and obedient to the demands that trek made upon ward families. It is because of these sacrifices and contributions that our youth were able to experience such an awesome trek.
Now we learned a lot about the “Rescue”. When you read pioneer history, and in particular, about the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies, they talk a lot about the First and Second Rescues. The first rescue is when the teams consisting of faithful Saints such as George D. Grant, Robert T. Burton, William H. Kimball, and Harvey Cluff, left Salt Lake City immediately upon request of the prophet Brigham Young and found both the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies stranded in more than a foot of snow and starving to death. It is they, who carried the pioneers across the Sweetwater River and help steer the relief wagons to their aid.
The Second Rescue is more of an eternal rescue. In 1991, Robert Scott Lorimer, then stake president of the Riverton Wyoming Stake, felt inspired to lead his stake to accomplish what today is referred to as the “Second Rescue.” With the approval of the First Presidency the Second Rescue was to complete the temple work for these 1856 pioneers and their rescuers. This second rescue would also help open doors for the Church to purchase much of the land around Martin’s Cove and other pioneer historical areas around Wyoming.
Now as I thought these rescues and the youth, I realized that there is a 3rd rescue and the rescuers are primary teachers, youth leaders, bishops, and other programs of the Church. The pioneers are our children, who might not be crossing the Sweetwater River or ascending Rocky Ridge. But they will or are facing trials and challenges that in their minds are just as difficult. We, the parents, teachers, and leaders, need to heed the words of our prophet and rescue them through teaching and testifying of Jesus Christ, by our examples of a Christ like living and reaching out and looking out for opportunities to serve.
Not all our youth are in need of a “rescue”. But they will encounter trials in life that will challenge their testimonies and faith. If they are not properly prepared or taught correctly they with perish like many of the pioneers. So, as I trekked and talked with the youth, I felt a tremendous responsibility to be an active participant in the 3rd rescue by teaching the youth the importance of establishing daily habits that will help them draw closer to their Savior, so that when times get tough, they will be ready and know where they can turn.
The youth might forget about the trek. They might forget about crossing the Sweetwater River, or the challenge of Rocky Ridge, or the beauty of Martin’s Cove. But they WILL NOT FORGET the feelings and Spirit that they felt and saw during the past week. I promised the youth in my family that as they encounter the trials of life, that if they reflect on the things that they felt and learned during trek, it will help them throughout the remainder of their lives and throughout eternity.
Last and if time permits, the youth were given the assignment before trek to find a name of a pioneer or ancestor who was a pioneer and they were to dedicate their trek to them. I took the opportunity to ask all the youth from our ward, who it was that they were trekking for. I felt compelled while on trek that I needed to share these names with you. I hope you don’t mind that I read them off. As you listen to them picture in your mind the struggles that they faced, the tragedies they encountered, the sacrifices that they made and the faith it must have taken for them to leave everything behind to go to Zion.
John Valentine Pettes
Anne Jewell Rowey
Samuel L. Rowley
James Langley Bailey
Hyrum Fred Paige
Ruth Tucker Roby
Sarah Elizabeth Wilde Stallings
Anna Louisa Thalmann
Sarah Good Marshall
Brothers and Sisters. I bare you my testimony that I know that Jesus Christ lives. This is His Church and His Gospel. Our Heavenly Father loves each and every one of us. We can have the same faith, obedience, and charity as our pioneer ancestors. It is because of them that many of us are seated here today. This Church is true. In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.
Top 10 Highlights
10. Meeting 8 amazing kids at Independence Rock. Who I can now say I love.
9. Church meetings at Martin's Cove and learning about levi Savage and Ephraim Hanks.
8. Making peach cobbler in out dutch oven as a family.
7. Eating 4 oz. of flour and water for breakfast.
6. Listening to President Goodfellow's devotional in the pouring rain and thunderstorms.
5. A 17 mile hike where we ascended Rocky Ridge and also had the women's pull.
4. President Bair blessing the yout at Rock Creek Hollow behind an amazing sunset.
3. Getting a fist bump from President Bair after our 17 mile hike on Rocky Ridge.
2. Watching my wife do the whip and the nae ane in a country line dance.
1. The youth recieving an apostolic blessing by Elder Ballard in Salt Lake City.
Bonus...Seeing and hearing the testimonies of the youth as we held nightly family devotionals.