Sunday, July 20, 2014

To Be A Pioneer

We’ve all heard stories of the early pioneers who sacrificed all they had, including their own lives in many cases, to preach the gospel, build up the church, preserve the authority and truth that had been restored, and support those in greater poverty than they found themselves. Driven from state to state and then into the wilderness, the pioneers faced harsh conditions as they walked the nearly 2,000 miles across the Great Plains and over the steep passes of the Rocky Mountains. Many of them experienced severe hunger and fatigue, and many left behind friends and family that did not share their faith, that had apostatized and persecuted the saints, or who had died from any one of the many perils they encountered along the way.

Every year on July 24, the membership of the Church celebrates the eventual success of our pioneer forbearers who first arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. More families would make the long and hazardous journey over the next decade. These individuals’ faith in Christ and willingness to endure all things has made it possible for us to gather here today. Not unlike Easter, where we celebrate the Savior’s victory over death and hell, to me Pioneer Day is a holiday where I can rejoice in the triumph of the Saints as their faith in Christ was victorious over the death and hell the devil sought to inflict upon them.

The scriptures are filled with stories of individuals, families and nations that were led to promised lands through their reliance on the Lord. Abraham inherited the land of Canaan, the Israelites returned to that land from Egypt, the friends and family of Nephi and the Brother of Jared were guided to the Americas, Alma the Elder led a faithful band back to Zarahemla, and Enoch’s city was translated.

In each case, as with the early pioneers, the faithful have faced significant challenges. Abraham’s father tried to sacrifice him to idols, the Israelites ran out of food and water, Nephi’s brothers doubted his every move and often tried to kill him, the Jaredites needed to find light and air for their barges, Alma’s people endured a period in slavery, and Enoch’s people were assailed by nations on every side. Most of these groups endured long journeys, years of uncertainty, poverty, hunger, illness, death and people who fought their efforts to live righteously.

All of these people are pioneers. They courageously went forward and prepared the way for those who would come after them. Each of them has contributed to the life we enjoy today—a life of relative prosperity where temples dot the earth and we can highlight favorite scriptures on our tablets without needing a hammer and chisel.

They succeeded because of their faith, unselfishness, willingness to sacrifice, obedience, unity, cooperation, commitment, integrity, endurance and courage. If we are to have the same success in reaching the promised lands of our lives, and blaze the trail for those coming behind us, we must develop these same attributes amid the challenges of our day.

Elder Oaks has taught[1]:

Many of our challenges are different from those faced by former pioneers but perhaps just as dangerous and surely as significant to our own salvation and the salvation of those who follow us… The wolves that prowled around pioneer settlements were no more dangerous to their children than the drug dealers or pornographers who threaten our children. Similarly, the early pioneers’ physical hunger posed no greater threat to their well-being than the spiritual hunger experienced by many in our day. The children of earlier pioneers were required to do incredibly hard physical work to survive their environment. That was no greater challenge than many of our young people now face from the absence of hard work, which results in spiritually corrosive challenges to discipline, responsibility, and self-worth.
There are many other dangers that pervade our society and will stop our progress if we succumb to them. With the dangers however, also come significant blessings if we will choose to receive them. One of the greatest blessings that we share with pioneers throughout scripture is the presence of a living prophet on the earth. His counsel steers us away from the obstacles that would damn our progress. Consider a few recent examples:

“Choose wisely when using media because whatever you read, listen to, or look at has an effect on you. Select only media that uplifts you… Do not attend, view or participate in anything that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way. Do not participate in anything that presents immorality or violence as acceptable. Have the courage to walk out of a movie, change your music, or turn off a computer, television, or mobile device if what you see or hear drives away the Spirit”.[2]

“We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey. Likewise, we cannot fully love our fellowmen if we do not love God, the Father of us all.”[3]

“It is impossible to stand upright when one plants his roots in the shifting sands of popular opinion and approval. Needed is the courage of a Daniel, an Abinidi, a Moroni, or a Joseph Smith in order for us to hold strong and fast to that which we know is right. They had the courage to do not that which was easy but that which was right. We will all face fear, experience ridicule, and meet opposition. Let us—all of us—have the courage to defy the consensus, the courage to stand for principle. Courage, not compromise, brings the smile of God’s approval.”[4]

Do we have the faith to be obedient to prophetic counsel?

Finally, we should not be surprised if it takes significant time and effort to develop the attributes that will help us meet the challenges we face. Marathons are rarely ran the first time a person gets off the couch, the best crops do not come from the first or second or third year of planting, and the faith to see God does not come from a single, thoughtless petition to ‘bless the food’ or ‘drive home safe’. The Jaredites wandered over five years to reach their goal, learning shipbuilding and the nature of God as they went; Moses and the Israelites witnessed many miracles and received the Ten Commandments while wandering the desert for 40 years; and the early Saints received the restored gospel through the Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants over 27 years before they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. We’re still waiting to return to Jackson County to build the New Jerusalem.

The final challenge, once we are on the right path, is to endure. To add a few miles or a few blocks or a few feet to the end of the path so our children and grandchildren will know the way back to our Heavenly Father. To “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men… feasting upon the words of Christ, and endur[ing] to the end”.[5]

If we are willing to do this, then Pioneer Day is about us too because we will be one of them. We will cross the figurative Great Plains and Rocky Mountains of our lives, we will mark the path for our children and grandchildren to follow, and we will be able to rejoice with those who have gone before in the Celestial Kingdom of our Father in Heaven.

[1] See Dallin H. Oaks, “Following the Pioneers,” Ensign, November 1997,

[2] “Entertainment and Media”, For the Strength of Youth,

[3] See Thomas S. Monson, “Love—the Essence of the Gospel,” Ensign, May 2014,

[4] See Thomas S. Monson, “Be Strong and of a Good Courage”, Ensign, May 2014,

[5] See 2 Nephi 31:20-21,

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