A special place

This is the season of the year when our thoughts turn to the Mormon pioneers who entered the valley of the Great Salt Lake on July 24, 1847.

From the many accounts that have been written about this epic journey we feel a deep appreciation for the faith, grit and sheer determination required to accomplish such a monumental taskBut in a larger sense it is very difficult for most of us now living to fully comprehend what those courageous pioneers went through. First they were driven from their homes in beautiful Nauvoo after intense persecutions. Then they suffered the rigors of wagon or handcart travel across half a nation. And finally we can only imagine the feelings of many when they were told that they were now "home" on that July day when they saw only a lake of salt water and alkali desert soil.

Today it is important that we strive to understand our pioneer heritage by learning all we can about how this valley that houses the headquarters of the Church became what it now is.

One event might help improve such an understanding.

The winter of 1848-49 was a very difficult one for those who had been in the valley for such a short time. Many had their feet or other limbs frozen, and most had inadequate shelter against the harshness of the winter.

Discouragement set in, especially as reports began to circulate about the warmer weather in California and the rich treasures of gold being discovered there.

During February and March of 1849 many actually began preparations to leave.

In the midst of such discouraging activity, even by some of the more influential men of the community, President Brigham Young stood before the Saints and made what seemed to many an unusual prophecy.

"Some have asked me about going," he said. "I have told them that God has appointed this place for the gathering of his Saints, and you will do better right here than you will by going to the gold mines. . . . Those who stop here and are faithful to God and his people will make more money and get richer than you that run after the god of this world; and I promise you in the name of the Lord that many of you that go, thinking you will get rich and come back, will wish you had never gone away from here, and will long to come back, but will not be able to do so. . . . Here is where [the SaintsT will prosper; he will temper the elements for the good of his Saints; he will rebuke the frost and the sterility of the soil, and the land shall become fruitful. Brethren, go to, now, and plant out your seeds."

President Young then said the Salt Lake Valley was filled with the riches of the earth, but before people sought for gold and silver they should first develop the agricultural resources of the area. He said if the mines were opened first people would rush in and use up the resources and breed famine. "People would starve to death with barrels of gold.

"It is our duty," he affirmed, "to preach the Gospel, gather Israel, pay our tithing, and build temples. The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth." (Pioneer Stories, pp. 44-47, Deseret Book Co., 1940.)

By patiently following the Prophet and his counsel, the Saints did begin to prosper. Their farms yielded good crops. Fruit trees, especially apples, peaches, and plums, grew well. Strawberries and raspberries were grown successfully. Wheat and other grains gave good harvests. Even sugar beets became a strong cash crop.

The mining interests did discover the vast treasures President Young told of, but when the miners came, the agricultural backbone set in place by the pioneers sustained the area and it did become a very rich place.

Now the influence of the Church has spread worldwide from its humble beginnings in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. And the Salt Lake Valley remains a special place for every Church member.

Remember how the valley was settled. Remember that prophets saw its future in vision. Appreciate that its beauty and prosperity today began with thousands of stalwart pioneers who sacrificed their all for its settlement. Gratitude and deep appreciation are appropriate sentiments for this July 24 holiday.

Wherever in the Church you live - and Zion is everywhere - cherish the memories of 146 years ago, and let your influence be felt for good in making your part of the world a sacred place as well.

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