In Missouri pageant, love heals old wounds

On "the hill," 13 families wait in the growing darkness, their children clamber on wagons, play tag or feed the two goats whatever vegetation is handy. Teenagers whisper and giggle, and oxen shuffle impatiently.

At last the strains of an old ballad fill the humid night air: "Here far in the realm of Missouri, I sit and sing and tell thee a story how many trials I have passed o'er before I found this dwelling in peace. . . ."The families begin to move, wagons roll, children scamper back to their parents. "A Frontier Story: 1833" has begun.

As one of the Church's nine pageants, "A Frontier Story: 1833" was presented June 23-26 at the four-acre pageant site in Independence.

While the pageant is a recreation of the events that took place in Independence 160 years ago, pageant producer Don Organ said the story is really as up-to-date as today's news headlines.

"A kind loving Heavenly Father has given the people of this area a very powerful witness in the form of this historical drama of what happens when we let pride rule our lives," Brother Organ said of the pageant.

He cites several gospel principles taught in the pageant, such as the power of the Savior's teachings, the power of personal testimony and the witness that "love is the only weapon for a true Christian."

Some 315 volunteer cast members from the Independence Missouri Region portray Mormon settlers and Missouri townsfolk.

"The pageant tells the story of two pioneer families who meet and remain loyal friends in spite of their differences and difficult circumstances in their lives," said Cheryl Blasnek, a Gladstone, Mo., resident who has directed the pageant for the past seven years.

Sister Blasnek said working in the pageant is a spiritual experience. She has seen testimonies grow and lives changed, and has learned much about pioneer life and suffering.

"I have come to realize we sacrifice nothing today in comparison to what the early Mormon settlers did," said Sister Blasnek. One of her favorite memories is of a young man nearing his 19th birthday who wasn't sure he wanted to go on a mission, but after participating in the pageant, "told his family he had sufficient experience out on the hill, that he knew Heavenly Father wanted him to go on a mission."

Most of the stage sets are actual buildings. One, a 140-year-old cabin, once stood in a wooded area near Independence and was donated by a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The cabin serves as the Jackson County Courthouse in the pageant.

Features of the pageant include a historical Fourth of July celebration complete with fireworks, stagecoach and wagons, a horse race, and the tragic cabin-burning sequence near the conclusion of the pageant as the Mormons are forced to leave Jackson County.

The final scene takes place in Salt Lake City and shows the enduring love of the Savior and those who follow His teachings.

Brother Organ said a "beautiful sweet spirit" was present during the performances, and many in the audience felt it. "They applauded when it was over, but they walked out in a contemplative mood, almost a reverent mood. There were some hearts touched. It was almost like they didn't want to break the spell."

A total of 12,600 attended the pageant this year. They were invited to take home an art rendering of Jesus Christ and written suggestions for family home evening discussions.

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