'In our own time, we, too, are pioneers'

"People who honor the deeds of their ancestors are most likely to accomplish things that are worthy of remembrance by their descendants," Elder Russell M. Nelson told a congregation at the annual Pioneer Days Fireside Sunday evening, July 21, in the Dee Events Center on the campus of Weber State University.

Elder Nelson, basing his address on the Mormon pioneers, said, "History records their westward trek across America, as the mightiest since Israel's flight from Egypt when led by the prophet Moses."Elder Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve presented his message in three segments:

Segment one - the significance of the year 1846 in American history.

Elder Nelson said that, generally, pioneer days are thought of in terms of the year when the pioneers first entered the valley of the Great Salt Lake, 1847. However, he said, the preceding year, 1846, was one of great importance in American history.

"It deserves its own sesquicentennial celebration," he said. "Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regard 1846 as one of the most difficult years in our entire history. Thousands of Saints had been bereft of their modern prophet and his brother and were savagely driven from their homes and their magnificent temple."

Segment two - courage on the westward trek.

Elder Nelson read from journals of "four courageous girls" who made the trek west. He called on Shesha Black, 10; Michelle Paskins, 18; and Andrea Smith, 12 1/2, to represent three of the young pioneers, Margaret McNeil, Elizabeth White, and Mary Gobel, respectively. To help the congregation empathize with the young pioneers whose stories were being related, Elder Nelson's wife, Dantzel, gave them hats to wear.

The fourth young pioneer, Amanda Jensen was only six weeks old when she became a pioneer, being brought from her native Norway with her family. Amanda's twin, Julia, died en route at the age of 4 months. "Amanda grew up to become my Grandmother Nelson," Elder Nelson said. "She attended our reception when Sister Nelson and I were married. I honor my dear pioneer grandmother in a very special way, as you honor your pioneer progenitors."

Elizabeth White left London in 1856 with her mother and brother. Her wagon train company, which traveled alongside the Martin Handcart Company, nearly starved to death. Her journal records their rescue by teamsters who arrived with flour, meal, bread and other supplies. "Elizabeth married Isaac M. Stewart. Elizabeth's brother, Barnard White, became the grandfather of my dear wife, Dantzel White. Elizabeth's son, William M. Stewart, became one of Utah's leading educators."

Margaret McNeil left Scotland with her family at age 10. She was not permitted to attend school in Scotland because she was a Mormon. Her family joined the Saints in St. Louis, where her mother strapped her brother, James, 4, onto her back and sent the children ahead of the rest of the family on a journey that was 1,035 miles. "Not only had she walked every step but for most of that trek she drove a cow and carried her little brother on her back," Elder Nelson said.

Margaret married Henry Ballard, and was the mother of Melvin J. Ballard who became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. His grandson, Elder M. Russell Ballard, is a member of today's Quorum of the Twelve.

Mary Gobel was 12 1/2 when her family left England, and traveled across the plains with the John A. Hunt Company in 1856. During the journey, Mary's feet were frozen. On the day her pioneer company reached the Salt Lake Valley, her mother died. As women dressed her mother for burial, a doctor amputated Mary's toes, using a saw and a butcher knife. "Mary walked on painful stumps the remainder of her mortal life," Elder Nelson said. "She married Richard Pay. . . . She was the grandmother of Marjorie Pay Hinckley, wife of our beloved President Gordon B. Hinckley.

"Sister Hinckley's other grandmother, Martha, also endured hardship becoming a widow while expecting a baby when her husband, George F. Paxman, died at age 24 of complications of a strangulated hernia that developed while hanging heavy doors on the Manti Temple. No wonder Sister Hinckley is such a remarkable woman. We honor her as a modern example of great faith as we honor her ancestors.

"The stories of Amanda, Elizabeth, Margaret and Mary remind us not only of their trials, but may help us to endure challenges of our own."

Segment three - pioneers of today.

"I realize that what our ancestors did was of transcendent importance, but why they did it was even more important," Elder Nelson said. He declared that they had an understanding and knowledge of the gospel, its principles and promises.

"Those realities are just as relevant to us in our days as they were to the pioneers of yesteryear. Now there are more than 9 million members of the Church in more than 150 nations of the earth. In every country members are being tested and tried, even as the pioneers were 150 years ago."

Elder Nelson spoke of two such pioneers, Jiri and Olga Snederfler of Prague, Czechoslovakia, who displayed great faith and courage in their homeland where members of the Church had been prohibited from meeting for 42 years, since World War II. Although admission of Church membership could have been "a one-way ticket to prison," Brother Snederfler stepped forward in the late 1980s to file papers in a formal request for the government to give the Church official recognition. Elder Nelson quoted them as having said, "We will do whatever is needed. This is for the Lord. His work is more important than our freedom or our lives." Recognition was later granted.

"In our own way and in our own time, we, too, are pioneers," Elder Nelson said. "Opposition to the work of the Lord may be different now. The foe may no longer be an untamed wilderness or political constraint. In our day, the adversary cleverly stalks at the heart of the basic unit of society, which is the family. So we must stand for personal righteousness, the sanctity of life and the integrity of our families."

Elder Nelson spoke of the proclamation to the world regarding the family, issued recently by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. "We want everyone, those who are members of this Church and those who are not, to be well prepared for the battle being waged for the spiritual security in the hearts and souls of all of God's children and their families," he said. "More should be expected of us than from any previous generation. Where much is given, much is required. We must be `true to the faith that our parents have cherished, and true to the truths for which martyrs have perished.' "

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