`We must never forget'

When general conference convenes on Saturday, April 5, it will be on a day when a little-known incident took place 150 years ago, but which was the beginning of a major epic, the significance of which has profoundly affected millions around the world.

On a rainy April 5, 1847, the first six wagons inched their way out of Winter Quarters on the west bank of the Missouri River - two days before Brigham Young left - and headed west in the quest for religious freedom.Although the wagons traveled only three miles that first day, it was the beginning of a movement of such gigantic proportions that President Gordon B. Hinckley has said, "it must ever occupy a unique place in the annals of human history." (From address at Days of '47 Pioneer Luncheon, Salt Lake City, July 24, 1995.)

Before the railroad linked the continent 22 years later in 1869, about 60,000 pioneers had made their way across the vast prairies and mountains of frontier America in covered wagons, handcarts and on foot to reach their destination - a place where the gospel could be established in fertile soil, enabling it to flourish as it does today.

Of those tens of thousands who paid such immeasurable costs for the heritage we now enjoy, President Hinckley said, "We must never forget those who have gone before. We must never take lightly the price they paid. We must never lose sight of the reason for which they did it all." (Days of '47 Pioneer Luncheon.)

More than once, comments such as "Why should I be concerned about the pioneers, they're not my ancestors?" have been heard from Church members.

Granted, hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saints - even numbering into the millions - are not descendants of the pioneers as the gospel has reached into some 160 countries in every corner of the earth. But should that stop us from honoring them and emulating their virtues of courage, fortitude, hard work, obedience, perseverance? Of course not! Should we not develop the same strong faith as they did in the Master's cause that they considered more dear than life itself? Should we not be true to that for which they paid such a great price? The answers are obvious. Of course, we should!

In actuality, however, we all, according to President Hinckley, have in our veins the blood of these pioneer heroes, either by descent or by adoption. (From devotional address, Grand Encampment, Council Bluffs, Iowa, July 13, 1996.)

We can gain so much as we honor the pioneers and follow figuratively in their footsteps.

In our lives, each of us will have steep mountains to climb.

Each of us will have raging rivers to cross.

Each of us will have vast prairies to traverse.

And each of us will have to have courage to face the trials that loom on the horizon.

"My people," the Lord told Brigham Young in a revelation given at Winter Quarters on Jan. 14, 1847, "must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom." (D&C 136:31.)

As we "are tried in all things," what better examples do we have than the pioneers?

Surely, the Saints in Siberia felt that way when they recently commemorated the pioneer trek by parading a handcart through the streets of Kransnoyarsk, Siberia, ending up on a snowy island outside the city and singing "Come, Come, Ye Saints" in Russian. (See Church News, March 8, 1997.) None of them were descendants of the pioneers. But undoubtedly all of them have caught the vision to some extent of the importance of remembering those valiant men, women and children who faced sickness and death by the thousands so we today can enjoy the fruits of the gospel.

What better example of reliance on the Lord is there than that which comes from the individual lives of the pioneers? What lessons can we learn from them as we, too, seek to rely on the Giver of all in all things? Can we not learn humility and meekness as we do so?

And what of appreciation and gratitude? Surely, as we understand more fully the price they paid, our hearts must swell in thanksgiving.

Undoubtedly, most of us will never have to endure what the pioneers did, but can we not develop empathy for those who struggle in life today by learning of the struggles of the pioneers?

Yes, there are many lessons to be learned from their experiences. By following their example, we, too, can develop our own "faith in every footstep."

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