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How ‘faith in every footstep’ and other lessons from the pioneers’ trek to the Salt Lake Valley can apply 175 years later


With the 175th anniversary of the arrival of Latter-day Saint pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley being celebrated this month, what can be learned today from the efforts and experiences of the Latter-day Saint pioneers?

Matthew Grow is the managing director of the Church History Department, meaning that he knows a thing or two‚ or more, about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ pioneer heritage. In the Church News’ most recent podcast episode leading into the Pioneer Day celebrations and commemorations on July 24, Grow discussed pioneers and modern-day applications of their experiences.

Visitors gaze at This Is the Place Monument through a giant window in the Pioneer Center at This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 26, 2021.

Visitors gaze at This Is the Place Monument through a giant window in the new Pioneer Center after President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offered the dedicatory prayer for the center at This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 26, 2021.

Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

July 24, 2022, will mark the 175th anniversary of the first main group of pioneers arriving in the present-day Salt Lake City area, with the Prophet Brigham Young declaring that “This is the right place.”

That the group was focused on creating a community — doing so under God’s direction and gospel teachings. “This isn’t a settlement of the West where it’s single men heading out first to seek their fortune and to begin settlements,” he said. “This is a settlement of entire communities, the old and the young, men and women, children, people with disabilities — the entire community moves.”

Church News podcast: Managing Director of the Church History Department Matt Grow on the importance of celebrating past and present pioneers

The Saints moved westward in order to accomplish this idea of Zion. Grow explained that while their story is an inspiring one, full of heroism and tragedy, it is also a spiritually powerful one, as these people’s desire was to gather together as one, united body.

President Russell M. Nelson has taught about and invited Latter-day Saints to participate in gathering Israel, which also relates to what these Saints did. Just as the pioneers joined together to fulfill the vision of Zion, this idea remains today as Latter-day Saints work to collect all of God’s children on both sides of the veil.

Similar to today, this entails gathering individuals from all over the world. For the pioneers, they came together in an actual location to build up Zion. Saints traveled from areas across the United States, Europe and others. In addition, there was also much change occurring both economically and religiously, as well as with the Industrial Revolution, Mexican-American War and the anti-slavery abolitionist movement taking place.

Despite facing immense hardships, however, the pioneers also found joy throughout their journey, singing and dancing along the way, Grow said. “If you read pioneer journals, they’re often filled with accounts of awe, of the natural beauty … . You find practical jokes among each other in pioneer journals as well.”

One aspect of their joy was the temple, he said. Even at the time of the Nauvoo Temple construction, the Saints understood they would not get to have access to the Lord’s house much longer, sensing that they would be driven out. Therefore, they used the time they had to do temple work, sealing families and endowing members with power in preparation for what lay ahead.

Grow said physical and practical preparations preceded the journey. However, he added: “The core preparation, I think, was that spiritual preparation. ‘Let’s go through the temple. Let’s complete our temple ordinances for ourselves so that we have the power and the spiritual vision to do what needs to be done.’”

The foundation of the Salt Lake Temple is visible in the foreground with the Tabernacle in the background during construction around 1868.

The foundation of the Salt Lake Temple is visible in the foreground with the Tabernacle in the background during construction around 1868.

Credit: C.R. Savage, provided by Ron Fox

Physically leaving this temple did not mean the temple left their minds, though. Upon arrival in the Salt Lake Valley, the pioneers began to make plans for the Salt Lake Temple right away, continuing to illustrate their true righteous desires. As they built first the city and later the temple, the Saints worked to maintain a clean community.

This diligent work ethic among the pioneer people was illustrated in the product of their work and in their personalities. Specifically, Grow pointed to the strength of the women. “One of the things that set the Latter-day Saint migration apart was the participation of women, the participation of families, old and young,” he said.

One of his ancestors traveled as a widow from Switzerland to the United States with three children, one of whom had epilepsy. Grow was impressed by her example of faith, vision and fortitude to have done this.

Grow explained that the migration of all the pioneers was perhaps a foundational act for many individuals in their faith, much like Latter-day Saints all over the world continue to do today. “The first big step was conversion,” he said. “The next big step was the gathering.”

Besides learning from the early pioneers who made sacrifices and exhibited a great deal of faith to travel to and settle in the Salt Lake Valley, Latter-day Saints today may also learn much from pioneers around the world, he said. “We need to make sure that we’re learning the pioneer stories from around the globe so that those stories can resonate and teach us.”

Many of the pioneers’ gravesites have “faith in every footstep” written on them. Their decision and commitment to travel west was not an easy task. In everyday life, there are a plethora of challenges and continuous trials to face. Latter-day Saints today may do well to keep this motto in mind, Grow suggested, to continue on in faith.

Handcart and wagons set up camp at Independence Rock, Wyoming, during the 1997 sesquicentennial reenactment of the pioneers crossing the plains.

Handcart and wagons set up camp at Independence Rock, Wyoming, during the 1997 sesquicentennial reenactment of the pioneers crossing the plains.

Credit: Jeffery D. Allred, Deseret News

He feels it was remarkable that Heavenly Father was able to gather average people from across the globe to accomplish something extraordinary, adding that this is what God is doing with His children today. “What I know now is that that’s what He’s trying to do with us — take us where we’re at, with our flaws and our limitations and our desires to do good and be righteous and contribute. …

“As I see what they did and what God did with and for them, there’s real power in the spiritual concept of remembering, and as we remember, we tap into some of that spiritual power they had. It gives us a little bit of boost in our own lives.”

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