At the time of darkest trial, we need to exercise faith and resolve that all is not as hopeless as it may seem. The exodus from Nauvoo that the Saints made a century and a half ago continues to have a lasting impact on the lives of Latter-day Saints everywhere.
At that time, with their beloved Prophet dead and with the Saints scorned by their enemies, unwelcome in any state, Church leaders resolved to leave Nauvoo for "somewhere in the Rocky Mountain basin" to establish their homes where they could worship God in peace and eventually become a beacon unto all nations.But in 1846, the horizon was neither scenic nor beautiful, but bleak and ominous. Hatred reigned on all sides. Governors of surrounding states refused to give the Saints refuge. The Church's enemies demanded the Church give up its property and leave Illinois, no doubt convinced, like the Missourians before them, they could take possession of the homes and lands at fire-sale prices. It was time for the faithful to exercise faith in the Lord and His leadership and prepare for the journey west.
The exodus from Illinois - and other Eastern states - was orderly but not necessarily swift. It took many months, and in some cases years, for the majority of the Latter-day Saints to reach the Rocky Mountains. As hundreds left Nauvoo, thousands elsewhere were preparing to join them. On Feb. 4, 1846 - a year and a half after the brutal murders of Joseph and Hyrum, the first families left the "City of Joseph" and crossed the frozen Mississippi. Brigham Young and other leaders departed the city on Feb. 15, camping at Sugar Creek, Iowa.
What lay ahead was hardship and testing. As Elder B.H. Roberts wrote in A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
exilesT were passing through a new and for the most part a sparsely settled country. Money and labor and household furnishings among those people were scarce. The Saints here and there had a little money among them, they were going where it would not be of much value; they had household furnishings, indispensable as they thought upon leaving Nauvoo, but which the simplicity of their camp life taught them they could do without. . . .
"Land was plentiful and nearly everywhere fertile. . . . This could be settled upon, planted by those now upon it in the spring, and the crops left to be harvested by the companies which would come later in the season. Plant that others may harvest! Sow that others may reap! This is the lesson of every civilization that is worth while; the sacrifice of present comfort for future advantage; the practice of self-denial for future gain." (Vol. 3, pp. 42-43.)
Today, the Church faces many challenges and misunderstandings, even outright opposition at times. A recent national publication, in an otherwise positive article, identified Brigham Young as "the founder of Mormonism." Such misinformation sometimes fuels more severe opposition. Like those of other eras, today's enemies of the Church wish to discredit not only the institution but also its leaders. They seize on any pronouncement, inferring the most sinister motives to both speaker or statement meant to uplift or move the Kingdom forward.
Today we need not shrink from such criticism nor hide from all enemies. The rights of righteous people everywhere are being slowly eroded. We cannot flee from all opposition; we learn to persevere.
Our duty, like that of those first pioneer companies from Nauvoo, is to sow good works and radiate love so that others may reap our efforts at a later time. We have many examples that this principle works. We, collectively and individually, have reaped much from the experiences of our forebears.
We now must sow seeds of hope and blessing, leaving to future generations to build upon our efforts. Those generations, by reaping that which we do today, will welcome the Lord Himself to reign personally upon the earth.
This then becomes our legacy, also - and the legacy of our pioneer forefathers. By leaving Nauvoo and journeying into an unknown and hostile wilderness, they traded comfort for uncertainty. Our journey is much clearer. We can look back on that event 150 years ago with thankfulness and wonder at the sacrifice and resolve of those Saints to forge a better life for themselves and continue the Kingdom of God in another locale.
Now, our own destiny awaits, intertwined with theirs. By preparing for the next step we, too, can exercise faith in our present-day leaders and in the Lord. We can sow our message - and His - that God lives and loves us, that prophets guide us today, that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets for our day and was translated under divine authority and helped usher in the final dispensation of the fullness of times. Our assurance today is that we, like those Saints of old, are never alone in our journey.