If faith was the power that moved the Mormon pioneers, it was the hope produced by their faith that anchored them, Elder Marcus B. Nash of the Seventy declared July 24 at the annual Sunrise Service that traditionally opens the Days of '47 celebration of Pioneer Day in Salt Lake City.
Elder Nash, assistant executive director of the Church History Department, was the featured speaker at the service held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square and sponsored by the Pioneer Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, a national heritage society, for free public attendance.
"Their bedrock faith in Christ moved them to act with the hope, expectation of better things to come – and not only for themselves, but also for their posterity now and in eternity," Elder Nash said of the pioneers who settled Utah beginning July 24, 1847, under the leadership of President Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve. "Because of this hope, they were sure and steadfast, led to glorify God through any privation: hunger and thirst, heat and cold, monotony and loneliness, injury and success. And for those that were steadfastly faithful, the power of God was manifest in miraculous ways."
Elder Nash began his talk by sharing personal ancestral stories.
He said his wife's ancestor, Welthea Bradford Hatch, and her husband, Ira, were contacted by missionaries Oliver Cowdery and Parley P. Pratt while living in Farmersville, N.Y. She purchased a copy of the Book of Mormon from them, read it right away and asked for baptism. But her husband cautioned her to wait until she gave birth to the baby she was carrying. Shortly thereafter, she was baptized, which necessitated a hole being cut in the ice on the river where the baptism was performed.
Ira and Welthea traveled by buggy to Kirtland, Ohio, to meet the Prophet Joseph Smith. Upon arrival, they were directed to a grove where Joseph was helping cut trees. As they drove up, he strode over to them and without introduction said, "Brother Hatch, I have been waiting for you for three days. The money you brought will be used to build the pulpit in the temple."
Ira was baptized, and the couple returned to their home to gather their belongings, then joined the Saints in Kirtland.
Elder Nash told of his own ancestor from Wales, Isaac Bartlett Nash, who, while attending a Church meeting in Salt Lake City, heard a Church leader denounce the use of tobacco.
"Isaac, with a chaw of tobacco in his mouth, quietly slipped it out, dropped it to the ground, and said, 'Now stay there until I come back for you,'" Elder Nash recounted. "He never did come back for it."
The power of faith in God motivated all three of those ancestors to make the sacrifices they did, Elder Nash commented.
He gave three suggestions of how those pioneers can be an anchor for people living today.
"First, we must remember them," he said. "Remember their stories and the sustaining, saving, delivering power of God that came as a result of their faith and hope. Our pioneer forebears help us know who we are as a covenant people and confirm that our God — with whom we have covenanted and who 'changeth not' — will bless us in times of difficulty and trial just as He did our pioneer fathers and mothers."
The story of the Willie and Martin handcart companies "has become symbolic of the faith and hope of the early pioneers," Elder Nash observed. "It is a miracle only approximately 200 of the just-over 1,000 company members died despite being on starvation rations without winter clothing and suffering from illness and exposure. The faith and hope-filled effort of the rescuers in response to the call for action by President Brigham Young, accompanied by divine assistance, saved the handcart companies."
Some of the rescuers turned back, he said, contrasting their loss of hope with the courage of Reddick Allred, who was assigned to man a rescue station to give sustenance and relief to the suffering travelers. While beset with pleurisy, a painful lung condition, he manned the station for three weeks. He resisted the efforts of two men who tried to persuade him to join them in turning back.
"Such unwavering faith in times of trial — to hope for things not seen, but true — creates steadfast men and women, gives sure, steady direction when potentially disorienting storms rage about us," Elder Nash remarked. "One of the fruits of such faith is that those possessed of it will be in a in a position to nurture, rescue and bless others. Imagine the warmth Reddick Allred felt as he saw the handcart company come into his station and he was there to help them. Imagine the joy the company felt when they saw him!"
The second suggestion Elder Nash gave was to "remember that the pioneers in general were unified."
He quoted the words of non-Mormon historian Wallace Stegner that the Mormons "differed profoundly from the Oregon and California migrations. These were not groups of young and reckless adventurers, nor were they isolated families or groups of families. They were literally villages on the march, villages of sobriety, solidarity and discipline unheard of anywhere else on the western trails."
The author observed that few California or Oregon immigrants gave a thought to people coming after them, but the Mormon pioneer companies made provision for those who would come later.
Elder Nash commented, "The reason for this difference was that the members of the Church came to build up Zion, and in practical terms, Zion is 'every man esteem[ing] his brother as himself, and practic[ing] virtue and holiness before [the Lord]. … This sense of community and mutually shared responsibility produced unified effort to follow God's prophet. That, my brothers and sisters, is a major reason they succeeded as they did and is an important part of the legacy they pass to us. They whisper that we, too, will prosper through the Lord's power only to the degree we act as one with a sense of community and mutually shared responsibility in following the Lord's prophet."
His third suggestion was to remember to pass on the same spirit.
He told of a family he met in March while on Church assignment in Otavalo, Ecuador. He said the father in family was one of the earliest converts to the Church in the village at a time when most of the people spoke Quechua, not Spanish. When the father was a boy between 10 and 13, he was given a copy of the Book of Mormon written in Spanish, and although he could not read it, "he felt a profound power and spirit when he held the book in his hand."
"He hid it in his home, for he knew that his brothers would destroy it. From time to time, he would take the book from its hiding place just to hold and feel its power."
Enduring opposition, he became one of the first LDS missionaries from the village, returned and married another returned missionary and with her raised a family in the Church. He later helped translate the Book of Mormon and temple ordinances into Quechua.
After the man had told the story, one of the couple's sons, who was present in the room and was weeping, said: "I have always appreciated the early pioneers who crossed the plains with their handcarts in North America. Their faith and devotion and dedication have inspired me and touched me deeply throughout my life. But until today, I did not realize that there are also pioneers here in Otavalo, and they are my parents! This fills me with joy."
Elder Nash said in conclusion: "To be a pioneer means that we 'be not weary in well doing.' Welthea Hatch doubtless felt no special significance in starting a cooking fire while her husband prepared and loaded their buggy. Nor did Ira Hatch think it heroic to wake up, stiff from fitful sleep on the hard ground, and prepare for the day's journey. Nor did Isaac Nash think it all that momentous to throw a chaw of tobacco to the ground. ... Yet from these small and simple things has come something great. So, let us remember there are no small things in great endeavors."
Several musical selections were performed by Salt Lake Valley Combined Institute Choirs under the direction of Hal W. Romrell and guest conductor Marshal McDonald. A flag ceremony was conducted by members of the Mormon Battalion, a heritage society that honors some of the original 1846-47 Mormon pioneers who, while making their way west, answered the call from the U.S. government to enlist in the U.S. Army while the nation was at war with Mexico.