In 1992, Christopher B. Mugimu, an educator who ran an academy in Mukono, Uganda, passed a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse and began investigating the Church. After the second discussion, he knew what he should do. “It seems I found a good Church,” he told the missionaries.
He was baptized; a month later, his wife, Susan, followed.
To attend Church meetings, the couple put their children on their backs and set out walking at 6 a.m. from their home in Mukono to Kampala, Uganda. They would then take a taxi into town and walk to Church. The entire process took three hours.
“It was miraculous,” Brother Mugimu told the Church News. “Every Sunday, we had the money for travel. We did that for almost six months.”
Then the Church formed a branch in Mukono; Brother Mugimu was made branch president, his wife Relief Society president. Soon he was serving as the Kampala Uganda District president (“‘Long journey’ to continue in Uganda,” Church News, Jan. 15, 2005).
July 24 is a state holiday in Utah, a time when thousands line the streets of downtown Salt Lake City to celebrate — with parades, rodeos and speeches — the lives and sacrifices of the pioneers who more than 150 years ago settled what would become the state.
By extension, Church members also celebrate each July the accomplishments of modern-day pioneers — like Christopher and Susan Mugimu — who carry on today the values the pioneers exemplified.
President Thomas S. Monson said, like the Mugimus, we can all be pioneers in courage, in faith, in charity, in determination.
“We honor those who endured incredible hardships. We praise their names and reflect on their sacrifices,” he said during the April 1997 Young Women general meeting. “What about our time? Are there pioneering experiences for us? Will future generations reflect with gratitude on our efforts, our examples?”
President Gordon B. Hinckley said it is proper to contemplate the pioneers’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. “The tremendous progress of the Church in which we, as all members, share today is but the lengthened shadow of the faith and sacrifices of those devoted early Saints,” he said in a July 1984 address titled “The Faith of the Pioneers.”
“It is good to look to the past to gain appreciation for the present and perspective for the future,” he said. “It is good to look upon the virtues of those who have gone before, to gain strength for whatever lies ahead. It is good to reflect upon the work of those who labored so hard and gained so little in this world, but out of whose dreams and early plans, so well nurtured, has come a great harvest of which we are the beneficiaries. Their tremendous example can become a compelling motivation for us all, for each of us is a pioneer in his own life, often in his own family, and many of us pioneer daily in trying to establish a gospel foothold in distant parts of the world.”
After Christopher Mugimu joined the Church, he continued to pioneer. With his family, he traveled to Provo, Utah, where, as a BYU student, he became one of the first people in his country to earn a Doctorate in Education.
They lived in the United States five and a half years. In addition to supporting her husband in gaining his education, Sister Mugimu received training in the culinary arts from Utah Valley State College. Their children found friends; two had already forgotten their native language. The family was happy in Provo, but they had come to the United States with a single purpose: to gain an education that would help them build the Church and the community in Uganda. So they pioneered again and returned home.
In Uganda, the family opened a bakery and a school, and Brother Mugimu worked as a lecturer at a local university.
“Our Heavenly Father wanted us to go [back to Uganda],” said Brother Mugimu. “Nobody is going to come and make our countries better. It takes people like me to go back and share the knowledge we gained from advanced countries. Also, it adds strength to the Church” (“Returning home is blessing to family,” Church News, June 2, 2007).
Speaking of the early pioneers at the Pioneer Days Devotional in Ogden, Utah, on July 13, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said that “more than a century and a half has passed since the first pioneers made the 1,300-mile trek from Nauvoo, Illinois, to the Salt Lake Valley. What they and those who followed them did was difficult and dangerous. And yet they came. By the tens of thousands they came. And we, the Church, the nation and even the world are richer because they came.”
In the life to come, President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, said he will be eager to meet the pioneers who gave so much to found the cities in the valleys of the mountains. “I think they will be pleased by our interest in them. I think they will be humbled by our admiration. But I also believe that they will be far more concerned not about what they did, but about what we did as a result of their sacrifice.
“I have a feeling they will be pleased far more by our performance than by applause, praise or parades. They will want to know if we gained anything from the hard-won lessons they learned through tribulation and trial. They will want to know if their sacrifice and endurance made a difference to us and our children.”
May we all do more than watch parades and attend rodeos to honor the pioneers of yesterday. Like the Mugimus, may we honor them with our lives and commitment, our sacrifice and our faith.