The directive to “seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion” has been in force from the dawn of this gospel dispensation, enunciated as early as 1829, even before the formal organization of the Church of Jesus Christ (see Doctrine and Covenants 6:6; 11:6; 12:6; 14:6).
This, of course, carries forward a theme that has been with the people of God in each dispensation.
Broadly defined as “the pure in heart,” Zion as a doctrinal concept has many nuances in meaning.
We learn from the Pearl of Great Price that the Lord called the people in the city of Enoch “Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). So great was the collective righteousness of the people therein that it was called the City of Holiness, and its inhabitants were taken up into heaven (see verse 23).
Since that day, the city of Enoch has served as a model for the people of God. The concept is aspirational as much as it is descriptive, a condition to be sought and worked toward.
To that end, ancient Jerusalem was often referred to as Zion. In this dispensation, the settlement of the Latter-day Saints in Jackson County, Missouri, was called Zion, looking forward to the day when that locale will be the center place of Zion, or the New Jerusalem, which is to be built on the American continent (see Articles of Faith 1:10).
In keeping with the imagery of Zion as a tent that is to cover the earth, the geographical divisions of the Church are called stakes, or, more formally, stakes of Zion (see Doctrine and Covenants 82:14).
Though we as a people have some progress to make before we can be more fully like the city of Enoch, throughout the latter-day dispensation, we can observe and highlight earnest efforts to “establish the cause of Zion.”
At a conference in October 1845, the Church members in Nauvoo, knowing they were about to abandon their city for a place of refuge in the West, bound themselves to a covenant that they would “take all the saints with us, to the extent of our ability, that is, our influence and property” (quoted in William G. Hartley, “How Shall I Gather,” Ensign, October 1997).
This might be viewed as symbolizing the determination of a Zion people, to the extent of their ability, to help one another along the path of mortality toward salvation and eternal life with God the Father and Jesus Christ.
We see it later exemplified in the Perpetual Emigration Fund, a plan whereby Church resources and private contributions were used to assist converts to obey the call to “gather to Zion” in the Intermountain West commensurate with their inability to pay. Beneficiaries of the fund were then expected to repay the money as best they could so the fund would truly be “perpetual.”
Between 1849 and 1887, more than 30,000 Salt Lake City-bound converts from Europe, the British Isles and elsewhere were assisted in this way.
In 2001, President Gordon B. Hinckley adapted this concept and name as he introduced the Perpetual Education Fund.
As he explained it in April general conference of that year, “from the earnings of this fund, loans will be made to ambitious young men and women, for the most part returned missionaries, so that they may borrow money to attend school. Then when they qualify for employment, it is anticipated that they will return that which they have borrowed together with a small amount of interest designed as an incentive to repay the loan.”
To date, tens of thousands of needy individuals have received loans through the fund, which they have in turn paid back to assist others. With the education they have thus received, these young men and women have strengthened their families, their communities and the Church.
In that same spirit, the creation of BYU-Pathway Worldwide was announced Feb. 7 of this year. Through its affordable online certificate and degree programs, individuals around the globe are receiving the higher education they had scarcely dared to dream of.
At last month’s inauguration of Clark G. Gilbert as the first president of Pathway, President Russell M. Nelson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, highlighted the accomplishments of some of the beneficiaries.
One was Felipe Bento of Santo André Brazil, who, through the PathwayConnect component of BYU-Pathway Worldwide, learned English. This enabled him to receive a promotion at work and be a better provider for his family.
“Trevon Morris of Kingston, Jamaica, had struggled with debt for many years,” President Nelson said. “He always wanted to complete his education, but he knew adding to his debt was not a good idea. Through PathwayConnect, Trevon learned to take control of his finances.”
He thus paid off his five-year debt in a single year and, as he continued his education through BYU-Idaho, earned a promotion and eventually started a small business.
After raising five children, Allison Olson from Idaho Falls, Idaho, felt it was time to continue her education, despite being held back in school when she was in second grade and told not to pursue a college education.
Guided by promises in her patriarchal blessing, she did pursue higher education, beginning with the PathwayConnect Life Skills course.
The spirit of Zion is present in BYU-Pathway Worldwide through the free-will offerings of such people as the Church-service missionaries who facilitate the PathwayConnect gatherings in far-flung locales.
May that spirit guide each of us as we, in our own individual ways, seek to establish the cause of Zion.