This is a world where we stand on the shoulders of thousands who went before us. We inherit the best of their work, gathering to ourselves benefits we did not earn, eating fruit we did not plant. It's an increasingly complex world, with intricate laceworks of relationships that would be impossible to sort out without a guide to help us.
We need, in short, pioneers. People to go before us to show the way, who prepare the paths and plant the seeds for others who follow. People with long vision, willing to sacrifice today's comfort for tomorrow's dream.This month in the Church we pause to honor some of those guides. Not surprisingly, we find that they defy being pigeonholed. Pioneers come in all ages, from all countries, with all sorts of backgrounds and interests. And they are pioneers in a variety of ways. If they share anything, it is their interest in the future.
The story of the original Utah pioneers of the last century is one of the great treasures of the Church. After being expelled from Nauvoo in 1846, those men, women and children mounted one of the world's great migrations, transplanting first an entire culture from the verdant banks of the Mississippi to the arid valleys of the West, then later leaving native countries and comfortable homes to travel thousands of miles to a new world. In 40 years, an estimated 100,000 converts made that journey, traveling by sailing ship, steamboat, canal barge, horseback, covered wagon and on foot. And for too many, the journey was the last thing they did on earth.
Their saga has become a part of the nation's folklore, a legacy with as much meaning to America as the exploits of Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett. But for the Church it has become much more. Every new convert inherits the legacy, knowing that it is a standard to measure against, an inspiration never far from the surface.
- It was that way with the 16-year-old boy who could not speak English very well, but who became, in 1851, the first native baptized in the Hawaiian Islands.
- It was that way for Hijime Nakazawa, a Shinto priest who gave up his years of preparation in that religion to become, in 1902, the first convert in Japan.
- It was that way for Nicholas Paul and Henry Stringer of Mowbray, near Cape Town, South Africa. Paul, a man of influence, allowed the beleaguered missionaries to preach in his home shortly after they arrived in his country in 1853, telling the audience at the start of the meeting that if they did not wish to listen they could leave, but the first man to offer an insult would be in danger of "having more holes made through him than a skimmer." Stringer became the first baptized in that country, and Paul and his family were baptized soon afterward.
- It was that way for Wilhelm Friedrichs and Emile Hoppe, German converts to the Church who immigrated to Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1924 they wrote the Church, urging that missionaries be sent to South America because people were waiting there to be baptized. When the missionaries, led by Apostle Melvin J. Ballard, arrived they were met at the dock by the two German brethren, and a week later the Kulick and Biebersdort families became the first members of the Church to be baptized in South America.
They were all pioneers for the Church, drawing upon that same deep and enduring strength that caused their brothers and sisters in the gospel to sacrifice for the good of future generations.
And their stories illustrate one of the great truisms of the restored gospel. The job of pioneer is still open. It did not end with the coming of the railroad to Utah. There are great regions of the world yet to be visited, millions of people who have yet to hear the message of the gospel. There are discoveries to be made, relationships to be linked, doors to be opened and new stories to unfold.
The Church itself is a forerunner, here to prepare the way for the return of the Messiah. By its nature and divine assignment, its mission is to make the way easier for those who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, to clear away the underbrush and make the pathway straight, leaving guidemarks and setting standards.
It's a legacy that is offered freely to the world, a legacy very much in keeping with the pioneer spirit of a century ago that we honor this month.