The pioneer spirit that brought the early Saints west nearly a century and a half ago is the same spirit that has helped bring renewed hope and better lives to Cambodian Saints in the Boston Massachusetts Stake. For members of the Lynn Asian Branch, Pioneer Day was a two-fold celebration – honoring both Mormon pioneers and Cambodian pioneers.
The theme for the Pioneer Day commemoration was captured by Primary children singing the following lyrics to the music of "Jesus Said Love Everyone:" (Children's Songbook, p. 61)
We lived long ago you know; we're Mormon pioneers.
We left our homes to cross the plains for freedoms we hold dear.
We live in Lynn and Revere; we're pioneers too.
We left our homes across the sea for freedoms and safety too.
We all are pioneers it's true, trying hard to do what's right.
We have the truth to guide us home to our Father and Jesus Christ.
During the first verse, the children dressed as Mormon pioneers stepped forward to sing; for the second verse, children dressed as Cambodian pioneers stepped forward to sing. With hands joined, the children sang the third verse together, symbolizing the love and unity of Latter-day Saints from different backgrounds and nationalities.
Branch Pres. Paul Dredge, a Utah native with a pioneer ancestry, said that he thought of the courage and sacrifices of his forefathers as he listened to his first counselor, Vann Sen, tell how he carried his two children through mine fields as they fled to Thailand in hopes of freedom.
"The Sen family are true pioneers in the sense that they went from oppression to freedom," Pres. Dredge said. "In the camps, they became acquainted with Christianity, and when they came to Boston, the Church found them. Now Vann Sen is raising a family in the gospel, sealed in the temple. He's a pioneer in terms that he gave up an old life for a new life."
During the Pioneer Day commemoration, the children divided up into three companies and rotated to various stations to experience both Mormon and Cambodian pioneer life. At a make-believe campfire made of twigs and colored tissue paper, they heard stories of the toils and blessings of Mormon pioneer families who crossed the plains to seek safety and freedom. In addition, they heard the personal accounts of the struggles and miracles of the Asian children's parents and older siblings.
Most of the Primary children were born in the camps in Thailand. All of them have older siblings who left Cambodia as small children, usually carried by their parents as they fled over mountains and through tropical rain forests and mine fields. They had to stay hidden as much as possible, often dodging bullets. They could only take with them what they could carry and every family suffered the loss of at least one family member.
The few possessions both Mormon and Cambodian pioneers had because of their difficult circumstances were discussed at another Pioneer Day station. Both sets of pioneers took what was absolutely necessary. The Asian pioneers brought what they could carry in their arms and on their backs. Similarly, the children and leaders discussed what the Mormons brought in their wagons and handcarts. Because of weight restrictions, the children realized that things like toys usually were left behind. However, adults and children realized they could be creative and make do with what they had. The girls in the Primary practiced making handkerchief dolls with button eyes and mouths of thread, while the boys had fun whittling shapes out of soap.
At the end of the commemoration, the branch joined the Primary in a pioneer fair, including foods eaten by both sets of pioneers. The Mormon pioneers ate cornbread, lima beans, sausage soup and honey candy. Cambodian pioneers ate dried fish, rice, rice porridge called "bawbaw" and sugar cane candy.