It’s not enough to merely remember the remarkable deeds performed by the Utah pioneers — but also the reasons why they were performed, “and commit ourselves to be as faithful in our circumstances as they were in theirs.”
That was the message Elder David F. Evans, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Asia Area, shared with hundreds of early risers on Friday, July 23, at the annual Days of ’47 Sunrise Service at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square.
Gathering for Friday’s early morning service marked the return of a beloved Pioneer Day tradition for many. Last year’s sunrise service was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pioneers, taught Elder Evans, were inspired by the Holy Ghost “to not only believe and know that the Church is true, but to also act, choosing to follow and do things that they never before could have imagined.”
Elder Evans said the Church’s 1997 sesquicentennial anniversary of the pioneers entering the Salt Lake Valley enriched his understanding and gratitude for those devout Latter-day Saint pioneers. “As we listened to the stories, many of which we had never heard before, we came to love and respect the difficult choices that were made, the faith that was exhibited and the sheer grit that was shown by men, women and children.”
Some pioneers endured “unimaginable hardship.” Yet they remained faithful. Others lost their lives during their journey across the American West.
“Through it all, our pioneer forefathers developed faith, courage, integrity, unity, inclusion, unselfishness, sacrifice and obedience,” he said. “Even during these periods of great hardship, the effort to share the gospel continued. Over time, and as the missions to England and Europe increased the number of converts to the Church, there were not wagons enough to bring all who were converted to Utah.”
Elder Evans shared the account of 9-year-old Bodil Mortensen, a pioneer girl from Denmark who perished on the high plains of Wyoming in 1856 while part of the Willie and Martin handcart companies. The child had come to America with the Jens Nielsen family, embarking with them on the trek to Utah.
In the April 1997 general conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley described the events that claimed young Bodil’s life and many more:
“In October of 1856, wind-driven heavy snow was already 2 feet deep as those of the James G. Willie Company tried to find some shelter from the terrible storm. Bodil went out and gathered brush with which to make a fire. Returning, she reached her cart with the brush in her arm. There she died, frozen to death. Starvation and bitter cold drained from her emaciated body the life she had fought for.”
Pioneer Day prompts one to remember Bodil Mortensen and many other pioneers “who gave so very much and who have become part of the history and heritage of the Latter-day Saints,” said Elder Evans.
The Lord’s hand can be traced in the arrival of many who came to the valley of the Great Salt Lake — even many who were not members of the Church. Elder Evans spoke of his own great-grandfather Alfred Frewin, who, for reasons unknown, emigrated from England and settled in the Salt Lake Valley in 1876.
The Frewin family remained in Utah, although none was a Latter-day Saint until Elder Evans’ mother, Beverly Joy Frewin Evans, was baptized at age 8 at the invitation of a loving Primary teacher. Beverly Joy was not fully active in the Church until high school. But she would eventually marry her friend, David C. Evans, in the Salt Lake Temple and raise a large family fully involved in the gospel.
“In time, she would be called to serve as ward and stake Relief Society president, and then from 1984 through 1990 as a counselor in the general Relief Society presidency,” said Elder Evans. “This little girl from nonmember parents whose grandfather stopped in Salt Lake City for reasons none of us would ever know would go on to raise a righteous posterity, preach the gospel around the world, speak in general conference and bless the lives of thousands of Latter-day Saints around the world.”
A loving Heavenly Father, he added, is “way out front” in the lives of all of His children. “He knew that my mother had been foreordained to serve in wonderful ways in His kingdom, and that those things could not come to pass without the Alfred Frewin family being planted in Salt Lake.”
Elder Evans echoed President Hinckley’s challenge to remember the lives of one’s pioneer forebearers.
“From the remarkable prophets who led the Church and directed the emigration of thousands of Latter-day Saints, to those who rode in the last wagons or walked across the Plains, let us remember and revere, and be eternally grateful for their sacrifices, their faith and their willingness to follow the Lord, whatever the cost.”
Remember to share their stories and emulate their faith, obedience and effort to bring forth God’s kingdom. Above all else, he said, remember to build one’s foundation upon the rock of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
From his own ancestors — beginning with Alfred Frewin and down to his own mother, Beverly Joy — Elder Evans said he remembers God’s love for His children and the love of Latter-day Saints and friends who invite others to follow the Lord.
“On this day, I am filled with gratitude for those who have gone on before,” he concluded. “I love our Utah pioneers and love the pioneers the Lord has in each country. … Throughout Asia, I see these first-generation pioneers and witness their faith and willingness to follow the Lord, regardless of the personal cost or sacrifice.
“Their faith is no less than that of the pioneers who entered the valley on July 24, 1847, and heard Brigham Young declare: ‘This is the right place, drive on.’ Regardless of where we live, the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the right place, and we need to ‘drive on.’”
Also attending Friday’s sunrise service were the 2021 Days of ’47 royalty: Sophia Lowry, queen; Adelynn Eisenach, first attendant; and Arianna Haner, second attendant.
Prior to Elder Evans’ remarks, the program featured several musical numbers.