How handcart treks in Argentina are connecting youth with their Latter-day Saint pioneer legacy

On a hot October day at a farm near Córdoba, Argentina, Yesica Benavidez and several young women pulled heavy handcarts through knee-deep water and mud. 

They were participating in a handcart trek reenactment with the Buenos Aires Argentina Castelar Stake, and this activity was known as the “women’s pull.” During the three-day trek, Benavidez and her husband, David Aguero, served as “Ma” and “Pa,” or leaders, for a “family,” or group, of youth.

“It was very special to see … all the young women work together and achieve a goal,” said Benavidez. “In that moment, I was able to grow my testimony about the Savior’s love. He knows each one of us and He knows our needs.” 

From 1856 to 1860, about 3,000 Latter-day Saints pulled handcarts across the American plains — trekking in heat and cold, through rivers and over mountains — to gather in the Salt Lake Valley. To help youth learn from the experiences of the handcart pioneers, many stakes plan handcart reenactments.

A longtime activity in the United States, the trek reenactment also takes place in international areas of the Church — helping youth worldwide appreciate the sacrifice of the early Saints and understand their shared pioneer legacy. 

Youth of the Buenos Aires Argentina Merlo Stake participate in a handcart trek reenactment at Kilgruman Farm near Córdoba, Argentina, in 2016.
Youth of the Buenos Aires Argentina Merlo Stake participate in a handcart trek reenactment at Kilgruman Farm near Córdoba, Argentina, in 2016. Credit: Blaine Flinders, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Treks and other multiday activities, such as youth conferences and camps, are an integral part of the Children and Youth program launched in January 2020. 

Bringing treks to Argentina

Blaine Flinders and his wife, Ann Flinders, of the Kaysville Utah West Stake were called to serve as farm missionaries to Argentina in 2010. While there, they proposed using the Church-owned, 5,000-acre Kilgruman Farm near Córdoba as a site for youth pioneer trek reenactments. 

Along with a team of volunteers, the Flinderses developed a trek system, located material for and built handcarts, and helped translate pioneer stories into Spanish. For many years, they trained stake leaders in Argentina how to carry out a trek.

They later worked with stakes and districts in Mexico and Peru to organize treks in their own areas. 

“It takes willpower and commitment,” Blaine Flinders said of planning for and executing treks. “I believe they can be done in some form anywhere in the world. It’s a matter of the leaders catching the vision and being inspired. The Lord will show them how they can do it.”

Several thousands of Latter-day Saint youth in Argentina and their friends have participated in handcart treks at Kilgruman Farm in the last 10 years — with more expected in coming months. 

Elder Mervyn B. Arnold, second from left, and Elder Bradley D. Foster, right, then serving as General Authority Seventies, are pictured with youth of the Rosario Argentina North Stake during a handcart trek reenactment at Kilgruman Farm, near Córdoba, Argentina, in 2012.
Elder Mervyn B. Arnold, second from left, and Elder Bradley D. Foster, right, then serving as General Authority Seventies, are pictured with youth of the Rosario Argentina North Stake during a handcart trek reenactment at Kilgruman Farm, near Córdoba, Argentina, in 2012. Credit: Blaine Flinders

Preparing for a trek

The San Nicolás Argentina Stake and Pergamino Argentina Stake are two of many stakes in Argentina preparing for an upcoming trek. While most treks in the U.S. happen between June and August, treks in Argentina usually take place between October and April. 

San Nicolás Argentina Stake President Alejandro L. Mazzeo said they are preparing to take 150 youth and adult leaders on a trek at Kilgruman Farm in January. This will be the San Nicolás stake’s fifth trek and the Pergamino stake’s first. 

“We are very happy and anxious preparing for this,” President Mazzeo said. “We want not only to prepare everything that is related to the clothing [and handcarts], but as well the spiritual part of the preparation so they can enjoy the activity.”

President Mazzeo knows well the impact a trek experience has on the youth. 

“They will be able to see, at least in a small portion, what the pioneers had to go through. And with that, they can create empathy with their experience and generate a bond of love with the pioneers, with their stories and with their testimonies. …

“To be willing to help each other, to strengthen each other and serve each other,” he said of the youth, “it creates in them a feeling of belonging and they can feel part of that history.”

Youth and adult leaders of the Córdoba Argentina South Stake participate in a handcart trek reenactment at Kilgruman Farm near Córdoba, Argentina, in 2015.
Youth and adult leaders of the Córdoba Argentina South Stake participate in a handcart trek reenactment at Kilgruman Farm near Córdoba, Argentina, in 2015. Credit: Blaine Flinders

Lihue Paz of the Buenos Aires Argentina Ramos Mejía Stake credits his trek experience as a youth for strengthening his testimony of the Restoration of the gospel. He felt he already had a testimony of the Savior, but he didn’t know much about Church history. 

“Having the same experience [the early Saints] passed through, now I know,” said 22-year-old Paz. “It was difficult to be a member of the Church at that time. … It’s because of them we have all these things right now.”

A foundational spiritual experience

For past participants, the trek has become more than dressing up as pioneers and pushing a handcart across a field.

Benavidez didn’t anticipate that what she experienced crossing the river with the young women during the trek five years ago would prepare her for a difficult time she would face later. 

At one point last year, Benavidez — a BYU-Pathway Worldwide student with three young children and endless tasks needing to be done at home — found herself feeling overwhelmed. Then an image came to her mind: crossing the river. 

“I knew it was the Lord reminding me about that moment, that there were angels,” she recalled with emotion in her voice. “Just like that experience, I knew the Lord would be by my side and send angels, that I would be able to go through it and be able to achieve everything that I was doing.”

Aguero remembers standing along the shore of the river, watching his wife and the young women pull the handcarts. 

“We started to sing from the shore, trying to motivate them, to be with them in any way possible,” Aguero said. “I believe that our Savior can do that for us as well. There are troubles and trials we have to do ourselves, but we will always have angels around us, and our Heavenly Father and our Savior helping us, giving us motivation to go forward and to carry on.”

Aguero said he and Benavidez have kept in contact with the youth in their group. The trek was a foundational spiritual experience they and the youth continue to gain strength from. 

Yesica Benavidez, second from right, and David Aguero, fifth from right, of the Buenos Aires Argentina Castelar Stake are pictured with youth in their group during a handcart trek reenactment at Kilgruman Farm near Córdoba, Argentina, in October 2016.
Yesica Benavidez, second from right, and David Aguero, fifth from right, of the Buenos Aires Argentina Castelar Stake are pictured with youth in their group during a handcart trek reenactment at Kilgruman Farm near Córdoba, Argentina, in October 2016. Credit: Yesica Benavidez

“For me, that sacrifice, and that the youth were doing it so happily, it had a great impact on my point of view,” he said. “They were giants for me in that moment. … The bond that we created with the young women and young men that were part of our family is very special for us.”

Aguero added: “It was a great experience, and we hope it can continue on and be available in more places for more young women and young men, so they can really enjoy it and strengthen their testimonies with it.”