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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Elder Steven E. Snow, church historian and recorder and executive director of the Church History Department, speaks at the Sunrise Service, presented by the Pioneer Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, at theTabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 24, 2012.
Today's pioneers are in Manila, Moscow and Monrovia and countless other cities and villages around the world. —Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy

SALT LAKE CITY — The Mormon pioneers of the 19th century are not so very far removed from the present day, and one need not be a direct descendant to appreciate their legacy, the newly called LDS Church historian and recorder said Tuesday.

Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy was the featured speaker at the annual Days of '47 Sunrise Service in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

Current generations are inclined to regard the courageous acts of the pioneers as "legendary, almost mythical, as we think back over the many years which have transpired since they first arrived," Elder Snow observed. "Was it so long ago? Has it been too long and the lessons once taught are not longer relevant to today's generations?"

He spoke of recently having viewed old color film footage, shot in 1940, of survivors of the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition in southeastern Utah in 1879-80.

"I was born just a few years later, and it occurred to me my lifetime had overlapped some of those who had made that perilous journey so many years before," he said. "Their accomplishments suddenly did not seem so much in the distant past as I had imagined."

He acknowledged that things do change, "but the lessons of the past remain the same and are as applicable as they were to earlier generations. By failing to learn our past, we risk losing a legacy of sacrifice and devotion which will ultimately accrue to our own detriment."

Elder Snow said appreciation of heritage is not dependent on ancestral ties, an understanding that was driven home to him years ago when as an LDS general authority he attended a Sunday School class in Soweto, South Africa, in which the lesson was about the Mormon pioneers.

"I was confident no one in the room had retraced the Mormon Trail or had ancestors who lived in Nauvoo," he said. "I did know, however, they appreciated the familiar telling of the westward trek. They understood persecution and the desire to find peace in a new home. They took inspiration from the travails and suffering of the pioneers. With seeming no apparent point of reference or connection other than their membership in the same church, this story became their story."

Elder Snow recounted stories showing the faith of more recent LDS converts outside the confines of the United States, whom he regards as pioneers in their own right.

He spoke of a resident of Mozambique, Chico Mapenda, who was sent to East Germany to learn guerrilla warfare, where, ironically, he encountered and was converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Upon returning to Mozambique he began to share the gospel with family and friends," Elder Snow said.

Mapenda's brother, Chico, also joined the church, and together they were, at one time, teaching more than 1,000 investigators. Today, the church is firmly established in Mozambique, stemming from the efforts of one man who found Mormonism in a communist country, Elder Snow remarked.

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The Salt Lake Pioneer Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers sponsored the sunrise service in cooperation with the Days of '47 committee. Combined voices from two choirs — Utah Voices conducted by Michael Huff and Sterling Singers conducted by Kelly DeHaan provided music.

Maurine Smith, president of the International Society of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, presented the Days of '47 Royalty: Hannah Marie Blackburn, queen; Christina Keller, first attendant (not present due to illness); and Stephanie Romney, second attendant.

The flag ceremony and pledge of allegiance were conducted by members of the Mormon Battalion, a heritage organization that honors the Mormon pioneers of 1847 who, during their westward trek to Utah, were enlisted in the U.S. Army.

email: rscott@desnews.com