If faith was the power that moved the Mormon pioneers, it was the hope produced by their faith that anchored them, a general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Wednesday to an early morning congregation that had met in observance of the annual Days of ’47 celebration in Salt Lake City.
Elder Marcus B. Nash of the Seventy, assistant executive director of the LDS Church History Department, was the featured speaker in the annual Sunrise Service held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square and sponsored by the Salt Lake Pioneer Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers.
“Their bedrock faith in Christ moved them to act with the hope, expectation of better things to come — and not only for themselves, but also for their posterity now and in eternity,” Elder Nash said of the Mormon pioneers who settled Utah beginning on July 24, 1847. “Because of this hope, they were sure and steadfast, led to glorify God through any privation: hunger and thirst, heat and cold, monotony and loneliness, injury and success. And for those that were steadfastly faithful, the power of God was manifest in miraculous ways.”
Elder Nash gave three suggestions of how those pioneers can be an anchor for people living today.
“First, we must remember them,” he said. “Remember their stories and the sustaining, saving, delivering power of God that came as a result of their faith and hope.”
The story of the Willie and Martin handcart companies, two of the 10 groups of Mormon immigrants who made their way west pulling their belongings in handcarts from 1856 to 1860, “has become symbolic of the faith and hope of the early pioneers,” Elder Nash said. “It is a miracle only approximately 200 of the just-over 1,000 company members died despite being on starvation rations without winter clothing and suffering from illness and exposure. The faith and hope-filled effort of the rescuers in response to the call for action by President Brigham Young, accompanied by divine assistance, saved the handcart companies.”
Some of the rescuers turned back, he said. He contrasted their loss of hope with the courage of Reddick Allred, who was assigned to man a rescue station to give sustenance and relief to the suffering travelers as they came through. While suffering from pleurisy, a painful lung condition, Allred manned the station for three weeks. He resisted the persuasion of two men who tried to get him to join them in turning back.
“Such unwavering faith in times of trial — to hope for things not seen, but true — creates steadfast men and women, gives sure, steady direction when potentially disorienting storms rage about us,” Elder Nash said. “One of the fruits of such faith is that those possessed of it will be in a position to nurture, rescue and bless others.”
The second suggestion Elder Nash gave was to “remember that the pioneers in general were unified.”
He quoted the words of non-Mormon historian Wallace Stegner that the Mormon pioneers “differed profoundly from the Oregon and California migrations. These were not groups of young and reckless adventurers, nor were they isolated families or groups of families. They were literally villages on the march, villages of sobriety, solidarity and discipline unheard of anywhere else on the western trails.”
Elder Nash commented, “The reason for this difference was that the members of the church came to build up Zion. This sense of community and mutually shared responsibility produced unified effort to follow God’s prophet. That, my brothers and sisters, is a major reason they succeeded as they did and is an important part of the legacy they pass to us.”
His third suggestion was to remember to pass on the same spirit.
He told of a family he met in March while on a church assignment in Otavalo, Ecuador. He said the father in the family was one of the earliest converts to the LDS Church in the village at a time when most of the people spoke Quichua, not Spanish. When the father was a boy between 10 and 13, he was given a copy of the Book of Mormon written in Spanish, and although he could not read it, “he felt a profound power and spirit when he held the book in his hand.”
“He hid it in his home, for he knew that his brothers would destroy it if they ever found it. From time to time, he would take the book from its hiding place just to hold and feel its power.”
Enduring opposition, he became one of the first LDS missionaries from the village. He returned and married another returned LDS missionary and, with her, raised a family in the church. He later helped to translate the Book of Mormon in Quichua.
The couple, Elder Nash said, “teach us that we pass along a pioneer legacy of faith by being a pioneer, that is by opening, showing and living the gospel in a way for others to follow.”
Several musical selections were performed at the service by the Salt Lake Valley Combined LDS Institute Choirs under the direction of Hal W. Romrell and guest conductor Marshal McDonald.
A flag ceremony was conducted by members of the Mormon Battalion, a heritage society that honors some of the original 1846-47 Mormon pioneers who, while migrating west, answered the call from the U.S. government to enlist in the U.S. Army while the nation was at war with Mexico.