OGDEN — The true account of a young pioneer girl being forced to run to stay warm illustrated the central theme of Sister Elaine S. Dalton’s remarks at the Ogden Pioneer Days Devotional held in the Dee Events Center at Weber State University Sunday evening.
“Little Agnes Caldwell ran toward Zion, and by doing so, she and all those like her set forth a standard for the nations of our generation,” Sister Dalton said. “Zion was then, and is still now, the goal.”
Sister Dalton served as Young Women general president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 2008-2013. Her invitation to speak at the annual July event was special because she was born and raised in Ogden, graduated from Ogden High School and attended Weber State before transferring to Brigham Young University. Sister Dalton's husband, Stephen E. Dalton, and other family members attended the devotional. Several dignitaries and community leaders from Ogden, the university and the LDS Church were also in attendance.
In her talk, titled "Come to Zion, Come to Zion," Sister Dalton spoke of her pioneer ancestors and the importance of temple and family history work in building up Zion. The avid marathoner prefaced her message by telling the story of Agnes Caldwell, a 9-year-old girl who crossed the plains with the Willie Handcart Company in 1856.
When the rescue party reached the ragged and destitute handcart pioneers, the aged and infirm were allowed to ride in the wagons. Caldwell and other children walked close to these wagons hoping for an invitation to ride. The determined Caldwell was eventually the last child standing and the driver finally asked if she wanted a ride. When she said yes, the man grabbed her hand and urged the horses to run, forcing Caldwell to run beside the wagon for a distance. She thought he was the “meanest man” she had ever encountered, Caldwell recorded.
“Just at what seemed the breaking point, he stopped,” Sister Dalton said, reading the account. “Taking a blanket, he wrapped me up and lay me in the bottom of the wagon, warm and comfortable. Here I had time to change my mind, as I surely did, knowing full well by doing this he saved me from freezing.”
Running toward Zion became a defining moment for Caldwell. She ran even though the decision didn’t make perfect sense at the time. It was hard and she resisted, but by running she survived, said Sister Dalton, a passionate runner who has finished 17 marathons, including twice at the Boston Marathon.
The same message applies to us today, Sister Dalton said.
“Never before has there been a generation like ours. We are better prepared and better equipped. We have what it takes and now is the time for the run of our life — our own personal run to Zion,” Sister Dalton said. “The path is clearly marked and the pace is steady and strong. We, like Agnes, are being asked to cross the plains. We may not have to give up all our earthly possessions, but the journey to Zion requires that we give up all of our sins to come to know him — the true and living Christ. You may even be asked to run to the point of exhaustion, but by doing so, the warmth of the Lord’s love will preserve us for the great work yet to come.”
In order to keep the vision and goal of Zion in view during this run, it’s important to have faith and a firm testimony like our pioneer forefathers. It's also essential that we follow the prophet, Sister Dalton said.
“As we daily follow the prophet we will progress sometimes in almost imperceptible ways toward Zion,” she said.
Temple and family history work is also a major part of building Zion, Sister Dalton said. She recalled a visit to Nauvoo, Illinois, where she and her husband walked through the Old Pioneer Cemetery looking for an ancestor. Sister Dalton said she began to weep as she contemplated all the Latter-day Saints had built in Nauvoo, especially the temple, only to leave it behind when moving on to Utah. Why had they done it?
“The answer came forcefully yet softly to my mind and heart: ‘We did this for you,’” Sister Dalton said. “Those words, ‘We did this for you,’ reminded me that our ancestors, along with many other faithful Saints, sacrificed everything because of their testimonies and faith in Jesus Christ. They sacrificed everything so that past and future generations — our generation — would have access to the eternal blessings of the temple. Through temple worship and covenant renewal, we prepare and gain strength for the daily, hourly challenge of becoming a Zion people.”
Sister Dalton concluded by saying that a city with both a temple and a university, both of which Ogden now has, has the foundation for Zion. Now is the time that we should build, she said.
“It will be the run of our life but I also know we can do it, if we, like Agnes Caldwell, will reach up and take hold of the Master’s hand,” Sister Dalton said. “I know if we do this, the joyful day will come when we shall meet our ancestors once again and be able to say to them, ‘We did this for you.’”