Stories of Mormon pioneers, recent and past, abound in our day.
In contemplating the upcoming July 24 Pioneer Day celebration, which marks when the Mormon pioneers first entered the Salt Lake Valley, I reflected on the sacrifices of early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this dispensation so we might live abundantly and enjoy the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Three stories came to mind.
• In 1868 in Nephi, President Brigham Young, in then typical fashion, closed conference by announcing mission calls for 154 men and their families. They were to settle an inhospitable area 300 miles south, along the Muddy River.
Young Elizabeth Claridge heard her father’s name called and wept so intensely her tears ruined her new white dress. Her friend looked at her, and said, “Why are you crying? My father has been called, too, but you see that I am not crying because I know that he won’t go.” Elizabeth’s response was telling, “That is just the difference. I know that my father will go and that nothing will stop him” (based on Elizabeth Claridge McCune’s writings, quoted in S. George Ellsworth's "Samuel Claridge" and shared in "Heeding the Prophet's Call," Ensign, October 1995).
She was right.
• Lucius Nelson Scovil joined the LDS Church in 1837 in Kirtland, Ohio, thereafter serving many LDS missions. Numerous times he lost everything he owned in the face of mob violence. In 1840, he and family landed in Nauvoo, Illinois, penniless. His family suffered from the “bilious fever,” malaria, and his daughter succumbed to the “black canker,” after it ate a hole through her lip, two teeth and chin. In Nauvoo, he oversaw construction of the Masonic Hall, established the Nauvoo Bakery, and prospered.
In 1846, the Saints were driven out. Prior to departing, Lucius’ wife and twins died from complications in childbirth. As he prepared to travel west with his remaining family, he received a mission call to England. He got his family onto the Plains, placed them in other’s care, and left them with a blessing. His children "collapsed in tears," as Scovil — penniless again — steeled himself to fulfill a mission 6,000 miles away. He described: "This seemed like a painful duty for me to perform, to leave my family to go into the wilderness, and I to turn and go the other way. It cost me all that I had on this earth (but) I thought it was best to round up my shoulders like a bold soldier of the crop and assist in rolling forth the kingdom of God" (see "The spiritual wealth of Lucius Nelson Scovil," Deseret News, Dec. 28, 2008).
• Isaac John Wardle, my ancestor, worked in the coal mines in England from age 7 to 17, when he joined the LDS Church and, in 1856, emigrated to America. There he joined the ill-fated Martin Handcart Company and at age 20, he and another young man were tasked with pulling a handcart, with several hundred pounds of supplies and an infirm young man, 1,200 miles across the Plains. Grateful for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, he willingly agreed.
The company left too late. The handcarts were not road worthy and winter came early. Rations were reduced to one pound of flour per person daily, and mid-October to one-quarter cup of flour. They boiled and chewed rawhide to stave off hunger. Frigid winds swept the Plains, the ground froze and snow fell. Everyone anticipated death.
Hearing of their plight, President Young organized a rescue party. West of the North Platte River, Ephraim Hanks and others rode into camp with scanty supplies. The dying continued. Wardle barely survived. When he reached Martin’s Cove, he was asked to go cut wood for fires. His strength was gone but knowing he had found Christ’s gospel, he chose obedience. His decision likely prevented hypothermia and saved his life. Thereafter, he returned to England as a missionary, and continued a righteous husband, father and member of the LDS Church (see "The blessings of willing obedience," Deseret News, Oct. 20, 2013).
Thousands of such stories — of extraordinary sacrifice and devotion — can be told in the church today.
What meaning can we take from the almost incomprehensible devotion of now and then LDS Church pioneers? Very simply, they recognized that Jesus Christ’s church was again on the Earth and worth whatever the cost.
What about us today? Do we ask, “Would I remain steadfast under such grueling conditions?” President Young offered prophetic insight for us today.
“The worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat and kick themselves out of the church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution and be true. But my greatest fear is that they cannot stand wealth,” he said and is quoted in "The Miracle of Forgiveness," by President Spencer W. Kimball.
Brigham Young is not condemning wealth, nor does Heavenly Father. He does, however, condemn those who let wealth usurp having "an eye single to the glory of God” (see Doctrine and Covenants 4:5).
Myriad challenges pepper our lives today. Our debt to these early pioneers is enormous. It can only be repaid by faithful devotion to the cause of Jesus Christ, by caring less about transient pleasures and things of this world and caring more about eternity, by being equally devoted to Christ’s church — as the lives of these pioneers exemplify.