Thursday, July 22, 2010

BLESSED, HONORED PIONEERS

There's more than one kind of pioneer and though I have strong feelings of love and admiration for the men, women, and children who pushed, pulled, and walked two thousand miles from the banks of the Mississippi to the Salt Lake Valley, they weren't the only pioneers. A lot of my ancestors were among those people who made that hazardous journey, both by handcart and wagon train. Most of them actually started their journey in Europe with a dangerous sea voyage preceding their long trek. One ancestor and her husband made it from England to Pennsylvania then lacked the funds to even build a handcart so they left their group and signed on as indentured servants. My ancestor came on to Salt Lake when her indentured time was finished, but her husband disappeared. It was rumored he died in the Civil War, but no research has confirmed that and he may have disappeared into slavery as many indentured servants did at that time, or he may have died and no one bothered to notify his wife. One ancestor lost his mother at sea and his father was buried along the Sweetwater in Wyoming. He and his little sisters came on to the valley alone. Still one other was thrown out of her home by her wealthy husband for joining the Church. She sneaked back one night, kidnapped her children, and fled to America with them. Standing on the deck of the ship that was to carry them to America and eventually to Utah, she hid a runaway chimney sweep under her petticoats while officers searched the ship for him.

But what about those other pioneers? My younger brother and sister have certificates that proclaim them polio pioneers. They were among the group of children who first were given the Salk vaccine to prevent polio. Philo Farnsworth is widely referred to as the pioneer inventor of television. We frequently refer to John Glenn and Neil Armstrong as space pioneers. I think pioneers can be anyone who, at great risk, is first to do something new, to lead the way to something better.

As Utah celebrates Pioneer Day, we tend to place the emphasis on those early Mormon Pioneers who first settled the valley and perhaps this is right in Utah, but members of the Church living elsewhere may feel a little left out on this holiday that within the Church is given prominent importance. I've never thought those pioneers who came to Utah, then were promptly uprooted to settle in surrounding states have been given proper credit for their double duty as pioneers. I also think the many converts to the Church who were first in their family to be baptized are another type of pioneers who should count Pioneer Day as their special day too. Another group of pioneers I deeply admire are the ones who joined the Church, but remained in their homelands or states, consequently suffering at the hands of those who ridiculed their faith or thought them fools.

There are more pioneers to come. Some of the strongest and best pioneers will be those who face the onslaught of temptations and fears that will precede the final days of this millennium and usher in the long prophesied thousand years of peace and the reign of our Lord.

What sets a pioneer apart from others is mainly courage. A favorite saying of mine is "Courage doesn't mean a lack of fear; it's saddling up anyway." I think that's the basic reason we celebrate pioneers. I feel certain that all of those who left homes, families, and all that was familiar to travel half way around the world were scared. But along with their fear was an even stronger belief that they were doing right, so they did it. Along with the excitement and thirst for knowledge, I suspect there was a good dose of fear in Armstrong's heart as he took that first step onto the moon, but he did it anyway. When my six-and-seven-year-old brother and sister received those polio shots we'd just learned that the first batch of serum had been mistakenly delivered with a live virus and those children who received it came down with the dreaded disease, but my siblings accepted it, though I suspect they were more scared of the needles than the possibility of contracting polio.

As this week of Days of 47 events winds down to Pioneer Day on Saturday, let's pay tribute to those pioneers we all owe our thanks, whether we are their descendants or not. They wrote a vital piece of our Church's history. Let's remember those other pioneers too, the ones who came to the Gospel one-by-one, those who remained behind to lay the cornerstones in other places, and the ones who will carry forth with courage to face the latter days. As we celebrate with picnics, rodeos, parades, and fireworks, we should pause to remember those whose courage made the 'desert blossom as a rose' and left a pattern of courage for us to follow.

9 comments:

Kerry Blair said...

What a great post, Jennie! We're having a 24th celebration here in AZ on Saturday. May I have permission to use a section of your blog as one of our readings?

So very well said -- as always.

Jennie said...

Kerry, you are the one person I'd give a blank check to use any part of any of my blogs any time!

Robin said...

Thanks for the reminder of the other pioneers. My parents are
1st generation members and now our children are making the 4th generation of members. What a wonderful world we live in to start new things.

KarenG said...

Thank you for the reminder and have a wonderful Pioneer Day celebration!

Vicki said...

Great thoughts about the subject! I have often thought of my self as a pioneer in many ways. For joining the Church, but before that, for being in the first 100 to have a Congenital Heart Defect repaired when I was 5 yrs old. Thanks for you blog!

Lynn Gardner said...

Some wonderful thoughts on pioneers. I agree fully - there are so many kinds of pioneers that don't get their proper due. I'm so proud of my pioneer ancestors, but have been reminded several times that as we lived in tiny branches in our early days in the Air Force in the 60's, we were pioneering in areas where the church was just beginning. Thanks for another great insight!

violettes said...

Reading this post brought tears to my eyes. Many of my ancestors crossed the plains with the early saints as well. Although most of my family still lives in the Salt Lake Valley I have spent most of my life in the east. As a result I have only rarely been able to take part in all the "Days of '47" festivities and celebration of the pioneers. Your title reminds me of a time I sang that song in another situation. It was the fall of 1999 and we were living on Long Island. Two of the church buildings on the island had been under renovation and were being rededicated. That song was sung at the dedications in honor of the building up of the church on Long Island. After the World's Fair in Queens where the film "Man's Search For Happiness" debuted the pillars that made up the church's pavilion were put on trucks and hauled out to Long Island. They were used in construction of the stake center in Plainview, NY. It stands forever as a remembrance of an event which went a long way to taking the church "out of obscurity" to millions, and as a tribute to the small groups of saints in that area.

Tawna said...

You're right Jennie - pioneers are from many places and times. I've admired those that crossed the plains leaving everything behind to face the unknown driven by faith and obedience. In my own life I've admired my grandma Engla, from Denmark, whose father converted the family and she later wrote a missionary (after breaking off an engagement) for 7 long years during WWII through friends in Europe after all missionaries were called back to the states. After the war ended she sailed to NY, met by member-strangers who put her on a train to SLC where she marreid that missionary in the temple - she didn't speak English, he didn't speak Danish. They'd been apart nearly a decade and raised a family on a large family dairy farm in Montana. She's always said we have so many blessings we can't begin to count them; her favorite hymn is Count Your Many Blessings. I can't help but think that's what each pioneer - whether they settled in the Utah valley or elsewhere in location and time - must think as they step forward to share the gospel.

Lisa said...

I have a soft spot in my heart for pioneers even though I don't entirely come for pioneer stock. I'm especially tender towards the Martin Handcart company after taking multiple trips to Martin's Cove. Their sacrifice was great, but their testimonies were firm. I am grateful that I was not required to make the sacrifices that they did. They probably feel the same about the sacrifices and "pioneering" that we are required to do in our day. We must deal with the excess and abundance in our lives and still find a way to depend on the Lord. It truly can be challenging.