Monday, July 02, 2007

Living as a Mormon Pioneer - 1850's Style!

Last week, my wife and I participated in one of the most unique experiences in our lives. We were asked by our church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon church) to serve for 3 days as a "Ma and Pa" for our Church's Youth Conference. This particular conference consisted of all of the youth aged 14-18 from our local geographical area (called Stakes within the church. Smaller divisions and actual congregations are called Wards). In this case, there were nearly 200 youth broken into 14 "families." My wife and I were Ma and Pa to one such family.

The purpose of this "Pioneer Trek" is for the youth of the church to connect with their pioneer heritage. In the mid 1800's, when the Mormons were killed and driven from Missouri, they moved west in covered wagons and founded Salt Lake City and the State of Utah. Later, thousands of members of the church gave up all their worldly possessions in their native lands, traveled to the United States, and then pulled all they had remaining in small handcarts over two-thousand miles from ports on the East Coast to Salt Lake City. (For a complete chronology of the Church's history, click HERE).

Our trek was to be as close to what our ancestors experienced as possible. This meant no 21st century conveniences (except for medical care provided by volunteer doctors and other prudent safety measures, like wearing good hiking boots and carrying insect repellent). We had to wear clothes from the era (ankle-length dresses and bonnets for the women, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and straw hats for the men).

Upon arriving, the youth families were given the parts for their handcarts, and started building. When finished, the carts were loaded with everything they needed fort the trip: sleeping bags, food for the 3 days (provided by the Trek leaders), cooking supplies, etc. After the carts were loaded (each cart weighed about 600lbs when packed), we had a group prayer and started hiking.

The purpose of the youth trek was for them to experience the hard work required of their ancestors first-hand. As such, Ma and Pa were not supposed to help pull the carts (thankfully for us). We were there to supervise and maintain safety among the youth, as well as act as counsel and to keep the "family" together (the families were 12 kids from different wards, so many did not know one another prior to the trip). Learning to pull the carts was a great challenge for them, but it was amazing to see them helping one another, and learning to act as a team.

As we hiked in nearly 100 degree weather with extremely high humidity, I witnessed a miracle. None of the kids complained. They sang songs, got to know one another and worked together to get the carts up steep, muddy grades and through many rivers and streams. It was a bonding experience like no other I've witnessed or participated in.

Each night, around 6, the kids were told to stop and set up camp. They had to gather firewood, start the fire, cook their food and set up the tents on their own. From Ma and Pa's perspective, it was difficult not to help. But after some trial and error, the kids got it going. It was amazing to see what these 21st century kids were capable of using 19th century technology.

By the final day, the Spirit that could be felt among the youth was incredible. They gathered Saturday morning for a chance to share their personal testimonies of Gospel of Jesus Christ, and of the sacrifices made by their ancestors so that they could worship without being persecuted. It was a profoundly moving experience for everyone who witnessed it.

When it was over, my wife and I were left in absolute awe of our ancestors (both of us have direct ancestors who crossed the plains in handcarts). We were also left with an increased love for our Savior, and for his Gospel. We look forward to hopefully being called to do this again in another 4 years at the next Youth Conference!

Oh, I should also add that when we got home, I had the best shower of my entire life.


Anonymous said...

VERY cool Dan! I am totally impressed that you guys made it in one piece. I cant even imagine! I have never heard anyone that has been on one of these pioneer treks complain about it after getting home. Must have been a really great experience! Back to the grind...

Meg said...

I just finished an amazing trek from our stake, and it really is life-changing. It was so humbling to realize all that they had to go through. I loved how we all became unified just after the first day, even when we had never really mey before.It was absolutely amazing!

Jolene said...

Hi, I've been called to head our first handcart trek. Need food ideas. Appreciate any ideas you would like to share.
Sister Jolene
Meridian, Idaho

Jolene said...

Hey Fellow Brother and Sister,
I was "called" to head our first ward handcart trek. I'm trying to plan food and came across your blog. Can you tell me what you ate on the trek? I'd appreciate any ideas.
Thanks much,
Sister Jolene Taylor
Meridian, Idaho

Melanie said...

Hey Dan, this is Mer's cousin, Melanie. I was googling some resources for our upcoming youth trek (Brian and I got asked to be a Ma and Pa) and it pulled up your blog. And then I remembered Merianne had said you and she were a ma and pa for your youth's trek. Anyway, I'm going to have to get some more info - we are gearing up for it and our stake hasn't given us a lot of direction how to get our "family" organized. I'm glad you had such a great experience!