Six houses that belonged to my ancestors still stand in Nauvoo; nice brick and frame homes, with lawns and gardens and trees and carriage houses. I can hardly imagine the stretching and commitment necessary for their owners to gather up a wagon load of non-perishable goods, sweep the floor a final time, and follow the prophet of God across the Mississippi and into the setting sun. My own home is large and lovely, with a wrought iron fence and roses and fruit trees and a garden. My children grew up here. My grandchildren identify this as the ancestral home. I wonder how I would respond if circumstances and revelation were to require an uprooting and transplanting . . .
I wonder if I would have the courage to walk away. I hope my trust in the Lord would be sufficient to sustain me in the wilderness and that the ice of the river and the mud of Iowa and the scurvy of Missouri and the emptiness of Nebraska and the snows of Wyoming would not have the ability to break me. I love the example of Abraham. He had been commanded by the Lord to leave Haran and travel to Canaan.
“And I took Sarai, whom I took to wife when I was in Ur, in Chaldea, and Lot, my brother’s son, and all our substance that we had gathered, and the souls that we had won in Haran, and came forth in the way to the land of Canaan, and dwelt in tents as we came on our way; Therefore, eternity was our covering and our rock and our salvation, as we journeyed from Haran . . .” (Abraham 2:15-17)
“Eternity was our covering.” The pioneers must have known this—must have believed that they would still have a roof over their heads, even during the coldest, darkest nights when there was nothing but wagon canvas between them and the distant, shining stars. Knowing that, they could move into the unknown with faith in every footstep.
1. The Lord instructed the Saints regarding their physical preparations for their journey
Even though the journey to the Great Basis was a journey of faith and obedience, there was great concern for the physical needs and welfare of the pioneers, and it was a shared concern. The settlements at Garden Grove and Mt. Pisgah are evidence enough that it was the intent of the Saints to get every single member who was willing to the promised land of Utah.
We are also making a journey to a promised land.
“And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise” (Alma 37:45).
Review the instructions given by the Lord in D&C 136 for the journey to the west and apply the principles to your own journey. This section is “The Word and Will of the Lord concerning the Camp of Israel in their journeyings to the West …” (Doctrine and Covenants 136:1). The first part of the instruction regards spiritual preparation.
“Let all the people of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints… be organized into companies, with a covenant and promise to keep all the commandments and statutes of the Lord our God” (Doctrine and Covenants 136:2).
Have you made such a “covenant and promise”? Are these instructions reminiscent of the sacramental and baptismal covenants? How have you been blessed by making and keeping those covenants?
“Let the companies be organized…under the direction of the Twelve Apostles” (Doctrine and Covenants 136:3).
Is your life organized under the direction of Prophets, Seers, and Revelators? Are you willing to be submissive to the course identified by revelators? President Harold B. Lee observed,
“We have some tight places to go before the Lord is through…in this dispensation, which is the last dispensation, which shall usher in the coming of the Lord. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory’” (D&C 21:6) (Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, p. 126).
“And this shall be our covenant—that we will walk in all the ordinances of the Lord” (Doctrine and Covenants 136:4). This covenant is the covenant of obedience and submission and is the only logical attitude for those making this journey. Why would anyone follow God’s chosen leaders anywhere if they did not intend to follow the instructions of those leaders?
In verses 136:5 & 7, the Lord spends time on practical and temporal preparation for the exodus.
Make a list (or mark the list) of the things the Lord says will be required:
- Other Necessaries
- Farming Utensils
Of course, the Lord also gives instructions for the provision of those who will follow, and for those who cannot care for themselves.
“When the companies are organized let them go to with their might, to prepare for those who are to tarry” (Doctrine and Covenants 136:6).
“Let each company bear an equal proportion, according to the dividend of their property, in taking the poor, the widows, the fatherless, and the families of those who have gone into the army, that the cries of the widow and the fatherless come not up into the ears of the Lord against this people. Let each company prepare houses, and fields for raising grain, for those who are to remain behind this season; and this is the will of the Lord concerning his people. Let every man use all his influence and property to remove this people to the place where the Lord shall locate a stake of Zion" (Doctrine and Covenants 136:8-10).
2. The Lord instructed the Saints regarding their conduct
The Lord also gave instructions about matters of conduct, intent, and attitude.
Vs. 11: Do my will with faithfulness and a pure heart.
Vs. 17: Don’t be afraid of your enemies.
Vs. 19: If you build yourself up and ignore my counsel, you will not have power.
Vs. 20: Keep your word. Don’t covet.
Vs. 21: Keep yourselves from the evil of taking my name in vain.
Vs. 23: Avoid contention. Don’t speak evil of one another.
Vs. 24: Build each other up with your words.
Vs. 25: If you borrow something, return it. If you can’t return it, go explain the problem.
Vs. 26: If you find something that is not yours, make every effort to locate the owner.
Vs. 27: Be good stewards over that which the Lord has given you.
How many of these instructions have meaning today? If these requirements were the basis of the temple recommend interview, how would you do?
In D&C 136:18, the Lord gives his approval to singing, music, and dancing, provided they are conducted and presented in such a way as to praise the Lord as he is praised with praying. Brigham Young made this point clearly in later years:
"Suppose you go into some of the wards and say, 'we have obtained some music, let us go into the school house and have a dance.' 'O yes!' is the ready response, and they will immediately prepare, get ready their sons and their daughters, and, leaving all important duties pertaining to their welfare here and hereafter, unattended to, fill the house to overflowing. Brethren, you will use these privileges to your own destruction, if you are not careful. Yes, you could have a full house, dancing attendance to the sounds of revelry and music; but, on the other hand, suppose your invitation is to your neighbor, 'Come, brethren, sisters, we are going to have a prayer meeting over at the school house. Will you go? Will you come? Not to dance, but to pray!' 'Well, really, I do not see how I can; my work is not done; I have a few chores [trifling domestic affairs] to do yet; I have agreed to go to a neighbor’s on business; a neighbor promised to call on me tonight, and I cannot well leave. I should like very much to go, but I really do not see that I can tonight.' In short, excuses are not wanting. I say to you, my brethren, and to myself, if we take this course, condemnation is our doom, we will ruin, condemn ourselves, and the Lord Almighty will judge us out of our own mouths. This is the tale told as it is. It is not for any of us to enjoy the privilege of the dance, or any other recreation, until every duty that is enjoined upon us is performed" (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol.1, p.112-13).
3. Under the direction of President Brigham Young, the Saints journeyed to the Salt Lake Valley
The Lord seems to have foreshadowed the settlements in the mountains at least three times in his revelations:
“Keep all the commandments and covenants by which ye are bound; and I will cause the heavens to shake for your good, and Satan shall tremble and Zion shall rejoice upon the hills and flourish …” (Doctrine and Covenants 35:24 [emphasis added])
“Thou art called to labor in my vineyard, and to build up my church, and to bring forth Zion , that it may rejoice upon the hills and flourish” (D&C 39:13 [emphasis added]).
“But before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose. Zion shall flourish upon the hills and rejoice upon the mountains, and shall be assembled together unto the place which I have appointed” (Doctrine and Covenants 49:24-25 [emphasis added]).
And they did gather in the hills and upon the mountains. By wagon and by boat and by foot and by handcart and by train they came and they came—finally about 70000 of them. You and I know the names of a few leaders. Some of us have the heritage of ancestors who journeyed into the wilderness in search of God’s will and a stake of Zion. But most of the names of those who came we do not know and will never know. They were simple, quiet, obedient and faithful Saints with sunburned faces and burning testimonies who found their greatest joy in the approval of God, and endured every hardship with faith—faith in every footstep. Stillman Pond was such a Saint:
“Stillman Pond was a member of the Second Quorum of Seventy in Nauvoo. He was an early convert to the Church, having come from Hubbardston, Massachusetts. Like others, he and his wife, Maria, and their children were harassed and driven out of Nauvoo. In September 1846, they became part of the great western migration …
“Maria contracted consumption, and all of the children were stricken with malaria. Three of the children died while moving through the early snows. Stillman buried them on the plains. Maria’s condition worsened because of the grief, pain, and the fever of malaria. She could no longer walk. Weakened and sickly, she gave birth to twins. They were named Joseph and Hyrum, and both died within a few days.
“The Stillman Pond family arrived at Winter Quarters and, like many other families, they suffered bitterly while living in a tent. The death of the five children coming across the plains to Winter Quarters was but a beginning.
“The journal of Horace K. and Helen Mar Whitney verifies the following regarding four more of the children of Stillman Pond who perished:
“'On Wednesday, the 2nd of December 1846, Laura Jane Pond, age 14 years…died of chills and fever. Two days later on Friday, the 4th of December 1846, Harriet M. Pond, age 11 years…died with chills. Three days later, Monday, the 7th of December, 1846, Abigail A. Pond, age 18 years…died with chills. Just five weeks later, Friday, the 15th of January, 1847, Lyman Pond, age 6 years…died with chills and fever. Four months later, on the 17th of May, 1847, his wife Maria Davis Pond also died. Crossing the plains, Stillman Pond lost nine children and a wife. He became an outstanding colonizer in Utah, and became the senior president of the thirty-fifth Quorum of Seventy.’ (See Leon Y. and H. Ray Pond, comps., “Stillman Pond, a Biographical Sketch,” in Sterling Forsyth Histories, typescript, Church Historical Dept. Archives, pp. 4-5.)
“Having lost these nine children and his wife in crossing the plains, Stillman Pond did not lose his faith. He did not quit. He went forward. He paid a price, as have many others before and since, to become acquainted with God.” (This account of the experiences of Stillman Pond was related by James E. Faust, “The Refiner’s Fire,” Ensign, May 1979, p. 54)
I met a great-grandson of Stillman Pond at the MTC as he prepared for a mission in Brazil. He was a striking young man, in form and in testimony, moving forward on his own journey to the promised land with faith in every footstep I am confident that the heritage of his ancestor’s devotion has been a powerful foundation for him and for every member of the family since Stillman arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.
The redemption of Zion will happen in this way or not at all. Faithful men and women (and children) will put one foot in front of the other and keep going in right direction. Even when they do not know what lies beyond the next hill or mountain or river, they will continue, their eyes on their leaders, the solemnities of eternity in their hearts, and with faith in every footstep.