God will bless those who live today in their challenges as He did the Mormon pioneers in their effort to create an oasis in the desert, a General Authority said in his speech at the annual Days of ’47 Sunrise Service that began the Pioneer Day observance on July 24 in Salt Lake City.
“As we move forward in our own lives, with faith in our own footsteps, we too can cross the sun-baked, barren and treacherous terrain that lies figuratively before us and, with vision and faith, overcome our own overwhelming adversities and subdue and beautify the world around us,” said Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy.
“There is a promised land for all of us, which, with faith and obedience and hard work we can help create for ourselves in this life, just like the pioneers did 167 years ago,” Elder Clayton declared.
The 7 a.m. program in the Salt Lake Tabernacle was largely comprised of music from a combined choir of college-age students from the Salt Lake University, Taylorsville and Jordan LDS institutes of religion, directed by Hal Romrell, Robb Hoch, Rick Decker and Marshall McDonald.
Elder Clayton noted that the Salt Lake Valley was scarcely seen as habitable at the time Brigham Young and the Pioneers settled it in 1847.
Nevertheless, they pushed on. Elder Clayton said that President Young, when he first gazed at the valley, having seen it before in a divine vision, declared, “It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on!”
Elder Clayton estimated that the pioneers, including the 1847 group and the many companies of Saints that came afterward, would have averaged at least 2.7 million steps during their trek.
“We can barely imagine what it would have been like to take that journey,” he said. “Hundreds of those who started the trail didn’t finish, but perished along the way. Hundreds of those who died were left behind in shallow graves, dug hurriedly so that the wagon train and handcart groups could move westward. Others faced hardships of different types: illness, injury, hunger, bitter cold and danger.”
His great-great-grandmother Emma Jane Dixon Douglass walked all the way across the plains at age 6 in a handcart company, he said, and lost her hearing from illness and inadequate medical treatment during the journey. She later married and then raised 11 children, one of whom was John J. McLellan, who became a Salt Lake Tabernacle organist.
“She was never able to listen to him play the organ,” Elder Clayton reflected.
He said that while the courage, sacrifice and determination of the pioneers’ journey is frequently extolled, “sometimes we forget that the trip west was just the beginning of hard work. When they arrived here, they had no one to turn to except God and themselves. And so they prayed and they worked and they tamed this valley and other places north and west over the decades that followed.”
Referring to the conveniences of modern life, he said, “How the world has changed: We now pay to send our children on simulated pioneer treks that last a few days, hoping the experience will teach them something about the price that others paid so that we might enjoy the things we do. We are blessed by the inspired vision of the pioneers. We are beneficiaries of the foundation the pioneers built for us. Surely God expects that there be something more than ease, pleasure and comfort in our lives. Surely he expects that we also should move forward with faith manifested in our own footsteps, emulating all that we have learned from those early pioneers.”
The service was sponsored by the Salt Lake Pioneer Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, with a flag ceremony conducted by Mormon Battalion heritage group dressed in the garb of 1846 U.S. soldiers, honoring the Mormon Pioneers who were recruited by the U.S. government for military service during the Pioneers’ westward trek after they had been driven by mobs from Nauvoo, Illinois.