- This August I walked in the footsteps of our pioneers along the Mormon Trail through Wyoming and Utah. I wondered why our dedicated ancestors suffered so terribly and yet willingly faced such tremendous obstacles. Perhaps one reason they sacrificed and endured was to leave a legacy of faith for all of us to help us feel our urgent responsibility to move forward in building up the Church throughout the world. We need the same dedication today in every one of our footsteps as the pioneers had in theirs.
Elder Ballard shears two touching stories of great sacrifice. The first story talks about the suffering that took place and resulted in the death of two children along the trial.
- We find one of the most touching stories of sacrifice, faith, and loving charity in the life of Jens Neilson, who was a member of the Willie Handcart Company. Jens, a relatively prosperous Danish farmer, heeded the call to bring his family to Zion. In Iowa he wrote that he had let all of his money go to the Church except enough to buy a handcart and stock it with 15 pounds of belongings per person. Jens wrote, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” The people for whom Jens was responsible were himself; his wife, Elsie; their six-year-old son, Neils; and a nine-year-old girl, Bodil Mortensen, whom Jens offered to take to Utah. In the early Wyoming blizzard, temperatures plummeted below zero. The Neilsons had consumed their last pound of flour days before, but somehow they made it over the treacherous Rocky Ridge, urged on by their indomitable courage and unconquerable faith. Tragically, 13 of the company died at Rock Creek and were buried in shallow, snow-covered graves—among them, Jens and Elsie’s son, Neils, and young Bodil Mortensen.
- President Hinckley describes this portion of the trail as “a trail of tragedy, a trail of faith, a trail of devotion, a trail of consecration, even the consecration of life itself.”
- Jens arrived at Rock Creek, 11 miles beyond Rocky Ridge, with both feet frozen. He was unable to walk another step and pleaded with Elsie, “Leave me by the trail in the snow to die, and you go ahead and try to keep up with the company and save your life.” Elsie, with her unfaltering pioneer courage, replied, “Ride, I can’t leave you, I can pull the cart.” Such was the strength and the faith of many pioneer women on the trail.
The second story is a personal story of Elder Ballard's. This is the story of his great-grandmother.
- A cow helped provide necessary nourishment on the trail for the family of my great-grandmother Margaret McNeil as she came to Zion from Scotland. As a 12-year-old, it was Margaret’s task to arise early and get breakfast for the family and milk her cow. She would then drive the cow on ahead of the company to let it feed in the grassy places. She wrote:
- “The cow furnished us with milk, our chief source of food. … Had it not been for the milk, we would have starved. …
- “One night our cow ran away from [the] camp, and I was sent to bring her back. I was not watching where I was going and was barefooted. All of a sudden I began to feel I was walking on something soft. I looked down to see what it could be, and to my horror found that I was standing in a bed of snakes, large ones and small ones. At the sight of them I became so weak I could scarcely move; all I could think of was to pray, and in some way I jumped out of them. The Lord blessed and cared for me.
Elder Ballard closes this remarks expressing deep respect and appreciation for the sacrifices of the early Saints.
- Truly the Lord encourages us to walk in faith to the edge of the light and beyond—into the unknown. After the trial of our faith, He once again shines the light ahead of us, and our journey of faith in every footstep continues. Now, it has swelled into billions and billions of footsteps throughout the world. In my 20 years as a General Authority, I have seen the worldwide expansion of the Church, and I marvel at the results of the work of our pioneers in every country where they, through their faith and sacrifice, established the Church. I share the feelings of President Heber J. Grant, who said, “I can never think of [the pioneers] but I am full of admiration and gratitude, and utter a prayer to the Lord to help me, as one of the descendants of that noble band, to be loyal, to be true, to be faithful as they were!”
We need to remember our pioneer forefathers with love and respect for what they did to help the work of God move forward. Some of us come from these pioneers and some of us don't. But we can all learn from their sacrifice and dedication to building up the kingdom of God in their time. The sacrifices made have allowed you and I to worship in our chapels and in our home today. I will forever be grateful to the many people that went through so much to all me to find the gospel today.