We had the wonderful opportunity to go with the youth of our stake to Wyoming and trek across the exact same plains that the Willie Handcart company trekked back in 1856. It was such an awesome and spiritual experience to hear their stories and learn of their struggles and all they went through to get to Zion. The spirit of the Pioneers were definitely there as we walked the same path as them. And I'm definitely returning with a greater love and appreciation for all the pioneers.....they had unwavering faith and they sacrificed so much so that we could have the gospel and temples. If you ever get the opportunity to go on trek, do it! It's definitely an experience that I believe everyone needs to experience!
Ova and I had the opportunity to be a Ma and Pa to 10 youth in our stake. Since our oldest son Makai was going to be 12 by the end of July, we was able to go as well. I would have loved to have him in my group, to be able to watch him, and share this special spiritual experience with him....but he was put in another group. He made sure to come and check in with us every single day, several times a day though. :) We had several meetings and activities leading up to the trek, and we were advised to make sure to prepare ourselves both physically and spiritually for the experience we would have.
When the day finally came, we all met at the stake center at 5am because the buses were supposed to leave right at 6am. We had a 6 hour drive to get to Martin's Cove, the place we would be camping, and the place we would start our trek. When we got to the stake center that morning, I was already getting choked up....just pulling into the parking lot, and seeing hundreds and hundreds of kids dressed up in their pioneer clothing was such a sight to see. There were about 450 youth/parents who went, which was almost the same amount of people that were in the actual Willie Handcart Company. I was so excited and definitely ready for the spiritual experience we were about to have.
We met up with all our trek kids and we loaded up all our stuff into the bottom of the buses. We were given a list of things to bring, and everything had to fit in a 5-gallon bucket.....so each of us had a 5-gallon bucket and a separate bag with our sleeping bags and blankets...along with our tents and the water jugs we were taking. Each ward was a different company and each company got their own bus. We were company #1, which meant that we were at the beginning, leading everyone else the entire time.
Company #1 - Kearns 13th Ward
Ma & Pa Fangupo
When we got to Martin's Cove, we unloaded our stuff, loaded it into the handcarts that were waiting for us, and we started trekking right away.....
Our trek family: Chelsea Peterson, Lia Ongoongotau, Cassidy Levanger, Tu'u Afu, Deserae Falatea, Tevita Taukeiaho, Taina Adams, Poni Say, Cydnee Say, Jared Tupou & our niece from San Francisco who got to go with us, Line Ilalio. Our Aunt & Uncle was Semisi and Sue Fiefia.
We walked just a little ways and then we all met and gathered in this building where we were to kick off our trek. There were missionaries there to guide us and to share stories about the pioneers....we had an opening prayer and song and then we watched a little video clip. That was a wonderful start to the trek and it totally set the tone and brought the spirit. What we really needed to understand, was that this is the exact location where the Willie & Martin Handcart companies trekked. We were so blessed to be able to be there to experience the trek and a little bit of what the pioneers went through, but even more importantly....we were blessed to be able to feel their spirit as we walked in the footsteps where they walked so many years ago.
I'm not sure how long we walked that day, but I would guess it was maybe 5 miles. It was hot but windy, so it wasn't too bad. We sang pioneer songs as we walked and it was just an amazing experience. The first day we were able to do the river crossing.....it was nice for us to go through the river because it cooled us down from the heat we were walking in.....but I kept thinking about the pioneers who crossed that same river. When they were trekking, it was late in the season and it was winter....freezing cold, icy waters. The river that had to be crossed wasn't very wide at all, but I can't imagine having to walk through it when it was icy and snowing outside. Before we crossed the river, we sat down and had a devotional and the missionaries explained to us about 3 men from the Willie Handcart Company. I kept thinking of those men 3 men who selflessly carried people across the river without a thought of themselves....walking back and forth in the freezing water selflessly, making sure everyone made it across the river safely. That heroic act had lifelong effects on them, but because of their selfless service, they were promised a place with God in the Kingdom of Heaven.
I crossed the river and then sat on the banks and watched as the other companies made their way across. My Ova went back and helped everyone carry their handcarts across the river, he went back and forth several times....I was emotional in that moment because I could just picture him being one of those 3 men helping, had we been crossing the river with the Willie Handcart Company.
After the river crossing experience we trekked for several more miles until we got to the place where we were going to set up camp. On our way, while we were walking....we sang songs, talked, and sometimes we just walked in silence taking in the spirit of the place.....there was a beautiful peace about the place and a wonderful spirit in the air. When we got to the campsite, we set up our tents, ate dinner and then had a family home evening as a family around the fire pit. It was a full day and we were all exhausted so as soon as we were done with our FHE, we all went to bed. We had to be up bright and early the next morning for another full day of trekking! :)
The next day we woke up and had breakfast and we loaded the buses to the next location where we would be trekking....at Sixth Crossing. This day will always stick with me because of the experiences we had and the wonderful spirit that was so strong there. We walked from morning until late afternoon and we had spiritual experience after spiritual experience. I think I cried so many times throughout the day, just overwhelmed with the spirit. If I wrote about everything we experienced, this post would be way too long, so I'll try to pick out the ones that had the biggest impact on me. First of all, we pulled our handcarts for a few miles up and down some hills and when we got to the top of a hill, we were told to stop. We were going to watch the re-enactment of a situation that actually happened with Elsie and Jens Nielson. Their story is amazing and so powerful. The faith they had was unwaivering and the love they had for each other was so strong. They had found the gospel in England and joined the church....they were pretty wealthy in England, but their desire was to go to Zion so they sold everything they owned to come cross the plains to get to Zion. They used the money they had from selling all their possessions to help several other families, who otherwise wouldn't have been able to make the trek to Zion. Elsie and Jens had a 6 year old son, Neils...and they brought their little neighbor girl Bodil Mortenson, who was 11 years old with them as well. It was a brutal time because of the bitter cold, and because there was no food. They had just eaten their last pound of flour days before and they were starving. Their little son Neils froze to death and Bodil, the neighbor girl sat down by the wheel of a handcart with her hands full of weeds she had picked....she was trying to find something to start a fire to keep them warm, but it was too late. She sat down and froze to death. Then Jens, the husband had had too much, he couldn't walk anymore...his feet were frozen and he couldn't walk any further. He told his wife Elsie to leave him on the side of the road to die and to keep going to Zion, he knew she could make it. She told him that she would not leave him behind but that she could pull him in the handcart. She helped him into the cart and pulled him for a whole week until help came. Hearing the story is one thing, but seeing the re-enactment of it was another. We stood at the top of that hill and watched as this little woman who wasn't even 5 feet tall pulled her 6 foot husband up the hill by herself. She struggled so bad. She would take some steps forward and then the weight of the cart and her husband would pull her back.....the wheels would get stuck and she would have to manuver them to keep going....she would fall down and have to get back up. She struggled so bad and she only did it for like 10 minutes, in the warm weather......I couldn't even imagine Elsie pulling her husband who was like 3 times her size in the freezing winter weather, knowing that her only son and the neighbor girl they were caring for had died, starving because there was no food.....yet she continued to pull her husband for a whole week. The feelings we all felt were so powerful and we were all crying on the top of that hill watching that happen. And then when the missionaries that were our tour guides had seen that the girl doing the re-enactment had had enough, he made an announcement that all the young men who would like to go and help her, could run down the hill and help her. It was amazing to see almost every young man jump up and run down to help her. My Makai was one of the first ones to run down. She didn't need that many people to help her pull her husband...a few boys could have done it.....but that didn't stop them from running down to help. The first ones there grabbed on to the handcart and the other ones would grab on to the shoulders or arm of the young man next to him....when they were all connected, they pulled the cart up the hill with ease. We hear a lot of stories of pioneers and the many miracles that happen. Some say that they know that angels were there helping them along....that's how I imagine it had to have happened to the real Elsie and Jens. I imagine that she was surrounded with many angels that were helping her pull that handcart. That's what got her through!
While this re-enactment was going on, I was thinking about what I would do if I was in that situation. What would I do? Would I have enough faith and strength and will-power to keep pushing forward like Elsie did despite all the things she was facing? I know for a fact that I would not leave my husband there to die...I would do the same thing that Elsie did....I would put him in the cart and pull him....that's what anyone would do for someone they loved!
After that re-enactment, we continued trekking. We walked up and around a whole entire mountain....when we were about to go up our last hill, they stopped us and had all the men and boys go to the top of the mountain while the women stayed at the bottom. It was time for the Women's Pull. I had always heard about this experience and I know all the pioneers treks try to incorporate this part in, but you never really understand the importance or power of it until you actually do it yourself. The boys walked to the top of the hill and all of us women/girls gathered in a big circle......the stake Young Women's president, Latu Kinikini, gave us a presentation on what the women's pull is. While we were having our little gathering with the women at the bottom of the hill, the men and boys were having their own at the top. We learned that there was a time during the crossing of the plains where all the men and young men were called away to war and the women were left with all the children to continue their trek. The women pulled the handcarts and the children and all their supplies for 3 whole months....miles and miles, up and down hills, in the freezing snow. That's where the song "As Sisters in Zion" came from. Two of the women who were in that group wrote that song to remind all the women that if they stick together they can persevere. We sang that song as we stood in our circle of women and the spirit of those pioneer women was with us, and so strong. It was very emotional as we finished our little devotional and started up the hill. It was hard. Really hard. The handcarts were so heavy and the hill, even though it didn't appear to be very steep, felt like it was. I actually had a hard time catching my breath afterwards.....and I only did one pull up a small hill. Can you imagine the pioneer women who did it alone for 3 months? As we got to the top of the hill, the men and boys were lined up on both sides of the trail.....a lot of them were crying, as they were holding their hats in their hands over their hearts. Nobody really said anything as we walked through, but the feeling in the air was amazing. You could feel the love and appreciation from the men......I can only imagine what they were feeling and thinking seeing all their sisters/moms/wives/mothers struggle to pull the carts up that hill. There were a lot of tears from both the men and the women, and after all the women had made it up the hill, everyone started looking around for their loved ones and they would run to them and hug them....hold them tight and just cry. The spirit was so strong! I think that experience changed a lot of people that day. I know that experience helped everyone have a great love, understanding and appreciation for the women in their lives. It was an experience I will never forget, and I'm so glad I got to be there to feel what I felt and to strengthen my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the importance it is and should be in our lives.
After the women's pull, we continued trekking around the mountain. We stopped at a grassy area and ate lunch and learned about another pioneer who walked with the Martin Company, Brother Linford, who was sacrificing his food for his family and because of it he ended up dying of starvation. His body was laid to rest somewhere in those mountains that we trekked through but people have searched and searched and nobody has ever been able to find his body. The missionaries were telling us how one of Brother Linford's descendants came to Wyoming to try and find his Uncle's body, but was unable to...then he asked the owner of the land if he could come back every summer to try and find it. The owner of the land said yes, then he asked him if he would be willing to sell the land to him. The owner refused unless the price was right. When the church heard that the owner of the land might sell his property, they put in an offer. The were able to buy something like 5000 acres of land in Wyoming and they use it every year for pioneer treks, so that members, like us could walk the same plains the pioneers walked and have that experience. I'm grateful for Brother Linford's nephew for having the desire to look and find out more about his Uncle....because of him, we, and so many others get to have this amazing experience!
We walked in a really big circle up one mountain and around another one. We saw some wildlife there, squirrels and rabbits...and we even ran into a rattlesnake. We made full circle and came back to where we started, and when we reached our starting point, we were done trekking for the day. The missionaries that were assigned to our group, trekked with us the entire way. They shared stories along the way and pointed out spots along our way where things happened. The movie 17 Miracles was based on what happened when the Willie & Martin Handcart companies trekked this path, so he was able to point out where things happened. There's a part in the movie that shows when they were rescued.....we saw the exact same hill that the rescuers came over. Can you imagine having given your all....pulling or pushing the handcarts through the snow and freezing cold, starving because there was no more food, having buried your loved ones in shallow frozen graves...almost giving up hope, and then 4 men come over the mountain on their horses with their relief party. The must have been so grateful to know that they were going to make it, they must have been so grateful to know that their prayers had been answered!
Like I said before, we were company #1 so we got to lead the entire stake. That meant we were right at the front with the missionaries. Besides the feelings I felt during the trek, and the amazing experience I had, one thing that I will always think of when I think of trek is that miracles do happen!!! The movie 17 miracles was focusing on just some of the miracles that happened to the pioneers....I'm sure there were many more that were not documented. We ourselves saw miracles on our 3 day trek. The missionary was telling us that he's never seen a people with more faith than the polynesian people. He said that as soon as we got there to sixth crossing, he could feel the spirit that we brought with us. We talked a little bit about how people don't realize how many miracles happen around us everyday. Sometimes we think that miracles only happened in the bible, in olden times...but we're wrong. If we can just get ourselves in tune with the spirit, we will see that they happen in our lives every single day. He told us of his Tongan friend that he met a long long time ago. His friend told him a story about a time when he was still living in Tonga. Their little island was hit with a big storm, a typhoon. They knew it was coming and they had been warned. They lived in a little grass shack and the husband asked the wife what they should do. The wife's response was "you have the priesthood, what are you going to do?" That sparked something in him and he knew his wife was right. He knelt down and said a prayer and then he went outside and stood in front of his house. He held his hands out and said a prayer calling on heaven, through his priesthood to protect his home and his family. That storm ripped through their little village and ruined everything. Every single house on that island was flattened to the ground, except for their little grass shack. His priesthood power, and his pleads to the heavens brought him the miracle he was looking for and it saved him, his family and their house....and many other people from their village were gathered in his home because it was the only safe place. The missionary kept saying over and over that if the men in our lives would just understand that the power they hold is the power of God.....they would understand that they can do anything. They can work miracles. Just as he was talking to us about his Tongan friend, the weather in Wyoming shifted and the clouds rolled in. It started getting really really windy and it started raining. Things were getting blown out of the handcarts, people were losing their hats...the wind was pretty strong. Then the missionary and our trek leader Olisi Lui said a prayer asking for the rain to stop, and I kid you not...within seconds, the rain stopped...the wind stopped...and the weather went back to how it was earlier. It was almost as if God wanted us to have our own testimony of what the missionary was sharing with us. He wanted us to see that miracles still happen today and that prayer and the power of the priesthood can bring miracles! I will never forget that experience or the lesson I learned that day!
When we got back to the buses, we headed back to Martin's Cove for dinner, line dancing and 17 miracles on the big screen. I've watched that movies a hundred times, but that time we watched it out there under the stars....it meant more to me!
The next morning was our last day there. We woke up bright and early and took our tents down and cleaned up our camping area. Then we loaded everything back into the buses and headed towards Rock Creek Hollow. It was about an hour away from where we were camping at Martin's Cove. We didn't do any trekking on the last day, we just went to Rock Creek Hollow to learn more about that sacred place and what happened there. This was the location where 13 members of the Willie Martin Handcart company died after a freezing and difficult night. The ground was so frozen that they couldn't dig very deep to make a grave to bury the 13 bodies in, so they laid them in a circle, feet in the middle. There were actually 15 people buried there because the two men that were digging the grave, ended up dying the next morning. President Gordon B Hinkley dedicated that location as hallowed ground. Honoring those pioneers who gave their life for the gospel. On the trek, they gave us pioneer names....people from the actual Willie Handcart company that we were representing. Makai's name was Joseph Smith Kirkwood. Before the trek Makai and I got to research that pioneer name and what his part was as they were trekking across the plains. Joseph Smith Kirkwood was a 5 year old boy. His mother, a widow of 4 years, had 9 children that were with her as she crossed the plains. Her oldest son, 21 years old, helped her pull the handcart which carried her second son, 19 years old, who was handicapped. Her daughters were taking care of the other children. Joseph Smith Kirkwood, being only 5 years old, kept falling behind....so his older brother, James Kirkwood, 11 years old, took it upon himself to take care of his little brother. James carried Joseph all the way across the plains. Up and down the mountains, in the bitter cold. He didn't want his little brother to fall behind so he carried him. As soon as they got to Rock Creek Hollow, James fell down and because of exhaustion and starvation, he died right there. He sacrificed all he had in him to make sure his brother made it safely. When we were at Rock Creek Hollow, looking at the headstone that had the 13 names carved in it...we saw James Kirkwood's name. That was a very emotional moment for my Makai and me. So much faith and love and hope, and selfless service and acts of kindness....even from the youngest pioneer. As we crossed the gate onto the hallowed ground, we were asked not to speak, only to whisper if we needed to so we could keep the spirit of the place. We headed down to a place that was set up as an ampitheatre with log benches to sit on. They had us divide into our companies and we each had a testimony meeting. I was sitting in the back, crying as I was listening to the testimonies of the youth. A lot of them were crying as they shared their experiences...a lot of them said that they didn't want to go on the trek, that their parents made them....but that they were so glad they did. A lot of them allowed themselves to be touched by the spirit and they were changed.
We ended with our whole group of 450+ together singing and praising. Our stake leaders bore their testimonies to us and the spirit was so strong. I couldn't help but to cry the entire time. I am so grateful for this experience I was able to have. I'm so grateful to the pioneers for their undying faith and perserverence. They went through the unimaginable.....tormented physically by the weather and the distance they had to travel...yet they did it in faith. They knew what they wanted. They had been touched by the spirit of truth and they were willing to give up everything they had, even their own lives if they had to, to get to Zion. What about us? Are we truly converted to the Lord? Would we give up all we have and all we own to follow Him? Would we do what the pioneers did?
Times have changed, the world is a completely different place now than it was back when the pioneers were crossing the plains. We had a lesson in relief society a few weeks ago and the teacher was teaching out of the Teachings of the Prophets: Ezra Taft Benson book. Something she said really stuck out to me. She said that if we think the pioneer children had it bad, our children have it 10 times worse. When she first read that, I was thinking "yeah right"....but then she explained. The pioneers were challenged physically, but our children today are hit from all directions, not only are the challenged physically but also mentally, spiritually, emotionally.....they are being attacked from all angles. The world is so wicked and you can definitely feel Satan's power and influence all around. Kids are having sex at younger and younger ages, with multiple people and it's not uncommon. Gay marriage was just passed as law. You see women trying to change the church by demanding they get the priesthood......there is evil all around us. Our children really have to fight to be righteous and true....and it starts with us as parents. We need to love them, we need to teach them, we need to pray for them.....I'm so grateful for opportunities like the pioneer trek that can take these youth out of the real world for a few days and re-ignite the spirit in them and help remind them of the bigger picture!! This was an amazing experience!