Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Australian Mormon Youth Anticipate Elder William R. Walker's Conference Talk On Mormon History, Stage Handcart Trek Reenactment Near Melbourne

During the Sunday Afternoon General Session of the just-concluded 184th Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder William R. Walker delivered a pitch for Mormon history. Elder Walker, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy who is also the Executive Director of the church's Temple Department, wants us to become and remain aware of the sacrifices made by early Mormons which laid the foundations for the 15-million member international church we have today. If you missed his talk, the video is embedded below in playlist format, so you can toggle the small arrows on the bottom line to access other Conference talks if desired:


A complete written transcript will be available HERE by the end of this week; until then, read this Deseret News story.

But it looks like a group of Mormon youth in Melbourne, Australia must have anticipated Elder Walker's talk. The Age reports that on Tuesday April 8th, a group of LDS teens ranging in age from 14-18 formed up at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne to head for a state forest near Meredith in order to re-enact the handcart trek which was part of the Mormon migration across the Great Plains from 1856-1860.

Of course, it will merely be a taste of the privations endured by those pioneers. They will cover only 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) instead of 2000 (1242 miles), and their trip involves sleeping out for only two nights instead of four months. The youth will be organized into "families", each one headed by a responsible adult couple. They will sleep under a tarp strung between trees, and entertainment in downtime will consist of pioneer games like "stick pull" (which is basically a two-man seated tug of war). They will sleep rough, eat rough and hike rough, meaning period meals cooked in cast-iron pots, and provisions as basic as hessian sacks filled with turnips, potatoes, carrots and a bit of flour. They will enjoy a few modern conveniences such as sleeping bags, a modern first-aid kit, and a port-a-potty. The Mormon Handcart Trek Reservations website and the LDS website provide helpful information for others wanting to organize similar treks.

But still, it will be a tough trek dragging wooden carts filled with supplies, weighing around 250 kilograms (550 lbs). While eight of the original 10 handcart companies accomplished their journeys will minimal problems, the Willie and Martin Companies were disastrous primarily because of a late start, which resulted in them being caught in early winter storms while still in Wyoming, and by using green wood for many of their carts.

Of course, staging handcart treks is only one way to honor the pioneers who helped lay the foundations for our modern Church. Many of them sealed their testimonies with their blood and their lives. But as Elder Walker pointed out on Sunday afternoon, our own faith can be fortified by learning of the remarkable dedication of our spiritual forebears who accepted the gospel and lived true to the faith. The more connected we feel to our righteous forefathers, the more likely we are to make wise and righteous choices. There is a difference between jumping into a climate-controlled SUV and driving 10 minutes to a temple vs. dragging a handcart across 1242 miles of sometimes-unforgiving territory with no motorways or rest stops.

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