If you don’t understand Pioneer Trek it can look like “just another one of those dumb things Mormons do that people make fun of us for” as noted one reluctant teenager (he changed his mind by the end).
I see his point– we all dress up like pioneers, push handcarts across Wyoming, camp outside for three or four days. Adults and teenagers take time off work and time away from families. Committees spend a full year planning the activities, organizing training meetings and gathering equipment while using a huge portion of the annual stake budget. The food committee alone put in about 1300 hours work.
Is it all worth it? Oh yes.
I’ll confess, I was once a cynic about these sorts of events. I didn’t think you could create spiritual experiences. But when you walk the path of the Mormon pioneers, who loved and sacrificed so much, the experience is real.
Our family is among a handful in our stake who aren’t related to the original Mormon pioneers. Still, they are my people. I reverence their faith just as I honor America’s founding fathers. Their sacrifices bless my life.
This is how we do trek in our stake: we take a Ma and a Pa (a married couple–usually an extraordinary one like the Allens above)
and we give them 7-9 ‘children.’ No one knows which ‘family’ they are in until they arrive at trek. Sometimes there are tears– kids want to be with their friends. But learning to work with and love a new group of people provides much of the experience. For the next several days this family will push and pull a handcart together, set up camp, eat, pray, read scriptures together and sleep in a lean-to.
And they grow to love each other.
We wear the bonnets and aprons not as costumes, but as a way to begin on common ground. It’s so easy to sort and judge each other when in our normal clothes, but the plaid shirts and twirly skirts make every one of us a little bit vulnerable and a little bit kinder.
We walk and walk,
down rocky hills,
and telling stories.
Some of the most poignant moments came after visiting a tiny pioneer burial ground on the trail. In honor of those who died, we walked the next two miles in silence up a steep hill. As we walked, Mas and Pas tapped kids on the shoulder, signaling to them to stop pushing the handcart. The load became heavier and heavier as they strained up the hill with fewer family members.
We broke into three companies each led by a member of our stake presidency and their wives. They walked hand and hand the whole way, spoke together at pioneer graves and evening devotionals, learned the names of all seventy or so people they led.
I loved watching these men and women lead our stake. We all need examples of good marriages, and while the kids were able to benefit from the example of their Ma and Pa, sometimes young adults not much older than themselves, I loved witnessing the care and consideration and respect in the marriages of our stake leaders.
our youngest Ma and Pa
And when else do our youth get to see our leaders jumping for joy?
In the evenings we gathered for devotionals
I never know what I’ll get when I hand my camera to someone else, but I LOVE this photo. Can I bear my testimony of square dancing? I love it. Easy to learn, non-competitive, it inspires friendship and so much laughter. I’ve already planned a neighborhood square dance. You’re invited.
In the mornings, everyone lined up for braids. Then out in the field for games:
watermelon seed spitting
and spent some time alone.
Erik worked on the equipment committee which kept him busy from dawn until dusk,
but no one worked harder than the food committee. Ours is not a starvation trek– everyone is well-fed and hydrated. We’re on trek to get a taste of pioneer life, not to replicate suffering.
Katie getting a birthday kiss from her brother.
My adorable friend Liz, hiding plastic snakes and spiders in sleeping bags.
All of the teenagers made new friends,
and I especially loved spending time with many of my favorite people. When else do we have three days just to talk? As the photographer, I was lucky enough to spend time with every single person on trek. I think I’ve learned the names of every teenage girl in our stake and most of the boys too.
On the last day, we had a testimony meeting. Hans stood near the end and said, “People talk a lot about the hardships the pioneers went through. But they didn’t suffer to be martyrs– it was a means to an end. They wanted to find a land of safety. A place to raise families, worship God and be happy. I haven’t seen anyone dying on this trek, but I’ve seen a whole lot of living. I’ve loved talking to everyone, cooking over the campfire, dancing and I even love pushing the handcart. To me, these last three days have felt a lot like heaven. And I think living joyfully is the best way to pay tribute to the pioneers.”
Amen. and Hurrah for Israel!