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THE WORD: The pioneer spirit

In the New Testament, we learn that “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch,” Acts 11:26.

I have often wondered about this statement. Certainly others believed in Jesus Christ before this time. In Antioch, however, disciples demonstrated devotion that earned a description that we seek: true Christians.

As believers living in a city far from Jerusalem, these faithful saints were also true pioneers. Discipleship is based on our individual faith, choices and actions. Each day, as we strive to follow the example and teachings of the Son of God, we may find ourselves forging ahead as pioneers. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints share a rich history of pioneering faith and discipleship.

Formally organized in 1830 in New York, members of the Church endured mockery and persecution for their beliefs and were driven to relocate in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. In Nauvoo, Illinois, Church members built a settlement that rivaled Chicago in size and prosperity and included a beautiful temple. After Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were assassinated on June 27, 1844, members prepared to leave Nauvoo. Though initially promised a seasonable exit, members were forced to leave under harsh and wintry conditions in February 1846.

There followed a difficult and dramatic crossing of Iowa, followed by the 1,000-mile journey across the plains to the Salt Lake Valley. On July 24, 1847, Brigham Young entered the valley with an advance pioneer team and declared: “This is the right place!” The pioneers immediately set about building a new temple and a new city. Over the next decades, thousands of pioneers would follow, including many who courageously made the long journey across the plains on foot.

I have several pioneer ancestors. Among them was Levi Roberts, an early English convert, who emigrated with his family to Illinois. As the Saints abandoned Nauvoo and trudged across Iowa, they were called upon to provide volunteers to fight for the United States in the Mexican- American War. Levi bravely volunteered to serve his country in the U.S. Army. Nicknamed the “Mormon Battalion,” this outfit made its way toward Mexico, ultimately concluding its service building up forts in California.

As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught: “The pioneers were not supermen and superwomen. They were just like you and me. How often did they wonder if they could go on? … But they pressed on. In faith, one step at a time, they pressed on. They trusted in God and His divine and merciful plan. And they left a legacy that will inspire and strengthen generations to come.”

In our own faith journeys, we too may be pioneers. Perhaps we are the only active Christians in our family or peer group. With pioneering perseverance, we too can leave a legacy of faith that will last for generations. For more information on the pioneer heritage of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, visit http://history.churchofjesuschrist.org.

BRENT ROBERTS is the Elders Quorum President in the Sandy River Branch, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , and also Dean of Greenwood Library at Longwood University. He can be reached at brentsroberts@ hotmail.com.