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Getting a glimpse into the past
MARYSVILLE — Dressed in bonnets, bloomers and suspenders, more than 300 youth and adult leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints pushed handcarts as they traversed rugged terrain in eastern Washington, all in an effort to experience a taste of what thousands of their pioneer ancestors went through while crossing the Great Plains in the mid-1800s.
Participants included teens from ages 14-18 from Marysville, Granite Falls and Lake Stevens, who were separated into two “companies,” as well as smaller family groups consisting of a “Ma” and “Pa” and nine “children” in each family.
Their trek lasted four days as families worked together and walked in the shoes of their Mormon ancestors. Long hours of walking, sparse amounts of food and the singing of hymns made the experience more authentic to the pioneers of the 21st Century.
“There were times when I just wanted to sit down and die but it definitely helped to focus more on helping my trek ‘family’ instead of on how uncomfortable I was,” said Eva Melton, 17, of Lake Stevens. “Having a good attitude was essential.”
The main focus of the trek was to give LDS youth throughout Snohomish County a chance to experience what their pioneer ancestors accomplished. Leaders believe that out of that experience came growth, commitment and a stronger faith and dedication to their religious beliefs.
“Today’s youth are constantly bombarded with different challenges and distractions that prevent them from focusing on what matters most; their family, their character and their faith,” said Bishop Jeff LaPerle, who served as a Pa throughout the four-day trek. “Re-enacting what the early pioneers experienced, crossing the plains pulling handcarts, removes much of the world they currently live in by taking away many of their distractions — electronics, music, friends — and testing them physically by pulling heavy handcarts up and down hills in the hot desert sun.”
Working together became and an essential part of the experience. Seeing what can be accomplished when they worked as a team brought trek families closer together, as in the days of the Mormon pioneers.
“I think the trek experience is important so you can go through some of the hardships that the pioneers went through,” said Shayna Follett, 15, of Lake Stevens. “My most memorable moment at trek was pushing the cart into our final destination, or ‘Zion.’ Everyone was happy and cheering for you. I felt so accomplished.”
While the challenges became more difficult, the teens and their leaders worked in tandem to continue their march forward and reach their destination.
“In the beginning, there was the excitement of a new challenge, meeting new people and knowing that there would be some fun ahead, not to mention they were well rested,” LaPerle said. “Little by little, as the world they were used to was slowly being left behind, you could begin to see their individual personalities coming out, one by one. Each was different, but good in its own way. There were some natural leaders, some innovative thinkers and others that were motivators. As their strengths began to shine, they started leveraging off each other and helped magnify the strengths of those around them. Although they were physically challenged, they teamed together and maintained a positive outlook, knowing there were good things ahead.”
The four-day walk came to a close with fortified relationships and a deeper appreciation for the Mormon pioneers who forged the way for today’s LDS Church members to be able to worship as they desired, without persecution.
“I know that it was important for me personally because it was difficult,” Melton said. “It felt good to achieve something significant. It also strengthened my testimony of how amazing the pioneers were. They left their homes and families and risked their lives to worship the way they wished. I think that just shows how much they truly believed in what they were fighting for.”
“My trek experience was awesome,” Follett said. “I am so grateful I had the opportunity to be able to experience a part of what the pioneers had to go through.”
“The youth today are amazing, and they each have the strength to get through experiences like this successfully, emotionally and physically,” LaPerle said. “This just helps them know that they can and will be able to succeed with whatever challenges lie ahead for them in their lives as they look to what matters most; family, character and faith.”
“I learned that I can do hard things and it doesn’t have to be a physical challenge like it was on trek,” Melton said. “I feel like if I take the same frame of mind that the pioneers had, we can achieve anything in the strength of the Lord and I can overcome any kind of opposition in my life.”