When I hear the word pioneer, I immediately think of Mayflowers and pilgrims, wagon trains and handcarts, frontiers and faith.
Anciently, Nephi “beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of [Nephi’s] brethren by the many waters; and [he] beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and [the man] went forth upon the many waters, even unto the [Lamanites], who were in the promised land” (1 Nephi 13:12).
This Christopher Columbus himself said, “The Lord was well disposed to my desire, and He bestowed upon me courage and understanding; knowledge of seafaring He gave me in abundance, of astrology as much as was needed, and of geometry and astronomy likewise…our Lord unlocked my mind, sent me upon the sea, and gave me fire for the deed. Those who heard of my emprise called if foolish, mocked me, and laughed. But who can doubt but that the Holy Ghost inspired me” (Jacob Wassermann - Columbus, Don Quixote of the Seas).
Wrought upon by the Holy Ghost, inspired men and women in all ages have pioneered awesome accomplishments which have changed the world. Not all of us will change the world, but, after being worked on by the Holy Ghost, we can change our world. That is to say, our choices will keep us within our comfort zone, or we can pioneer a way of life, as guided by the Holy Ghost.
I saw this happen time and time again throughout my mission in the Philippines. One man, Gil Icawat, and his family were investigators as I was leaving. We began teaching them, and he started doing everything we would invite him to do. He was a tricycle driver, which is to say, he had a motorcycle with a sidecar attached which he drove around as a taxi service. He had given rides to many members over the years and had always noticed how genuinely happy the members were as they went to church. He had been asked by missionaries to be taught before, but had always turned them down, until one day he was referred to missionaries by members.
We started teaching him and giving him things to read. When he got a hold of a Book of Mormon, he began reading it often. He began to take it along with him and read it while waiting for passengers. The other tricycle drivers would sometimes joke with him because he was reading it so often, but he read it, prayed about it, and had obtained a witness from the Spirit.
We invited him and his family to come to church. He was the only one to come the first time. The lesson in Sunday School was on keeping the Sabbath day holy, and that was it for him; he would never again drive his tricycle around on Sunday, even though it was the most profitable day. The next lesson with his family, we taught the Ten Commandments and committed the rest of his family to go to church as well. His wife raised objections about that being her most profitable day for giving manicures. Well, Brother Icawat had a great deal to say about that concern, and they were both at church on Sunday with their kids.
When I left, they had already decided on being baptized. Those who heard of Brother Icawat’s decision to give up his most profitable day of driving called him foolish. When he read the Book of Mormon around his friends, he was mocked, and they laughed. But who can doubt but that the Holy Ghost inspired him? Why else would he and his family do those things!?
Pioneers in the exodus from Nauvoo to the Rocky Mountains walked over a thousand miles pulling handcarts across the plains, widows sometimes carrying small children, leaving bloody footprints in the snow.
On my mission, Sister Capampangan was an investigator who had been left by her husband some time ago when he ran from the law. She lived at the foot of a mountain over a mile hike from the highway and then yet had a bus ride and fare charge to pay if she wanted to attend church. She had three children under the age of five and barely enough money to even put food on the table. She would walk to the highway with her three little children in tow, carrying one of them all the way. At times, without enough money, she would hitch a ride toward the church, week after week, a pioneer in her own right.
In another area, Brother Lopez was a less active returned missionary. He was the last on the list of people we were trying to find. We found him after he had just recently moved back home with his wife and kids, the eldest still unbaptized. We started teaching his daughter while getting to know him better.
Brother Lopez had developed a habit of working on Sundays and then the influence of his work buddies led to a problem with the Word of Wisdom. He had a long road back, but we told him he was going to baptize his daughter, not us. He wanted to change his life as well, but kept falling back ashamed. We developed a plan with him and he decided to act. While I was there we got him a white shirt and tie. He began clearing up his Word of Wisdom problem. He kept our advice strictly.
One day he had off of work and was at home. His home was no larger than one of the classrooms of this church. His less active family members were outside at the next house, which was no more than ten feet away, and they were drinking, inviting him to join them nearly every ten minutes. It was hot season in the Philippines, a blazing 117 degree heat index, and he was under his tin roof, enclosed by concrete walls without a window. It was blistering hot inside that kiln, yet he refused to leave. He was alone, dripping with sweat for hours on end while reading the Book of Mormon and denying their invitations.
I got a chance to see him bless the sacrament, and on that day, due to lack of money, he walked home several miles with two of his young children. After I left the area, he baptized his daughter, brought his family back to church, and was called as the Elders Quorum President.
These are but few of the pioneers I had the privilege of meeting, teaching, serving, and loving over the past two years.
Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews, mentions many of the ancient faithful pioneers: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sara.
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
Paul notes that all of these men and women were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. We all are strangers and pilgrims on the earth. We come from the celestial abode of the Eternal Father of our spirits and have been born of mortal parents, strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Paul continues, “For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country” (Hebrews 11:14).
Abraham sought a country. He states, “In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my fathers, I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence” (Abraham 1:1).
After nearly being sacrificed to idol gods and only escaping by divine intervention, I’d find it needful to obtain another place of residence as well. Abraham left. We too, often unknowingly, sacrifice ourselves—namely our time and agency—to the idol gods which this world offers, but must at some point find it needful to obtain another place of residence, leaving the world behind.
Paul continues, “And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned” (Hebrews 11:15).
If Abraham still had a little longing for the country from whence he came out, he could have found time to return for a visit now and then, but Abraham had left. He not only left, but he neither looked back nor longed for what he had left behind. We cannot long for our favorite sins.
Paul continues, “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:16)
Abraham explains in his own words, “And finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers” (Abraham 1:1).
Abraham sought for many years, and at last he was able to exclaim, “Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee” (Abraham 2:12). This same promise is extended to all who will pioneer the effort in their own lives.
I know one such in our time, Joseph Smith. “[He] had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light, [he] saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to [him]; and though [he] was hated and persecuted for saying that [he] had seen a vision, yet it was true” (Joseph Smith History—1:25).
“He…brought forth the Book of Mormon which he translated by the gift and power of God, and…has sent the fullness of the everlasting gospel which it [contains], to the four quarters of the earth” (D&C 135:3).
I know he was a prophet of God, and so does God. He pioneered the Restoration. He made it possible to “know…the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He has] sent” (John 17:3).
Jesus Christ was the greatest pioneer that ever lived. He pioneered a sinless life, an infinite atonement, and the greatest accomplishment in the history of the world, the Resurrection, becoming “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:20).
We may be called to make choices outside of our comfort zone, but we may take comfort in the fact that none of us have been nor will be called to pioneer any of the difficulties we may face in life. For in a very strict sense, Jesus Christ has been there before, for the “Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world,” (Moses 7:47) and he knows “how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12).
He tells us “in the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). When we are called to move outside of our comfort zone, He’s been there, and “the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in [his] name” (John 14:12), will help us to go forward.
“For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:56). Sometimes we cringe at the idea of what could happen if we follow the Savior because of what we might lose. He hasn’t come to destroy our lives, but to make them better. He’ll help us pioneer whatever changes we need to make towards the abundant life. I’ve seen it happen in many lives, including my own, during my two years as a full time missionary.
I know that the fullness of the gospel has been restored through the prophet Joseph Smith, and that the Book of Mormon is true evidence of the Restoration. I know that the priesthood and all of its necessary keys and authorities have been brought back to the earth through the ministration of angels, and that Gordon B. Hinckley holds and exercises them under direct revelation from Jesus Christ, the head of this church. These things are necessary not only for an acquaintance with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ but for a full covenant relationship. I know that they live, love us, and would have the best for us if we will. The Spirit is my witness.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.