This summer the youth of the Green Valley Stake of Henderson, Nevada, along with their mas, pas, and some other brave stake leaders, pulled loaded handcarts for several miles in the Kaibab National Forest in northern Arizona. For two and a half days they walked through the dust and heat, grateful for the tall pines providing shade along the roads and trails. Each meal and drink of water was savored and appreciated. Sleep was well earned. Tired youth rallied at the end of the second day to dance late into the night and eat a multitude of Dutch oven cobblers. Cuts were bandaged, blisters treated, and other ailments addressed. Songs were sung and testimonies shared. Youth and adults who walked the trail together left for home knowing they had accomplished something significant.
Four years ago my wife and I went on the Colorado Springs East Stake Youth Trek to Wyoming as a ma and pa. Experiencing the program as a “trekker” with the youth was an amazing experience. We were able to help them push and pull the handcart, eat what they ate, walk through Martin’s Cove and pull the cart through the Sweetwater River. Of course our experience didn’t come close to what those in the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies experienced, but it did give us a glimpse. Each of us came away with a deeper appreciation of what they did and a testimony of the Restored Gospel.
This time I had a different role that provided me much different perspective. Instead of trekking with the youth, I was in a support role responsible for the movement of equipment to include set up and take down for each campsite. Initially part of me was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be interacting with the youth directly, especially since my oldest daughter was trekking for her first time. Despite the fact that I wouldn’t be at the “center” of the action this time, I was excited to be there helping.
Beginning with the planning process and throughout the actual trek, I experienced and observed events and people in such a way that my testimony was strengthened and my understanding increased.
Staffing the Trek
As the high councilor assigned to work with the Young Women, I was involved with the planning and organization process from the beginning. I had the privilege of extending calls to several individuals to assist with the execution of the trek. Some of the calls were for positions that demanded substantial amounts of time and work, such as: the head ma and pa who were responsible for training all of the other mas and pas and assisting the trek co-chairmen; the chairmen of the food committee with all of their assistants; the videographer; and others. In almost every case the calls were accepted not only with willingness but also with a high degree of excitement. On more than one occasion when issuing a call I spent a good deal of time with the individual or individuals discussing their plans and ideas for the trek in depth.
These wonderful brothers and sisters followed the Lord’s counsel found in Doctrine & Covenants 58: 27:
“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”
Preparing the Next Generation
Last fall a young man and a young woman from each ward in the stake were called to serve on the stake youth committee. Their responsibility was to plan and execute the stake trek with guidance and training from the adult leadership. From the earliest meeting they shared their ideas and desires for the trek. Each was assigned to a committee with significant responsibility for the planning of specific parts of the trek. As the months came and went a core group of the youth attended and contributed, learning to plan and follow up. Some of the youth were already experienced leaders and they stepped up quickly to make things happen. Others were content to hang in the background a bit more, providing a quieter type of help. The opening morning of the trek I met most of the members of the stake youth committee at the stake center at four in the morning so we could get to the location ahead of everyone. I drove a van with thirteen of these wonderful young people and then watched them throughout the trek as they led and served others. The church will be in good hands when their time comes, which is very soon.
Blessings: Seen and Unseen
During my first trek experience I was aware that there was a group of largely unseen people who were setting things up, putting things in place, and generally making things happen. While I was aware they were there and was grateful for what they had done, I didn’t spend much time thinking about the degree of effort or time that went into their work. Looking back at many of the activities in which I participated as a youth, I don’t think I spent enough time thinking about all the work that went into planning and executing those activities. Now, I served on Bishop Youth Councils and Stake Youth Committees and was aware of what went on but I never considered that the adult leaders didn’t have to do what they were doing nor did I consider that what they did might be difficult or much of a sacrifice. A few times I may have even been ungrateful and brazen enough to criticize their efforts for not meeting my expectations.
As part of the support staff for this trek I helped to set up and stage tents, dishwashing stations, tables, and food buckets. I helped to take down tents, dishwashing stations, and tables. Once or twice I even had the opportunity to give people a ride to and from different locations on an ATV. The work wasn’t difficult but the benefits to those who were trekking were real. Each task we completed was one less that they had to do at the beginning or end of a long day. Our efforts allowed them to focus on their designated activity and other important responsibilities like cooking dinner, family meetings, and sleep.
On the end of the second day of the trek, with three miles to go, I and another member of the support staff, decided to hike the last three miles with the trekkers to give help where and when we could. As the companies went down one steep hill and up another I jumped in and helped the families who were struggling. Coming down the long, steep hill I grabbed onto a few handcarts and slowed them down. On the way up the next steep hill I got behind one handcart and pushed a little, then walked back down and pushed a little on another. Quickly I realized that I wasn’t doing much. My thoughts went back to the accounts of the handcart pioneers who felt unseen hands pushing their handcarts up Rocky Ridge or other difficult places when they were worn and tired. I decided that I wanted to make a noticeable difference for the rest of the handcarts I helped. It was at the end of a long, hot day for them and they were tired. As the next one came by I put my hands on the back and pushed hard, lightening their load and hastening them up the hill. I returned down the hill and did it again and then again and again. My contribution was small but it made me feel good to help at a point in their day when it likely was appreciated.
God’s blessings are mysterious. Every day each of us is blessed through miracles and by the quiet efforts and sacrifices, large and small, of others. Some of these blessings occur on such a regular basis that we fail to notice them, as we should. Often we even fail to recognize that we are in need of the blessings we are receiving because the needs are met so quietly and subtly. At times we are those blessing the lives of others, knowingly and perhaps more frequently unknowingly.
Other blessings come in the very moment of obvious need and after heartfelt prayer and pleading. The blessings and answers to our prayers, in these cases, are obvious and miraculous. These are the blessings that we are quick to remember. These are those about which we speak and testify.
Throughout the trek I saw blessings given and received in both ways, quietly and in the moments of great need. Our God blesses us constantly and we can bless others constantly for him through our actions. It’s easier I believe for us to be grateful for and aware of those obvious blessings that we receive or give. The subtle, less obvious, blessings in my opinion are those that can truly show the beauty of God’s work and the majesty of his love. How often are we blessed through a string of seemingly unconnected events and actions? How often does someone quietly serving bless us? How often does someone living righteously and not even knowing that they are blessing others bless us? How often do the actions of an indifferent, perhaps non-righteous, person bless our lives?
I believe that most of our blessings from God are of the subtle variety. I think the intent is to require us to ponder the course of our lives while seeking out those blessings. As we do this our love for God will grow. I think God keeps his own counsel relative the granting of the bulk of his blessings:
“But when thou doest alms, let not they left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thy alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”
Quiet and unrequested blessings, when noticed, let us know that our Father in Heaven isn’t just aware of us, but that he knows us and knows our needs. Such blessings are evidence of his deep and abiding love and care for each one of us. Gratitude for these blessings, quietly given, will lead us to love our God more fully and to love our fellow man more fully. I think we must also look for those opportunities to quietly bless the lives of others and be aware of opportunities to do God’s work. As we do so our humility should increase, as our sense of entitlement should decrease. We learn to serve as our Savior, Jesus Christ, served.
The Blessing of Observing
While I didn’t participate in the daily trek and associated activities, I was able, with my compatriots, to position us to observe the trekkers at significant times. My daughter was in the first family in the first company. After finishing the set up of the first campsite, we waited for the them to arrive. It was rewarding to watch her come up the hill with her family, a smile on her face and a sense of accomplishment in her words. I was there to watch her help pull the first handcart up the women’s pull. And, I was there to watch her pull the first handcart to the end point. I was able to watch the trekkers as they had fun, suffered, and recovered. I was able to watch them enjoy a break or a meal, to see them excited for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
I had a few minutes in the evenings to walk around as they prepared and ate their dinners. I watched as they left their families for a few minutes to find friends and to catch up on the events of the day. I watched as some fell by the wayside to injury or sickness. I watched as the sick and injured were attended to by others. In between my small acts of service, I was able to watch others serve. I watched the youth and adults get frustrated with the challenge in front of them and their weakness in facing it. I watched them push through to do what needed to be done despite their frustration. I listened as they sang, told stories, and shared testimonies. I watched and listened as their stake president addressed them while they sat on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I watched as they felt the spirit teach and strengthen them. I feel as though I watched the spirit in action on a consistent basis.
Observing and quietly serving during this trek provided me with a unique perspective and taught me new and old lessons about our Heavenly Father, our Savior, and us. I think of all those who made the work and sacrifices of the pioneers possible. Those that helped prepare them to make the crossing, those that came to their rescue, and those who stood ready to welcome them upon their arrival. I think of those unseen hands who helped them along the way, providing help, strength, and comfort. I picture a loving Heavenly Father and Savior experiencing our joys and sorrows with us along our path as they help us, step by step, becomes more like them.
While the main purpose of this trek was to provide the youth with a faith promoting and testimony strengthening experience, it provided me with a wonderful learning experience, one that I will remember.
- Jarad Van Wagoner
- Jarad Van Wagoner
Postscript: The Law of Consecration in Action
The trek was an incredible event because of the willingness of so many to sacrifice and serve. They gave of their time, their talents, and in many cases their own money. The youth of this stake were blessed with:
- A stake presidency that loves them and wants them to succeed. The stake presidency was involved in the planning process from the earliest stages. They helped to make important decisions regarding scope, funding, purpose, and participation. Our stake president and one of his counselors attended the trek and hiked with the youth.
- Trek co-chairmen, a wonderful and vibrant married couple in the stake, who threw themselves into the project heart and soul. They spent hours researching the best options for the trek. At the first planning meeting they arrived with suggestions for multiple locations and methods for running the trek. Prior to the trek they traveled to the trek site, which is over three hours away, multiple times. The delegated. They planned. They organized. They followed up. They advised. They served. They went to the trek site the day before everyone else to set up and make sure everything was ready to go. They were with the trekkers all along the path. They were the last to leave the trek site once it was over. Their tireless efforts taught me the meaning of the word stewardship.
- Head Ma and Pa. This couple served in multiple roles: as assistants to the trek chairmen, trainers for the thirty sets of mas and pas, motivational speakers, cheerleaders, sign painters, etc. They looked after the welfare of the trekkers, youth and adults alike. They also went up a day early to help set up and were among the last to leave.
- Mas and Pas. These wonderful adults responded to the call to spend time in the wilderness with these youth, to serve as mentors. They attended meetings and trainings to prepare for the trek. They spent time getting to know the youth in their families months before the trek began. They participated in training hikes. Throughout the trek they encouraged, showed, and taught the youth in their families. Many of these wonderful individuals suffered as much or more than many of the youth and yet they continued through to the end.
- Company Captains. Five wonderful priesthood holders, some of them bishops, were responsible for the welfare of six handcart families. These men participated in much of the pre-trek training and then trekked along with their families, helping and encouraging wherever and whenever they could. One of the bishops had a knee surgery a couple of months before the trek. Despite his discomfort, he participated in all three pre-trek preparation hikes. The first day he pushed himself through each painful mile. I was leaving the first campsite in an ATV as he was leading his company up the hill the last couple of hundred yards. His face was set and determined. I was proud to see him doing something so difficult. Later I learned that he was knocked off the side of a cattle guard as he entered camp by one of the handcarts from his company that was running into the campsite. Despite his bangs and bruises he was back up the next day ready to serve his company.
- Stake Young Women and Young Men Presidencies. These wonderful people were in charge of equipment, logistics, transportation of people and equipment, spiritual events, fun events, and so much more. They helped directly with the trekkers. They helped behind the scenes. Their efforts provided many of the necessities such as port-a-potties, drinking water, changing tents, dishwashing stations, lanterns, and transportation for the tired and injured. Along the trail they taught lessons through activities and spiritual messages.
- Cooks. The cooks spent hours preparing and planning the meals for the trek. They spent hours purchasing food and stocking the refrigeration truck. They spent hours preparing meal buckets for each family for each meal. Then they spent additional time and effort preparing meals for the stake leaders and support staff. They provided a wonderful dessert one night of around 20 different cobblers to the trekkers. The cooks kept everyone fueled and ready to move forward.
- Music and Dance Committee. This wonderful family wrote an original song or two for the trek. They taught the youth how to do the Virginia Reel and other folk dances before we even left home. Throughout the program they provided music and multiple locations along the trail and they put on an amazing music and dance festival the second evening. They truly shared their talents to make others happy.
- Medical Personnel. An individual was called to follow the trekkers along the trail and provide medical assistance wherever needed. He patched up cuts, blisters, and scrapes. He treated dehydration, asthma attacks, joint injuries, and whatever else came up. Along the way he was helped by mas who are nurses and by stake leaders who are doctors.
- Photographers and videographer. Three individuals recorded the experience for the youth in pictures and video to give them something to help remember the experience. They were up early and traveling all over the place to get the best shots. They interacted with the trekkers and support staff. And, I have no idea how many hours have gone into editing since the trek ended.
- Other Volunteers. Several other adult leaders came to trek or provided other service prior to trek, some to represent their bishopric, to come with their spouse, or just to come participate and help. Service was rendered wherever it was needed.
These adult leaders are proof that the law of consecration is alive and well among the Saints. So many live it every day, giving of their time, resources, and talents to serve the Lord by serving others. It wasn’t easy or simple for many of these people to take time off of work, to take time away from other important projects, or to spend much of their own money to make this trek a success. They did it anyway, despite the hardship and sacrifice.