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The Pioneers Among Us

When I first joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I soon saw that July 24th was a special day. But for the longest time, I wasn't sure why. Eventually I learned that it had something to do with pioneers, but how?

Later when I moved to Mesa, Arizona as a still young convert, I saw local church members flurrying as that holiday came closer. But I was still befuddled as to its importance. I'm sure for a life-long member of the Mormon church, Pioneer Day made perfect sense. But for one new to its membership, it was all a little fuzzy.

Now that I've been a member of the church for several decades I understand much better what July 24th means to many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That date more than 150 years ago was the beginning-of-the-end to a difficult sojourn across the United States--a forced march, if you will--wrought by intense persecution and horrifying acts of cruelty against early church members.

There is far more history and meaning to this date than that simple explanation. But here are a few references to help you understand just why being a "pioneer" is so significant to Latter-day Saints:

* Gayle M. Clegg explains in "The Finished Story" (Liahona, May 2004, 14-16), that with the Lord, nothing is impossible. Many who kept journals during that difficult trek across the United States discovered this in very personal ways.

* Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone, in "Following in Their Footsteps," (Ensign, July 1997, 8) also speaks of the pioneer traits of faith, tenacity, and endurance.

* In the story, "They Belong to Us All" (Tambuli, Jun 1989, 6), Sydney Smith Reynolds speaks to the courage that can come to us all by understanding the early LDS pioneers.

I'm still learning the heritage of the early Latter-day Saint pioneers. I'm not sure my heart can fully comprehend what it was like to have to leave your home with guns pointing at your backs. But I certainly can study their lives and learn from their tenacity. And I believe this is why July 24th has become such an important holiday each year for many Latter-day Saints.

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