Today I am going to send you a follow-on to last week's letter, which dwelt somewhat on the severe weather conditions in which the Willie and Martin handcart companies endured suffering almost beyond imagination. Someday we will understand more fully why certain individuals or groups are given these trials, but then remember "whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth" as the scriptures tell us.
I want to begin by reviewing with you some details that are seldom considered in the story of those pioneers. Elder Franklin D. Richards, president of the British Mission, had been given the responsibility to help emigrants get to America and on to the Valley. After he got the Willie and Martin companies on their ship to America, he sent a letter to President Young to advise him that two more companies were on their way, then he "closed up shop" and left for America two months after those handcart pioneers.. Keep in mind that a letter to Salt Lake City in those days came by "snailmail."
Pres. Richards' traveled on a steamship, whereas the emigrants came via sailing vessel, and his ship came via New Orleans, rather than to New York City. Even though his trip was much longer, it was faster. He came up the Mississippi via riverboat to Florence, Nebraska, arriving August 21, making the trip in about one-third the time that was required by the "handcart" group. He departed two weeks later in a light carriage, which could travel around 100 miles a day. His entire journey from England took only 70 days--less than half the time of the fastest handcart group.
The timing of his arrival could not have been more fortuitous--Oct. 4th. The next morning was general conference, so a huge crowd of saints were assembled to hear their prophet. His message: "Go out and rescue those handcart pioneers." They were told to reassemble, bringing teams, wagons, teamsters, flour, clothing, bedding and medical supplies. He then cancelled the meetings and sent the saints home to begin their mission of mercy.
As I recall seeing the "17 Miracles" video about the handcart journey, I can hardly hold back the tears. Those handcart pioneers had exhausted their food supplies, and considering the weather, they all would have perished without help from church headquarters. It is sad enough to realize how many lost loved ones (sometimes parents) during the arduous journey. But even though some survivors lost toes or fingers from frostbite, their testimonies remained unshakeable the rest of their lives.
We seldom hear that even the rescue party heading eastward was delayed by a three-day blizzard. And then recall that they really didn’t know where they would find those starving handcart companies.
Had some of our modern-day church members been transported back in time to the days of the handcart episode, I wonder how many of us would have responded willingly--yes, anxiously--to save our brothers and sisters. And consider with me the fact that we DO have challenges of a different brand facing us in the Church today. How many visiting teachers and home teachers take their assignments seriously and look forward at the beginning of each month to opportunities to help our assigned families (physically or spiritually)? How many members love their fellow brothers and sisters enough to give liberally to their support! I remember the day that our former stake president asked the brethren to consider giving $100 fast offering each month. With so many breadwinners being laid off their present jobs, the need today is also real. (Only the bishop is aware of all current needs in his ward.) While we may not be asked to place our lives on the line as did those handcart pioneers, we still face some real challenges in our day. Would that we might all be an eager part of the "rescuing team"!