After driving for a few days and many, many miles we pulled up to our destination.
We had left green behind long ago. Little by little, the lush trees, rivers and lakes became bushes and green grass with streams and small ponds, eventually becoming only sandy brown sage brush with no water in sight as we followed I-80 west.
As we turned toward 'camp' there lay a dusty dirt road in front of us that seemed to stretch to nowhere. Civilization had all but disappeared. None in sight anyway.
Our first thought: "we had driven over 1,800 miles to this?" Hee hee hee!!! And perhaps no one to welcome us. Each of our extended family had called to tell us they'd be late. How come the ones who drive the farthest always get there first?
We continued, like our pioneer ancestors, in faith.
Faith was rewarded! Pulling closer to camp we found signs of life! A neat and tidy, cozy, and small camp - empty, but for a little line of 'homes' - campers that had stayed for the summer (one could tell by the square patch of 'garden' in front). These were actually FRESH and BEAUTIFUL little motor homes and we knew immediately that our missionary couples were here.
Sure enough an Elder came out quickly to welcome us, and as Elders always do, made us happy just by being there. He gave us brief instructions and we began to set up camp, donning pioneer clothing to welcome our family in style!
And the Hoffman heritage celebration began. We were celebrating our adopted heritage, the one given to each of us who has been baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A deep, lasting, and very moving heritage of FAITH, COURAGE, DETERMINATION to FOLLOW the SAVIOR and SERVE Him, a willingness to SACRIFICE the things of this world for the greater blessings of another.
We had been reading "The Fire of the Covenant" by Gerald Lund, the story of what we were about to witness, the handcart pioneers. We read of their willingness to leave their native countries, families, and homes to board ships heading to America - for the gospel of Jesus Christ had been restored in its fullness through living prophet to the earth again!
They suffered sea sicknesses, dark and cramped quarters and lack of healthy food, lost loved ones already, but traveled on.
Next train travel, crammed again in cars - sleeping sitting or sometimes standing up.
And then they arrived to where they could finally BEGIN to prepare for their journey: building handcarts, gathering food, being toughened daily for a journey so foreign to the lives they knew in Europe.
The first 6 handcart companies, for the most part, did well but a vastly different journey awaited the last two companies coming west that year. The prophet Brigham had told no one to leave later than June - and now they were just beginning their journey in late July, I believe, torn between staying where they had no homes, no way to provide for themselves, no protection from terrible persecution or forging forward to find the Saints that would welcome them with open arms and help them in Salt Lake City.
We could sense the adventure, the vast beauty, the fun of their journey as we pulled our own handcarts for a day, walking, singing, talking, some bored already, some feet hurting already, but thrilled soon by splashing in the cool waters as we crossed Sweetwater River on a hot day - vastly different from the day the Martin Handcart company crossed over 150 years before.
This had been a place of holy suffering and sacrifice for them. Frozen ice had been theirs to cross. The horrible and hard memories of the Platt River crossing at the beginning of a terrible blizzard haunted their minds. Their physical bodies weakened from lack of food and days and days of treacherously hard journeying, they felt they could not go on. Then their rescuers, who had just found them in answer to their begging prayers, picked them up and carried them, one by one, across the river there. The ice numbed their bodies and cut their legs as they stumbled through again and again to carry their 'friends'.
I have not yet seen '17 Miracles', the latest movie about the handcart pioneers, that so many have told me I MUST see, but we read of miracle after miracle, and heard story of miracle after miracle as we walked their path and missionaries there taught us of their history. As one man, who had been part of these handcart companies later defended, "In our extremity, we came to KNOW GOD."
I feel a little closer to Him just by witnessing the works of his disciples there, sacrificing all, their very lives if necessary, to follow His prophet and obtain a 'new land' (see Hebrews 11), become Zion.
What I learned most from those little bands of handcart pioneers(500 plus in the Martin and Willie handcart companies), is that 'with God nothing is impossible'. They faced the most impossible odds, no chance at survival, it appeared they could NEVER succeed in what He had commanded them to do, gather to Zion. But through the Lord, they did indeed succeed and left behind a legacy never to be forgotten, but to be followed for generations.
I hope I can be as our pioneer ancestors, follow Him in faith, NO MATTER WHAT, face impossible odds with the confidence that the Lord is leading me along and will, indeed, prepare the way. Give everything I have for the Kingdom of God.
A celebration of our heritage. And WHAT a celebration it was. Family and fun and fine memories to fill us all! Campfire and food DELICIOUS! (Like REALLY DELICIOUS, better than a 4 star restaurant delicious - WOW! Thanks Clayton and Crew!)Handcarts, river crossings, square dancing, 'Ephraim Hanks' visiting camp, mail from the pony express, and best of all, testimonies unshakable.
Thank you, Dear Pioneers. Thank you, Dear Family!
Love, The Hoffmans