SUWANEE -- More than 300 youth and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from across north Georgia recently undertook a three-day journey to link them with the past.
The youth — who live in Forsyth, Hall, Gwinnett, Dawson and Lumpkin counties — arrived at 8 a.m. July 9 in full pioneer attire, which most of them made themselves, and with a 5-gallon bucket that held only the bare necessities.
Their journey started at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ meeting house in Suwanee, where some 100 parents and leaders had spent the past year building a replica of Nauvoo, Ill., to look like it did back in the mid-1800s.
Nauvoo is the city where most of the pioneers from all over the world gathered to start their journey west to Salt Lake City.
Old Nauvoo consisted of a bakery, blacksmith, infirmary and old school house, among other buildings, all designed and dressed up to help transport these youth back in time.
Madi Hill, a senior from North Forsyth High School, said, “Everything looked so authentic, you could really get a sense of what it was like back then.”
Later that day, all of the youth and leaders were taken to property near Cleveland in the north Georgia mountains, where they pushed and pulled wooden handcarts filled with their supplies, just the way the early Mormon pioneers did.
Over the next three days, the youth walked eight miles in 90-degree weather. But that was just a fraction of the 1,300 miles the early pioneers traveled in temperatures as cold as -10.
The trails that the youth walked consisted of river crossings, steep hills and many re-enactments of events experienced by early members of the Mormon faith.
At one point, the youth were able to witness a re-enactment of a pioneer mother whose small infant died on the journey. The youth watched as this mother had to say goodbye to the child and dig a small grave for him.
Anna Stephenson, a youth from the Hamilton Mill Ward, commented on how moving the scene was.
“I have a baby brother that I never got to meet, and I thought about how I will get to meet him when I die,” she said. “The spirit was so strong.”
Walking the trails and climbing the hills, the youth and leaders could be heard singing and laughing. The air was filled with a joyful spirit.
Everywhere one looked there were people helping and caring for each other, and grateful for the opportunity.
“Pioneers learned that doing hard things deepened and strengthened body, mind and spirit,” said Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the first presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. “[It] magnified their understanding of their divine nature and heightened their compassion for others.”
The Mormon youth who participated in this journey endured many hardships and learned to work together to overcome the challenges that came before them. They gained a confidence that can only be achieved from overcoming hard obstacles in their life, church officials said.
“We hope that each of these amazing youth will have a better understanding of what some people went through just to have the simple freedom to worship how they feel,” said Ryan Howells, a leader of the trek.
“We often forget that there were many who came before us, of different religions, who gave up everything they had, including family members they lost along the way, just to have the freedom that we so freely have today.”