True Pioneer

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“True Pioneer,” Friend, July 1992, 15

True Pioneer

(A composite story based on various family histories)

Labor diligently … that we may prepare the way (Jacob 5:61).

Susanna unlatched the gate and quietly entered the old churchyard next to her home in the tiny village of Essex, England. Tomorrow she and her family would be leaving for America—for Zion. In all her eleven years, Susanna had never been farther away from home than Great Dunmow. Even then, she had only been there twice, when Papa allowed her to go with him to market.

One year ago—May 31, 1860, to be exact—Susanna was sitting on the step of their cottage, tending little Henry so that Mama could get the twins, Samuel and Elizabeth, cleaned up for supper. Down the path walked two tall strangers dressed in Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. They carried books that reminded Susanna of the Hayden’s family Bible.

“Hello, young lady,” one of the strangers addressed Susanna with a funny accent. “Are your parents home?”

And that was how her family found the true Church of Jesus Christ. Papa invited the missionaries inside. They began teaching the family the gospel, and Susanna soon learned about one of their books, the Book of Mormon.

Susanna’s family had always been good church-going people. Even before the missionaries came, she and her one-year-younger brother, Joshua, took turns reading the Bible to the family every night after supper since neither Papa nor Mama could read. Now the family began studying the Book of Mormon too.

Soon after they joined the Church, family and friends began treating them differently. Some just ignored them, others shunned them. Susanna and Joshua’s classmates teased them and even taunted them about their new religion.

One day Joshua asked his mother, “Why do kids at school throw rocks at us?”

Susanna added, “The minister’s children call our missionaries ‘preachers of the devil.’ Their father even told them to stay away from us.”

Mama said, “Even Nephi was tormented for his beliefs.”

After months of persecution, Papa and Mama decided to leave their tiny English village and journey to Zion. Susanna wondered what her new life would be like in America. Would she miss her beautiful village nestled among the lush green and rolling countryside of England?

Mama was due to have a baby soon, but she refused to delay their journey any longer. The family packed their few belongings; Susanna watched Mama tuck in their precious new scriptures next to the family Bible.

On Susanna’s twelfth birthday, June 1, 1861, Papa, Mama, Susanna, Joshua, Samuel, Elizabeth, and Henry climbed aboard the huge ship in Liverpool, England, bound for Boston Harbor. Susanna thought about Nephi’s family leaving for the promised land. She and Joshua read aloud from the Book of Mormon every day of their ocean journey.

One day a violent storm arose at sea. Winds heaved the ship to and fro. Waves slammed against the ship’s sides and dashed upon its deck. Below, passengers huddled together in fright. Children whimpered. Susanna wondered if they would be swallowed in the belly of the ocean like Jonah in the Bible was swallowed by the whale. Finally she cried out, “Are we going to sink, Mama?”

“No, my child,” Mama said. “The Lord will protect us if we have faith. Remember, He calmed the tempest for Nephi.” Then Papa, Mama, and the five children knelt and prayed for safety through the storm.

Two days later a baby girl was born to them. Papa named her Seaborn because she was born at sea. That night she died. Papa sang, “And should we die before our journey’s through, happy day, all is well.”* A few days later Mama died.

When the ship finally docked in Boston Harbor, Papa and the five children knelt upon the ground and gave thanks to God. Papa handed Mama’s Book of Mormon to Susanna. “I want you to be the keeper of the record,” he said.

They traveled by train to St. Louis, Missouri, where Papa worked all winter to buy provisions for the trek west; Susanna cared for the children. Finally, when buds burst forth on bare branches and robins began to sing, they headed for Utah in their covered wagon with other Mormon pioneers. Along the way, little Henry caught a fever and died. Susanna read Alma 22:14 in Mama’s Book of Mormon: “‘Christ … breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory.’”

Years later, when Susanna was a grown woman in Zion, with children and grandchildren of her own, she carefully penned these words in her mother’s Book of Mormon, “To my posterity: Treasure this book as my mother—your ancestor—did. She gave her life for the gospel’s sake. She was a true pioneer. Remember, you may be a pioneer in your own time, for a pioneer is someone who goes before others and prepares the way for them. Live faithfully so that you may be a true pioneer.”

Illustrated by Paul Mann