“Q&A: Questions and Answers,” New Era, July 1996, 17
First, no matter who we are, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the early Church pioneers whether they were our family members or not. They built the Church and followed the prophets in the days when many observers questioned whether the Church would survive let alone grow. Their faith made it possible for the gospel to remain on the earth to our time. And they and their descendants were the first missionaries who began spreading the truths of the gospel throughout the world.
Of course, pioneers in the Church are not limited to those who journeyed to the American West. Every nation on earth where there are branches and wards of the Church have had wonderful pioneers whose faith and testimony have helped the Church grow. And many of these pioneers are alive and well and still faithfully building the Church.
It may sound like bragging when people tell stories about their pioneering ancestors, but they may just be getting carried away by the admiration they have for the perseverance and faith shown by these relatives. You may have to overlook their enthusiasm. As inspiring as these stories are, it does no good to be related to pioneers unless you are willing to do the studying and praying and putting your beliefs into action that those ancestors did. Each person must study and pray to gain an individual testimony of the gospel.
As a convert to the gospel who has discovered this truth for yourself, you are never at a disadvantage in the Lord’s sight. But, as you have probably discovered, it is nice to have your family committed to the gospel. It is encouraging to have family traditions that are in keeping with gospel living. You can resolve to start those traditions and habits in your family.
In a very real way, a decision concerning membership in the Church may not affect just one person, but could also affect their posterity. Your decision to join the Church is of great importance. Not only will your good example serve to inspire your family and friends now; it will also be a blessing to your posterity. You will be the beloved pioneer your family will remember and look up to.
As you hear or read stories about any Church pioneers, try to learn from the fine example of their lives. Be grateful that you benefit from their sacrifices. Gain strength by the things you learn from those stories. But understand that ultimately every person works out his or her own salvation (see Morm. 9:27), no matter who their ancestors were or what those ancestors have done.
My mother is the first member of the Church in her family, and she doesn’t have any pioneer heritage. However, she’s discovered through extensive genealogy work how unique her family is. Being able to find and do temple ordinances for nonmember ancestors is great. A convert to the Church is a pioneer. They often choose to do something that their friends and even their parents reject. My mother is one of those pioneers.
Alissa Haslam, 15
I am a missionary in the West Indies. Since the Church is relatively new here, practically all the members are the first in their families to belong. They are pioneers to their friends and families. The pioneering spirit is strongly felt. Be proud of your chance to be a pioneer yourself, and one day your children and grandchildren will talk about you as their pioneer ancestor.
Elder Eric Martindale, 20
West Indies Mission
All of us in my family are converts. I also have met people related to pioneers who brag about it, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters most is that you’ve found the true church. Remember that we have to work for our own salvation. No one else can do it for us.
Adelfa Rinna Rabasto, 16
It doesn’t matter who was the last or the first to belong to the Church. You need not be related to pioneers in order to receive the fulness of joy the gospel brings. That joy comes when we are converted.
People may brag about how many past generations in their families have belonged to the Church, but converts to the Church can experience the great joy of being the first to make the right choice that will help keep their families on the straight and narrow for generations yet to be.
Jonathan Grigg, 17
Clinton, Ontario, Canada
Personally, I believe it does not matter who your ancestors are. We are all given an equal chance with the Lord no matter who our ancestors are. What we choose to do with this chance is entirely up to us.
Heather Ruppel, 17
Dover, New Jersey
Both my parents are converts, so in a way, I am a son of pioneer parents. I am the first Nilssen to go on a mission, and my brothers and two sisters are strong members. That is the beginning of a rich posterity.
Ralph Nilssen, 19
Maple Valley, Washington
Most of the members here are converts, but they’re really strong, faithful members whom I really admire. All that matters is that you have faith and a strong testimony of the Church.
Cami Cheong, 16