Dumped in the Valley?


I have always been fascinated by the LDS handcart and pioneer stories, especially the story of the company that was stranded in the mountains in an excruciatingly cold winter. I also have an ability to see metaphors in life stories, and I think there is one here.

The Story

If you are not familiar with LDS (Mormon) history and folklore, this may not be a story with which you are familiar. In short, a group of converts to the LDS faith decided to gather to the Salt Lake Valley from their homeland in Europe. They were not woodsmen or outdoors men of any type. They had been living in urban areas of their homeland.

When they got to the point that they were ready to make the trip across the American plains, there were problems. It was later in the season than it should have been to begin the trip. There weren’t carts available for the trip, and so carts were fashioned from green wood rather than from seasoned lumber.

The use of green wood further slowed these pioneers, as they experienced breakdowns and other issued caused as the wood began to dry. They left clothing and other belongings behind them on the plains in hopes that they could travel faster if they had lighter carts.

The food ran short as the delays cost them time. As they approached the Rocky Mountains, an early winter storm hit, and they were snowed in a pass in the mountains and starving to death. No one in the Salt Lake Valley knew they were coming. If it hadn’t been for someone traveling to the valley spotting them and reporting, every one of the members of the handcart company would have died.

Instead, Brigham Young announced at a conference meeting that the most important thing the saints could do was to ready supplies and wagons so that rescue parties could be sent as soon as possible. They were instructed to bring the suffering saints into the valley, and then to take them into their homes, feed them, and tend to the medical needs. The rescue has some interesting accounts of heroism, but that’s not the focus of my thoughts.

The Thoughts

I often wonder if anyone else sees the parallels to modern life and spiritual needs like I do. Could you imagine anyone considering themselves a follower of Christ picking the people up, driving them to the valley, getting them out of the wagon, wishing them luck and driving away? Could anyone with an ounce of human compassion have left others starving and nearly frozen to fend for themselves because they had made it “to the valley”? To quote an LDS hymn, “no, the thought makes reason stare”!

Yet, I think that I and other Latter-Day Saints are often guilty of emotionally spiritually dropping brothers and sisters off and letting them fend for themselves when we should still have a desire to help and care for them.

  • There is the classic move of trying to do “the work” and help others desire the fullness of the gospel as taught in our church. That is a very noble desire. However, if we “move on” after someone decides not to become a member, we do more harm than good — the impression left is that you were never really a friend, you were just interested in getting them to join the church.
  • Once someone has been baptized, we just let them come to church and worship, treating them like we would any other Latter-day Saint. We forget that they are now part of a culture that is at least a little foreign to them, and may have lost the companionship of friends and even family members for the choice they have made. They need more support.
  • Assuming that everyone you see in worship service is better off than you are and not opening your eyes to potential friendships and opportunities to brighten someone’s day.
  • Or the exact opposite — being so focused on “serving others” that we miss that we have sent friendship cues to others. We flit off to our next service project and leave others feeling bewildered, hurt and rejected.

I’m sure I could come up with more examples, but I hope I’ve made the point. Anyone we encounter is a brother or sister (or at least that what I learned when I joined the church). We have a responsibility to watch out for each other and to meet needs. Often, the need is to feel connected to someone else. That takes time and effort.

The problem is that we are bombarded with many good things to do. Each of them is commendable, and each would be approved by Heavenly Father. We are forced to choose, and in choosing we have to accept that we are renouncing other options. I think that’s ok, if we are praying and seeking guidance. We will be led to where we can do the most good and be guided on how to do it, and others seeking the same opportunities will be led to do what we cannot.