“A Mission of Saving”

Lesson 35 – D&C 4:3-7; 18:10-16; 52:40; 81:5-6; 138:58; Our Heritage, Pgs. 77-80


We regularly repeat pioneer experiences and use them as examples to be followed.  President Hinckley points out why that is done: “Stories of the beleaguered Saints and of their suffering and death will be repeated again and again.  Stories of their rescue need to be repeated again and again.  They speak of the very essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Ensign, Nov. 1996, 86).  He also said: “I will never get over being thankful to them; I hope you never get over being thankful to them.  I hope that we will always remember them… Let us read again and again, and read to our children or our children’s children, the accounts of those who suffered so much” (Church News, 31 July 1999, 5).  This lesson concentrates on the lessons that can be learned from the Martin and Willie handcart companies.


President Brigham Young guided the rescue of the Martin and Willie handcart companies

President Gordon B. Hinckley: “I take you back to the general conference of October 1856.  On Saturday of that conference, Franklin D. Richards and a handful of associates arrived in the valley. They had traveled from Winter Quarters with strong teams and light wagons and had been able to make good time.  Brother Richards immediately sought out President Young.  He reported that there were hundreds of men, women, and children scattered over the long trail…They were in desperate trouble.  Winter had come early. Snow-laden winds were howling across the highlands…Our people were hungry; their carts and their wagons were breaking down; their oxen dying.  The people themselves were dying.  All of them would perish unless they were rescued.  I think President Young did not sleep that night.  I think visions of those destitute, freezing, dying people paraded through his mind.  The next morning he came to the old Tabernacle which stood on this square.  He said to the people: ‘I will now give the subject and the text for the Elders who may speak…It is this…Many of our brethren and sisters are on the plains with handcarts, and probably many are now seven hundred miles from this place, and they must be brought here, we must send assistance to them.  The text will be, “to get them here.”… That is my religion, that is the dictation of the Holy Ghost that I possess. It is to save the people….I shall call upon the Bishops this day.  I shall not wait until tomorrow, not until the next day, for 60 good mule teams and 12 or 15 wagons.  I do not want to send oxen.  I want good horses and mules.  They are in this Territory, and we must have them.  Also 12 tons of flour and 40 good teamsters, besides those that drive the teams… I will tell you all that your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the Celestial Kingdom of God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you.  Go and bring in those people now on the plains.’ (Handcarts to Zion [1960], 120-21)  “That afternoon, food, bedding, and clothing in great quantities were assembled by the women. The next morning, horses were shod and wagons were repaired and loaded.  The following morning,…16 mule teams pulled out and headed eastward.  By the end of October, there were 250 teams on the road to give relief” (Ensign, Nov. 1996, 85-86).  The Martin and Willie handcart companies had done all they could on their own, but they needed the rescue efforts of those willing parties who journeyed to save them…otherwise, they would have died.

President Hinckley shared this account of the rescue: “It was in…desperate and terrible circumstances—hungry, exhausted, their clothes thin and ragged—that [the handcart companies] were found by the rescue party.  As the rescuers appeared on the western horizon breaking a trail through the snow, they seemed as angels of mercy.   And indeed they were. The beleaguered emigrants shouted for joy, some of them.  Others, too weak to shout, simply wept and wept and wept.  There was now food to eat and some warmer clothing.  But the suffering was not over, nor would it ever end in mortality. Limbs had been frozen, and the gangrenous flesh sloughed off from the bones.  The carts were abandoned, and the survivors were crowded into the wagons of the rescuers. The long rough journey of three hundred even five hundred miles between them and this valley was especially slow and tedious because of the storms.  On November 30, 104 wagons, loaded with suffering human cargo, came into the Salt Lake Valley.  Word of their expected arrival had preceded them. It was Sunday, and again the Saints were gathered in the Tabernacle. Brigham Young stood before the congregation and said: ‘As soon as this meeting is dismissed I want the brethren and sisters to repair their homes…The afternoon meeting will be omitted, for I wish the sisters to…prepare to give those who have just arrived a mouthful of something to eat, and to wash them and nurse them…Some you will find with their feet frozen to their ankles; some are frozen to their knees and some have their hands frosted…; we want you to receive them as your own children, and to have the same feeling for them’ (quoted in Hafen, Handcarts to Zion, p. 139)” (Ensign, Nov. 1991, 54)            


The Savior rescues us through His atoning sacrifice

After sharing the story of the handcart companies, President Hinckley testified of the rescuing mission of the Savior: “It is because of the sacrificial redemption wrought by the Savior of the world that the great plan of the eternal gospel is made available to us, under which those who die in the Lord shall not taste of death but shall have the opportunity of going on to a celestial and eternal glory.  In our own helplessness, He becomes our rescuer, saving us from damnation and bringing us to eternal life.  In times of despair, in seasons of loneliness and fear, He is there on the horizon to bring succor and comfort and assurance and faith.  He is our King, our Savior, our Deliverer, our Lord and our God” (Ensign, Nov. 1991, 54).  


As Latter-day Saints, we are to rescue those in need

President Thomas S. Monson: “Let us for a moment join Captain Edward Martin and the handcart company he led.  While we will not feel the pangs of hunger which he felt or experience the bitter cold that penetrated their weary bodies, we will emerge from our visit with a better appreciation of hardship borne, courage demonstrated, and faith fulfilled.  We will witness with tear-filled eyes a dramatic answer to the question ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’   The handcarts moved on November 3 and reached the [Sweetwater] river, filled with floating ice.  To cross would require more courage and fortitude, it seemed, than human nature could muster.  Women shrank back and men wept.  Some pushed through, but others were unequal to the ordeal.  ‘Three eighteen-year-old boys belonging to the relief party came to the rescue; and to the astonishment of all who saw, carried nearly every member of that ill-fated handcart company across the snow-bound stream.  The strain was so terrible, and the exposure so great, that in later years all the boys died from the effects of it.  When President Brigham Young heard of this heroic act, he wept like a child, and later declared publicly, “That act alone will ensure C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant, and David P. Kimball an everlasting salvation in the Celestial Kingdom of God, worlds without end” ‘ (Handcarts to Zion [Glendale, CA: The Arthur Clark Co., 1960], pp. 132-33). “Our service to others may not be so dramatic, but we can bolster human spirits, clothe cold bodies, feed hungry people, comfort grieving hearts, and lift to new heights precious souls” (Ensign, May 1990, 46-47).   


We have a rescue mission today. “Our mission in life, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, must be a mission of saving…” said President Gordon B. Hinckley. (Ensign, Nov. 1991, 59)   Referring to the suffering of the Martin and Willie handcart companies, Pres. Hinckley said: “I am grateful that those days of pioneering are behind us. I am thankful that we do not have brothers and sisters stranded in the snow, freezing and dying, while trying to get to this, their Zion in the mountains.  But there are people, not a few, whose circumstances are desperate and who cry out for help and relief.  There are so many who are hungry and destitute across this world who need help… Ours is a great and solemn duty to reach out and help them, to lift them, to feed them if they are hungry, to nurture their spirits if they thirst for truth and righteousness.  My brethren and sisters, I would hope, I would pray that each of us…would resolve to seek those who need help, who are in desperate and difficult circumstances, and lift them in the spirit of love into the embrace of the Church, where strong hands and loving hearts will warm them, comfort them, sustain them, and out them on the way of happy and productive lives” (Ensign, Nov. 1996, 86) 


We have counsel in the Doctrine and Covenants on how we can be involved in a mission of saving:

·        D&C 4:3-7 list qualities which can help us rescue those in need (desire to serve God, faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God…faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, humility, and diligence)

·        D&C 18:10-16 counsel us about opportunities to teach the gospel and the doctrine of repentance (remember the worth of souls and your eternal joy with those you save through missionary service)

·        D&C 52:40 tell us what to do for those in need (remember and serve them in their need)

·        D&C 81:5-6 command us to care for physical needs…and spiritual needs also.

·        D&C 138:58 counsel us to remember the opportunity to save the dead (through temple ordinances)

As we consider our responsibilities as rescuers, we should remember the example set in rescuing the handcart company—do not delay your efforts (start now), put aside your concerns in favor of those who need your assistance, and put your faith in God to help you do what is required. 


As we struggle to save others, we must never give up hope. We must be selfless, compassionate, humble, and loving as we reach out to assist others in their lives.


“We became acquainted with [God] in our extremities”.  See Our Heritage, pg. 77-78, and think about how you have become acquainted with God during trials and difficult circumstances.


“If the world is going to be saved, we have to do it”.   It is our responsibility and opportunity to rescue those in need.  As President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “Our message is so imperative, when you stop to think that the salvation, the eternal salvation of the world, rests upon the shoulders of this Church.  When all is said and done, if the world is going to be saved, we have to do it.  There is no escaping from that.  No other people in the history of the world have received the kind of mandate that we have received. We are responsible for all who have lived upon the earth.  That involves our family history and temple work.  We are responsible for all who now live upon the earth, and that involves our missionary work.  And we are going to be responsible for all who will yet live upon the earth” (Church News, 3 July 1999, 3). 

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