What is a Pioneer?
This summer we mark 159 years since the pioneers, under the inspired leadership of Brigham Young, entered the valley of the Great Salt Lake and proclaimed: “This is the right place. Drive on.”
Often we honor the great leaders and followers on this historic journey, but I wish to call attention to other “pioneers” who preceded that trek. In doing so I pause and ponder the dictionary definition of the word pioneer: “One who goes before to prepare or open up the way for others to follow.”2
Let us turn back the clock of time and journey to other places, that we might review several who I feel meet the high standard of the word pioneer.
Such a one was Moses. Raised in Pharaoh’s court and learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, he became mighty in words and deeds. One cannot separate Moses, the great lawgiver, from the tablets of stone provided him by God and on which were written the Ten Commandments. They were binding then—they are binding now.
Moses endured constant frustration as some of his trusted followers returned to their previous ways. Though he was disappointed in their actions, yet he loved them and led them, even the children of Israel, from their Egyptian bondage. Certainly Moses qualifies as a pioneer.
Another who qualifies is Ruth, who forsook her people, her kindred, and her country in order to accompany her mother-in-law, Naomi—worshipping Jehovah in His land and adopting the ways of His people. How very important was Ruth’s obedience to Naomi and the resulting marriage to Boaz by which Ruth—the foreigner and a Moabite convert—became a great-grandmother of David and therefore an ancestress of Jesus Christ.
The book of the Holy Bible that bears her name contains language poetic in style, reflective of her spirit of determination and courage. “And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
“Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”3
Yes, Ruth, precious Ruth, was a pioneer.
Other faithful women also qualify, such as Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene; Esther; and Elisabeth. Let us not overlook Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, nor fail to include Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and some from a later period.
Thomas S. Monson, “Led by Spiritual Pioneers,” Liahona, Aug 2006, 2–8
President Monson’s Pioneer Ancestors
Not surprisingly, as the pioneer theme is presented, each goes back in memory to his or her own family line. There are usually examples to identify and which fit the definition of a pioneer: “one who goes before, showing others the way to follow.” 3 Some, if not all, made great sacrifices to leave behind comfort and ease and respond to that clarion call of their newly found faith.
Two of my own great-grandparents fit the mold of many. Gibson and Cecelia Sharp Condie lived in Clackmannan, Scotland. Their families were engaged in coal mining—at peace with the world, surrounded by relatives and friends, and housed in fairly comfortable quarters in a land they loved. They listened to the message of the missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were converted to the depths of their very souls. They heard the call to journey to Zion and knew they must answer that call.
They sold their possessions and prepared for a hazardous voyage across the mighty Atlantic Ocean. With five children, they boarded a sailing vessel, all their worldly possessions in a tiny trunk. They traveled 3,000 miles across the waters, eight long, weary weeks on a treacherous sea—night and day nothing but water—eight weeks of watching and waiting, with poor food, poor water, and no help beyond the length and breadth of that small sailing vessel.
In the midst of this soul-trying situation, their son, Nathaniel, sickened and died. My great-grandparents loved that son just as much as your parents love you; and when his eyes were closed in death, their hearts were torn asunder. To add to their grief, the law of the sea must be obeyed. Wrapped in a canvas weighed down with iron, his body was consigned to a watery grave. As they sailed away, only those parents knew the crushing blow dealt to wounded hearts. Gibson Condie and his good wife were comforted by the words “Not my will, but Thy will, O Father.”
Thomas S. Monson, “Pioneers All,” Ensign, May 1997, 93
We need modern pioneers
The passage of time makes us forget, and we lose our appreciation for those who walked the path of pain, leaving behind a tear-marked trail of nameless graves. But what of today’s challenge? Are there no rocky roads to travel, no rugged mountains to climb, no trails to blaze, no rivers to ford? Or is there a very real need today for that pioneer spirit to guide us away from the dangers that threaten our society?
Standards of morality are lowering. Today there are more people in jail, in reformatories, and in trouble than ever before. From small to great, crime spirals upward. Decency appears to head rapidly downward. Many seek the thrills of the moment while sacrificing the joys of eternity. We conquer space but cannot control self. Thus we forfeit peace.
Can we somehow find the courage and that steadfastness of purpose which characterized the pioneers of a former generation? Can you and I, in actual fact, be pioneers today? A dictionary defines a pioneer as “one who goes before, showing others the way to follow.” Oh, how the world needs pioneers today!
Thomas S. Monson, “Come Follow Me,” Tambuli, Nov 1988, 2