They, the builders of the nation,
Blazing trails along the way;
Stepping-stones for generations
Were their deeds of ev’ry day.
This hymn is, on the surface of it, an ode to the Mormon Pioneers, a group with a hallowed place in Latter-day Saint lore. This first (or second, depending on how you want to look at it) generation of saints in the latter days heard the gospel message, embraced it and converted, and gave up everything to be with their fellow saints, often having to start anew several times. They were run out of Ohio, out of Missouri, and out of Illinois. They journeyed across the prairie to build a home in the mountains where they could be safe from persecution. It cost them dearly; many of the saints were buried along the trail.
Stories abound in the Church about brave souls who walked across frozen soil barefoot, or who waded through icy water to carry others across a river, or those who felt the supporting hands of angels as they pushed handcarts across the plains. They’re dramatic stories, and they’re inspiring. They remind us the importance of sacrificing for the kingdom. They gave up comforts in order to help build the foundation of the Church for the generations that would follow. They blazed trails for their descendants; literal trails into the Rocky Mountains of course, but trails of faith and courage for their children and grandchildren to follow as well. We tell stories about the Pioneers not just for their drama, but for their ability to promote faith in us.
But setting aside the refrains of “blessed, honored Pioneer!” and “pushing on the wild frontier,” this could just as easily be about you and I. We are builders of the nation, too. The Pioneers helped to lay the groundwork for the kingdom, but it is by no means finished. It’s certainly an impressive feat that a church that first appeared in 1830 (in its modern incarnation, anyway) currently has over fifteen million members across the globe. The thousands of stakes and tens of thousands of wards sprawled across the nations is a testament to how far the Church has come. The nearly seven billion people alive on the earth who are not currently members of the Church is a testament to how far we still have to go.
The Lord’s stated mission for mankind is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Nowhere in that phrase does it indicate that ten or fifteen million is a pretty good number and that we can stop and take a break. We are to continue to build the kingdom, both from within and without. We are to lengthen our cords and strengthen our stakes, bringing more and more into the fold, and we are also to help to build each other up into fellowcitizens, being of the household of God. There’s a lot to be done.
It’s easy, then, to let those echoes of the Pioneers lull us into sleepiness, thinking that the hardest work is behind us. Listen to these words from the second verse and ask yourself if these can’t apply to you and I as much as they did to the early saints:
Service ever was their watchcry;
Love became their guiding star;
Courage, their unfailing beacon,
Radiating near and far.
Ev’ry day some burden lifted,
Ev’ry day some heart to cheer,
Ev’ry day some hope the brighter,
Blessed, honored Pioneer!
Those aren’t attributes only found in the mid-19th century. Lifting others burdens and cheering others hearts aren’t deeds limited to Pioneers; they’re deeds asked of everyone who has taken upon themselves the name of Christ through baptism. We are all fueled by service, love, and courage.
The Pioneers laid the foundation for the kingdom in their day, but when you stop to think about the magnitude of what lies ahead of us, we’re still laying the foundation ourselves. There are still “hosts of waiting youth” ahead of us just as there were ahead of the Pioneers. They blazed trails and showed us their faith. We, too, blaze trails for those that will come ahead of us, clearing a path for those to come so that they can walk in faith and righteousness. We are forging onward, ever onward, each of us a blessed, honored Pioneer.
Image credit: “Crossing the Mississippi on the Ice,” C.C.A. Christensen.