Follow Me To Zion
At times recently converted members of the church feel distanced from the pioneer stories our church embraces and often recounts. Sometimes even long time members with pioneer ancestry tire of lineage pride, as if being one (of hundreds of thousands) of the descendants of a handcart pioneer entitles a member to extra privileges. These types of feelings can distract us from reading and learning from pioneer stories. It is my belief that the stories of our progenitors (ours as in all of us, not just those in the blood lines) are the antidote to those isolating feelings.
Follow Me to Zion is the most recent book by Andrew D. Olsen, who previously wrote The Price We Paid: The Extraordinary Story of the Willie and Martin Handcart Pioneers. I anticipated reading Follow Me to Zion because The Price We Paid was a solid read, honestly depicting the complicated issues that contributed to this company’s hardships; not simply retelling faith promoting legends, Olsen has done his homework. Olsen’s co-author, Jolene Allphin has written numerous biographical sketches of pioneers. Follow me to Zion is a combination of their writing paired with the poignant work of artist Julie Rogers.
The inspiration for the title of this work is taken from two bookmarks that were found in the journal of pioneer Thomas Normington. Attached to vibrant red and blue ribbons are cross stitched the words, “Follow me To Zion.” They bring to mind the possible different circumstances in which the bookmarks might have been given. Did someone send them from Salt Lake in a letter to a family member in the East? Or was it a missionary that took the bookmarks on their mission to share with the converts they would meet? Whatever the circumstances were, the entreaty was answered with a faithful gaze to the West and thousands of miles of footsteps.
The story of Susannah Stone is balm to the modern convert who believes that the pioneers hold no importance to them. Susannah’s life reminds us that the church has always rested on the shoulders of converts, many of whom were alone in their faith, immigrating without family support. At Susannah’s lowest time, when she sat by the road to wait for cold death, a voice reminded her of the blessings that awaited her. She said, “I had no relatives, but many dear and devoted friends, and we did all we could to aid and encourage each other.”
If you are like Susannah, a solitary convert without family support, remember that those pioneers who are so lauded today were once like you. As we often say, you are a modern pioneer and in days to come your name will be blessed for your devotion to faith and the sacrifice it required. The stories in Follow Me to Zion remind us of the things we share with those who have come before. They were once like us, and one day our efforts will greatly bless the kingdom of God as their efforts bless us now.
As for those who take more pride in ancestry than ownership of the responsibilities of faith, the words of a descendent of Captain James G. Willie remind us that the faithful hold not a position of privilege, but of duty and sacrificial devotion. Paul Willie writes:
The legacy of the handcart saga is more than a story of hardship and survival. Almost everyone encounters a variety of challenges in this life – difficult situations, seemingly insurmountable odds, and daunting tasks. I only have to remember James G. Willie to remind myself that our heritage teaches us that we can do hard things when motivated by the truths of the gospel. And if we are motivated by correct principles, we can not only endure life’s challenges but even thrive and grow from them. That is the valuable lesson our family has been blessed with from the legacy of our grandfather, James G. Willie.
And so that is our challenge, to thrive and grow from the challenges of life. While none of us will pull a handcart through feet of snow with little more than crackers for our daily meal, the lessons contained in the pages of Follow Me to Zion teach the principles that apply to all faithful saints in whatever era and circumstances they live. These are only two of the pioneers whose stories are told by this new work that have inspired me, many more await in its pages.