Walking in the shoes of faith pioneers
Dylan Gardner went on his first pioneer trek at 15. Designed to help followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the multi-day trek requires young people to put themselves in the shoes of early pioneers of the faith who walked thousands of miles to escape religious persecution.
“I just remember prior to the experience I didn’t want to go,” the youth counsellor recalled. “I didn’t want to dress up like a pioneer from the 1800s and for people to see me dressed up like a pioneer — but going through the experience, I grew really close to other members of the faith and to my Saviour.”
Mr Gardner became a member of the church when he was baptised at 8. Three years later, after his parents divorced, his family stopped attending.
A friend encouraged him to go on his first trek. In just a matter of hours, he felt like he “belonged and all [his] worries vanished”.
Mr Gardner said there was a spiritual power in being around other believers his age and hearing scriptures from God’s word provided guidance and comfort in times of trouble.
“After the experience, I felt like I had grown so much and even to this day I look back at my trek and see it as a pivotal moment in my life that brought me back into activity in the church,” he said. “I was able to build off that experience in later years and gain a further understanding of the true meaning of life.”
The 27-year-old co-ordinated Bermuda’s first pioneer trek this month. Ten children, aged 11 through 17, walked with him across the island, from April 4 to 6.
The experience gave the them a chance to re-enact some of the faith-building challenges of those early pioneers, who had to pack up their belongings, gather their families and make the 2,000-mile journey from Missouri to Utah as a sign of courage and sacrifice for their religion.
The trek here utilised all 21 square miles of the island and included physical, mental and spiritual challenges. Before embarking on the journey, the students watched films about the early trek experience; each was given a pioneer to identify with during the actual walk itself.
“The physical challenge was probably the hardest for the young people,” said Elder Dave Moss, a US missionary based here. “We started off our trek in Dockyard and marched over to Chaplin Bay where we spent the night camping. Then we made our way to Coney Island, before wrapping up on the final day at Clearwater Beach in St David’s.
“In total it was 33 miles, so many of the young people complained of their feet hurting. They had to push a wooden cart the entire time and, for one of the challenges, they had to get the cart up one of Bermuda’s steepest hills, Warwickshire Drive on South Shore Road.
“The girls on the trek also had to do some of the physical challenges on their own, without the boys’ help. This was to show them what it would have been like in the 1800s when the men had to go off to war and the women were left to fend for themselves.”
References to the scriptures offered spiritual strength to the youngsters; parallels were drawn to their trek and the 40 years the Israelites wandered through the wilderness. “The trek taught them so much,” Mr Gardner said. “We shared stories about early pioneers who didn’t think they could walk another inch or mile but, thanks to the miraculous power of God, they were given the spiritual strength to reach their destination.
“We shared about how challenging it would have been for those early pioneers to walk for miles in 16 inches of snow, and tried to recreate the experience by getting the young people to push their cart in the sand on Chaplin Bay.
“The goal is for them to walk away with the confidence that no matter how hard things get they can overcome difficulties with Jesus’s help. While no one can ever comprehend what Jesus Christ went through for all of humanity when he died on the cross, this trek has provided me just a tiny fraction of insight into how he struggled and exactly what that means for you and me.”
Sisters Rachel and Ruth Mello-Cann, were two of the students that took part in the trek.
“The walk was extremely tiring and my feet hurt a lot, but we kept going and finally got to our camp site on the first day,” said Rachel, 15.
“It was such a relief and put things into perspective for me. I realised that the early pioneers had to endure so much more than us and it showed me God will always find a way to help us through hard times and bad situations even when we feel like giving up.”
Jade Smith, a student at the Berkeley Institute, didn’t initially want to go on the trek.
“I definitely feel like it strengthened my faith and showed me the great lengths that people have gone to stand up for what they believe in,” the 16-year-old said. “I have always been confident in my faith and been able to talk about it because I am proud of who I am, but this experience gave me even more faith and respect for myself.
“Knowing I did this in front of Bermuda — people would drive past us and stop to ask questions and just look at us — but it didn’t bother me as I thought it would in the beginning.”