Modern-day Mongolian pioneers re-enact trek
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With the annual pioneer day approaching — a day celebrating the Saints arrival to the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847 — youth in many wards and stakes around the country are donning pioneer garb to reenact the trek of early Church members across the plains. For many, trek is something they have prepared and looked forward to for months, even years.
For the modern-day pioneers in Mongolia where the Church is still very young, it was a senior missionary couple that started the ball rolling for the youth to experience their first pioneer trek.
"Last March, Sister Hunt and I were traveling with the Ulaanbaatar West Stake president to Northern Mongolia to do a PEF fireside, when we told President [Ochirjav] Odgerel that it would be a great experience for the youth in his stake if they could do a handcart trek," said Elder Gary Hunt, who is serving with his wife, Martha, in the Mongolia Ulaanbaatar Mission.
Not knowing what a handcart trek was, President Odgerel asked the couple for more details.
"[We] proceeded to tell him all about handcart treks and how thousands of youth participated in treks in America," Elder Hunt said. "He asked many questions and then turned around and enthusiastically shouted, 'Our stake will do a handcart trek this summer.'"
With only three and a half months of preparation, 96 youth and 26 adult leaders pioneer garb as they grabbed hold of handcarts and trekked across an open landscape in Mongolia.
"We went on the very first handcart trek to be held in Mongolia," Elder Hunt said. "The trek was full of fun, singing, friendship, helping others and a constant feeling of love and cooperation. The beautiful Mongolian countryside added to the success of the trek."
In order to make it to the area designated for the trek, Church members left Ulaanbaatar at 8 p.m. and rode through the night to Erdenet — a trip of more than 100 miles.
"We traveled all night until we reached Erdenet at 8 o'clock the next morning," Elder Hunt said. "The scenery was great with lots of rolling hils, many of which were pine covered. There were many herds of sheep, goat, horses, yaks and even a couple of camels."
Once the group arrived in Erdenet, they boarded 13 vans to travel 50 more miles to where the handcart portion of the trek would begin. There the women on aprons and bonnets made by the Relief Society, and the men put on suspenders and cowboy hats.
"We only had six handcarts ,which had been custom built, but that was not a problem," Elder Hunt said. "The youth were so excited and were singing Church songs and laughing and having a great time. The most popular song we heard was 'Come, Come Ye Saints,' which sounds very beautiful when sung in the Mongolian language."
As the group traveled the mountainous terrain, participants passed signs reading "Nebraska," "Wyoming" and "Utah" representing the path the early Church members traveled. They encountered "Rocky Ridge" as they went up and down very steep hills, and even spent time crossing their own "Sweetwater River" that was about three feet deep and 30 yards across. Included in the trek was a service project where youth stopped for a two hours to help a local resident by weeding a large nursery of baby pine trees.
"This was a most amazing experience," Elder Hunt said. "It is hard to believe that in a short three and a half months an idea of a handcart trek could be born, planned and carried out in such an organized and efficient way. It truly was miraculous in many ways. The country was beautiful, the food was great, the kids were great, the trek was very authentic with hardly any traveling on dirt roads and, most important, our testimonies were strengthened and deep bonds of friendship were formed and strengthened.
"I know the youth will never forget this experience and in years to come will tell how they 'pioneered' the very first handcart trek."