Ever since my mission to Argentina in the 1970s, I have been amazed at the faith, vision and perseverance of the Hispanic saints. Working with the Spanish-speaking saints in northern San Diego County, however, has taken that respect to a whole new level.
Three years ago, the branch in which I serve was invited to participate with the Vista 4th Ward's (also a Spanish-language unit) first Pioneer Day celebration. While not exactly sure what a Pioneer Day event would be like in Spanish, it did sound like fun.
As we arrived, my wife, Laurie, and I found more than 100 Hispanic saints wearing pioneer-era clothing and about a half dozen full-sized handcarts built of scrap lumber by individual families. We all embarked on a parade, singing pioneer-era hymns in Spanish. We played some traditional pioneer type games and ate wonderful homemade Mexican dishes, perhaps not traditional in the pioneer sense, but absolutely delicious.
I left that party with the sense that these good brothers and sisters had much more in common with the early Mormon pioneers than perhaps they realized. Most were first-generation Church members and virtually all the adults had immigrated here from other countries. These Hispanic saints were not literally descended from the pioneers, but they understood and appreciated the sacrifices that had helped carry the gospel forward to bless all our lives today. I felt very proud to have witnessed this sincere and fitting tribute to the Mormon pioneers.
The next couple of Pioneer Day celebrations were similar in nature and big successes in their own right. More handcarts were built; there were parades, music, food, and wonderful times were had. However, this year's effort had meaning beyond anything seen before.
A couple of months ago, Larry Eddington of our stake high council asked if any of the Hispanic saints might be able to use the large stack of plywood sub-flooring that had been removed from the cultural hall in our Cardiff Ward meetinghouse. Bishop Hector Bernal of the Vista 4th Ward said he was certain he could find a worthy cause for it. I didn't think much more about that wood until a few weeks later, as we began our preparations for this year's Pioneer Day celebration and Bishop Bernal unveiled his vision to make the event special. We would build a model of the Nauvoo Temple from which the pioneer procession would leave.
I pictured a 4-or 5-foot tall model that all could admire. Our little branch was invited to help in the construction of the temple model. When we arrived on the appointed day, I came to the sudden realization that Bishop Bernal had indeed found a worthy cause for all that plywood. His vision of a model of the Nauvoo Temple was one of a much grander scale than I ever would have guessed. With only a library picture as a blueprint, along with the faith and determination of a group of people who believe all things are possible, we began construction on a 32'x20' detailed replica of the Nauvoo Temple.
Many hours of loving labor were donated to the construction, painting, and decorating of this structure. I marveled at the creativity employed — for example, the sunstones were made of paper plates and the trumpets above them of plastic cups cut in half.
When it became apparent on the evening before the celebration that we would not be able to complete the structure beforehand, Bishop Bernal determined that this would now become the main activity for the celebration; we would complete the temple before leaving on the traditional pioneer trek.
It was inspiring the next morning, July 19, to see dozens of men and women in pioneer dress working hard to finish the temple. This situation was so very analogous to the faithful Nauvoo saints in the mid-1840s whose efforts to complete the temple would provide much sought-after blessings, but who also realized that the beautiful structure would soon be abandoned (in our case the model would need to be dismantled for safety concerns). Men sawed and hammered; women painted and provided detailed finish work. Both breakfast and lunch were served as the work proceeded. At about 1:45 p.m. the tower structure was lifted and secured in place with a gold, spray-painted Moroni gleaming in the sun. It was an absolute inspiration to all assembled.
I think of my great-great-grandfather, Silas Sanford Smith, who, as a 17-year-old boy with his widowed mother and younger brother, undoubtedly looked back across the Mississippi River at the magnificent Nauvoo Temple as they began their arduous journey to the Salt Lake Valley. That our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters would recognize the great sacrifices made by our forbearers has profoundly touched me. I feel tremendous appreciation for their sensitivity to the Church's history and their absolute determination to adopt the LDS culture as their own.
The casual observer with no sense of the Mormon history might say that this was a giant waste of time and resource, that the effort and materials might have been employed in a more meaningful cause. I suspect the same was said in Nauvoo many years ago. However, what I witnessed on that beautiful Saturday in July was a group of faithful saints — modern-day pioneers in their own right — honoring another group of faithful saints by reenacting in a small way the pioneers' sacrifices to build up Zion.
• Kevin Smith is president of the Encinitas 2nd Branch, Del Mar California Stake.