Let me begin with a simple story of a nine-year-old pioneer girl named Agnes Caldwell. Of her experience in the Willie Handcart Company in 1856, Agnes related: “Although only tender years of age, I can yet close my eyes and see everything in panoramic precision before me—the ceaseless walking, walking, ever to remain in my memory. Many times I would become so tired and, childlike, would hang on the cart, only to be gently pushed away. Then I would throw myself by the side of the road and cry. Then realizing they were all passing me by, I would jump to my feet and make an extra run to catch up.”
She goes on to share: “Just before we crossed the mountains, relief wagons reached us, and it certainly was a relief. The infirm and aged were allowed to ride, all able-bodied continuing to walk. When the wagons started out, a number of us children decided to see how long we could keep up with the wagons, in hopes of being asked to ride. At least that is what my great hope was. One by one they all fell out, until I was the last one remaining, so determined was I that I should get a ride. After what seemed the longest run I ever made before or since, the driver . . . called to me, ‘Say, sissy, would you like a ride?’ I answered in my very best manner, ‘Yes sir.’ At this he reached over, taking my hand, clucking to his horses to make me run, with legs that seemed to me could run no farther. On we went, to what to me seemed miles. What went through my head at that time was that he was the meanest man that ever lived. . . . Just at what seemed the breaking point, he stopped. Taking a blanket, he wrapped me up and lay me in the bottom of the wagon, warm and comfortable. Here I had time to change my mind, as I surely did, knowing full well by doing this he saved me from freezing when taken into the wagon” (in Madsen, I Walked to Zion, 57–59).
Young Agnes Caldwell made it safely to the Salt Lake Valley in November 1856. Her family settled in Brigham City, Utah, where Agnes met and married Chester Southworth. Together, they had thirteen children and, among other righteous service in the kingdom, helped settle a Latter-day Saint colony in Cardston, Alberta, Canada.
Had the driver of that wagon taken Agnes into the wagon without making her run, she would have surely succumbed to the bitter cold. And had Agnes chosen to give up and fall behind, her story may have ended much differently. However, for Agnes this became her defining moment, and though the decision to run did not make perfect sense at the time, she ran anyway. She ran toward Zion—following in the footsteps of the prophet Brigham Young and heeding the voice of the Lord, who said, “Let them awake, and arise, and come forth, and not tarry, for I, the Lord, command it” (Doctrine and Covenants 117:2).
This was the run of her life! It was hard, and she resisted. But by running she was able to generate enough body heat to keep warm and prevent her from freezing during her ride in the wagon.
Each of us is on a journey to Zion, and, like Agnes did, we too must “Awake, and arise, and come forth, and not tarry” (Doctrine and Covenants 117:2). We must remember that Zion is not only a place, it is a state of being, it is “the pure in heart” (Doctrine and Covenants 97:21). And purity of heart must be our goal in order to reach our final destination. We are better prepared and better equipped than any people in the history of the world. We have what it takes, and now is the time for the run of our lives—our run to Zion!
President Thomas S. Monson and those before him have shown us the way. The course is clearly marked, and the pace is steady and strong. We, like Agnes, are being asked to cross the plains. We may not have to give up all of our earthly possessions, but the journey to Zion requires that we give up all of our sins so that we may come to know Him—the true and living Christ. We may even be asked to run to the point of exhaustion; but by doing so the warmth of the Lord’s love will preserve us for the great work yet to come.
In 1838, the Lord told His Saints gathered in Far West, Missouri, “Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:5). The pioneers, like young Agnes and her family, who faithfully endured the persecutions heaped on the early Church and then willingly walked away—to Zion—set forth a standard for the nations and for this generation. Their journey had everything to do with their faith and testimony. It had everything to do with Joseph Smith and Moroni and Oliver Cowdery and Nephi and Moses and Joshua and even Thomas S. Monson. And it had and has everything to do with you and me. They sacrificed their all in order to come to Zion and there build a temple to our God. They knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon was true. They knew that the blessings to be bestowed in holy temples were necessary for the plan to be accomplished. And they knew, as Moroni repeatedly taught Joseph Smith, that “if it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming” (Joseph Smith—History 1:39).
Zion—the pure in heart—was then and is now the goal. It is the cause of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. And now is the time, as Mormon and Moroni exhorted, to “be faithful in Christ” (Moroni 9:25) and to “lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing” (Moroni 10:30). Now is the time to “awake, and arise from the dust, . . . that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be fulfilled” (Moroni 10:31). Now is the time to return to virtue!