This is my article as published in the August 22, 2013 issue of The Mena Star
You have probably heard the term Zion, but what does it mean? The first time Zion is mentioned in the Bible is in 2 Sam. 5:6,7. "When the king and his men went to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites who lived there, the Jebusites taunted David, saying, “You’ll never get in here! Even the blind and lame could keep you out!” For the Jebusites thought they were safe. But David captured the fortress of Zion, which is now called the City of David."
In the New Testament, Zion also refers to New Jerusalem. Heb. 12:22 says, "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels."
Zion starts out in the Bible referring to a particular rocky outcropping with a fortress on top of it protecting the city of Jerusalem. It was later used to refer to the entire city of Jerusalem and then the entire nation of Judah. New Testament writers used Zion to refer to heaven and the New Jerusalem.
Recently my wife has been doing some genealogy research. In doing so she ran across a fascinating story. It is the story of her great great grandmother.
Sophia Klauen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark on August 17th 1824. When she was a young girl she married Peter Peterson. In 1853 he died of a contagious disease. Sometime after his death, Mormon missionaries from America studied with her. One thing that they focused on was the faithful gathering in Zion. To them Zion was the new Mormon settlement in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Sophie was baptized on December 27, 1855, and later sold her homestead in preparation to go to America. She trusted two Elders with the money from the sale of her farm but it was never returned to her. On May 4, 1856, Sophie and her children sailed from Liverpool, England on the ship Thornton.
On the voyage across the Atlantic her eight year old son Thomas fell from the upper deck and was killed. He was buried at sea. Still she was determined to go to the land of Zion and she never lost faith. She believed the Lord would help her reach her destination.
After arriving in New York, she along with hundreds of other converts from Denmark and England traveled by train to Chicago and then to Iowa City which was as far west as the train went in 1856.
There she became a part of the Willie Handcart Company. Prior to 1856, pioneers traveled to Utah in heavy, expensive wagons. To save money, Brigham Young came up with the idea of Handcarts that could be pulled by humans rather than animals. The plan was to bring as many people as possible, for as small an amount of money as possible.
Over nineteen hundred European converts signed up to cross the Plains with handcarts in 1856. The handcarts were designed to serve four or five persons each. At Iowa City the emigrants were organized into companies of about 100 handcarts each. Each adult was allowed only 17 pounds of personal belongings.
Sophie and the rest of the Willie Company left Iowa City in August 1856. There were over 400 people in the company pulling 100 handcarts with 5 support wagons. From Iowa to Missouri the roads were good and the game was plentiful.
When the Martin Company arrived at Florence, Nebraska a council was held, and they decided to press on, though there were those who advised against it because they felt it was too late in the summer to begin the journey. Three hundred miles later, a herd of buffalo stampeded the Willie Company's oxen and cattle, so the provisions from the stranded wagons were moved to handcarts and much of their possession had to be left behind.
The plans were to replenish their provisions when they reached Fort Laramie in Wyoming, but the Fort either had no food to spare or wouldn't sell it to the Mormon immigrants. The people lived on mostly flour that was rationed out daily. The portion of flour for each man was cut from 16 ounces to 10 ounces when they were not able to get provisions at Fort Laramie.
The strenuous work of pulling the handcarts on short rations caused much suffering and a number of deaths. When a harsh winter storm arrived on October 19, 1856, the exhausted pioneers faced starvation, hypothermia, frozen limbs, and death. Deep snow then made it impossible for them to move forward. On October 20th the group was completely out of food. They did not have adequate clothing and blankets to keep warm. Their situation was desperate and it looked like everyone would be lost.
In early September, Franklin D. Richards, returning from Europe where he had served as the Church's mission president, passed the Willie handcart company as he was travelling to Salt Lake City. Richards and the 12 returning missionaries who accompanied him were in carriages and light wagons pulled by horses that were able to travel much faster than the handcarts.
On October 4 the Richards party reached Salt Lake City and told the church leaders of the dire circumstances of the handcart company. The next morning the Church was meeting in a general conference, where Young and the other speakers called on the Church members to provide wagons, mules, supplies, and teamsters for a rescue mission. On the morning of October 7 the first rescue party left Salt Lake City with 16 wagon-loads of food and supplies. Throughout October more wagon trains were assembled, and by the end of the month 250 relief wagons were on the road.
On October 21st the first relief wagons reached the starving company. Although 68 of the 404 emigrants died on the way to Zion, the losses would have been much greater if the relief wagons had not reached them when they did.
Jens Nielsen of the Willie Handcart Company wrote, “No person can describe it, nor could it be comprehended or understood by any human living in this life, but those who were called to pass through it.
Sophie Peterson and her children all made it to Zion. Through all of the hardships and disappointments she endured, she never lost sight of her goal. She lost all of her money. Her son died on the voyage to America. She endured extreme hardship and hunger on the handcart journey. Most of the few belongings she was allowed to take on the journey had to be left on the trail when the carts had to be used to haul provisions.
Put yourself in her shoes. Would you still be focused on reaching Zion, or would you wish you had never started the journey?
Is your life as focused as that of Sophie? Are you intent on reaching Zion no matter what trials and disappointment come your way? I think that we can learn a lot from her determination and single mindedness in the face of extreme conditions.
1 Peter 1:4 tells us that, "We have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay." Are you determined to reach heaven? You have a priceless inheritance there.
2 Corinthians 5:1 says, "We know that our body—the tent we live in here on earth—will be destroyed. But when that happens, God will have a house for us. It will not be a house made by human hands; instead, it will be a home in heaven that will last forever."
God has a place for you in Zion. Are you focused on reaching it?
I hope that after hearing the story of Sophie and her determination to reach Zion you will be able to put into perspective the trial and troubles that come into your life. Whatever hardships and disappointments come our way, let’s focus on making it to Zion.