As I visited the camp of 160 kids and 45 adults Thursday night during the Mesquite Nevada Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) re-enactment of their ancestors traveling across the country in the pioneer days, I was struck by how much everyone seemed to be enjoying the experience in spite of the hard work, hot days, and miles of desert and mountains.
The Church sponsored the four day, three night, trek through the desert and mountains for kids ages 14 to 18 that was designed to “make them understand their heritage and realize how good they have it nowadays.”
Kenyon Leavitt, who with his wife Marianne were the main coordinators and leaders of the group, said that his main hope is for the kids to learn that “they can do things that are hard.”
Saturday morning the hand cart train was due in Bunkerville. Around noon, people were lined up and down the streets anxiously awaiting the arrival of their children, mothers, fathers, friends, and others who had made walk. It was a carnival-like atmosphere, a real celebration.
I talked to a couple fathers who were waiting for their children to arrive.
Chad Poulson was waiting for his daughter, Kylie, who was on her second desert trek. “It’s a growing experience for her. She looks at it as a rite of passage,” he said.
And that’s a great way to describe this adventure. Some religions use baptisms or confirmations as a way to mark a significant milestone in a child’s life. The Mormon Church was using this in a similar fashion.
Cameron Mikkelson said his son Colton was on his first trek. “He’s going to learn to work hard. I think it’s important for kids to learn there’s something outside of video games and iPods. This will help put these kids in touch with their heritage.”
As the hand-cart train came through the last bit of desert, the crowds began calling out to them, welcoming them home. A few people ran alongside the weary travelers handing them ice-cold popsicles. It was almost wall-to-wall people as the train made its way to the Village Park.
Mike Wilson, Bowler Elementary School Principal, gave me a ride in his four-wheeler down to the Park. As we rode, through the streets, he reveled in the memories of his four days, expressing how proud he was of the kids.
“We thought they’d be worn out Friday night and eager to sleep. But we had a dance and music the last night and the kids were having a ball. Even after that, they didn’t want to sleep but wanted to stay up and visit.”
“The highlight of the trip was seeing how well the kids persevered and the bonding they had with those in their family,” he remarked.
Once in the Park, several of the kids ran through the refreshing water play area, drenching their sun-roasted, dusty clothing, reveling in the liquid downpour. Children and parents hugged, kissed, and cried tears of joy, wrapped in each other’s arms.
“Glad to be home,” Leavitt told me. He described to me his most memorable experience of the trip.
“The last full day we made the boys figure out how to get the carts up a
pretty steep hill. They had to figure out how to get all 19 carts up. We gave them a few [tips] but they had to figure it out themselves. The first couple were pretty scary but they got them all to the top.”
As the throngs of people gathered in the Park, Leavitt spoke to the huge crowd expressing his thanks to all the committee members who lended help with food, equipment, and the one that got the most cheers, porta-potties.
“Moms and Dads, I want you to know that you have some great kids. They now know they can do some really hard things because they did it the last four days. And the Ma’s and Pa’s did some really hard things too,” Leavitt said.
“I’d like the kids that were on the Trek to know, that I have a testimony to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The things that we learned out there may not have been straight from the scriptures. They may not have come from a manual. But, they are things that will help you out throughout your life. If you remember those times when it got tough, and it got hot, and the hills turned into mountains that never ended, and the washes turned into soft sand that never ended, that we can do hard things. We can continue to work. If we can work together, we’re going to come to the end and be happy.”
As he called out, “are we not happy now,” the kids and parents applauded loudly.
Mesquite Nevada Stake President Theron Jensen teased the weary kids that his prepared remarks were only an hour long. But it didn’t take that much time for him to express his delight with the success of the Trek. He spoke about how awesome the children were for what they had accomplished in the four days. As he spoke about the meaning of the word awesome, he said it’s the “overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, produced by that which is grand and extremely powerful. You’ve accomplished something grand and extremely powerful.”
“Now what are you going to do with it,” Jensen challenged the kids. “What are you going to do with this newly acquired knowledge that you found? This knowledge of yourself and the fact there is nothing that you cannot accomplish?”
“Carry it with you for the rest of your life,” he encouraged the crowd. He read a scripture that inspired the children to think of those moments during the trip when they felt the power of their Father in Heaven. “He knows you, knows what you’re capable of, and has shown you but a sample of that over the last few days.” Jensen encouraged the kids to use what they had learned to do great things in life.
He addressed the parents in the crowd saying, “the children will rise to the level of your expectations. Expect more of them. Push them. Encourage them. Nurture them.”
Mesquite Nevada Stake First Counselor Kraig Hafen led the closing prayer with the group and then as quick as they could turn around, the kids were off to grab cheeseburgers, hot showers, and a soft bed with a pillow.
As the blisters heal, and the sore muscles go away, as they catch up with all their cell phone messages and texts, perhaps what the kids will remember the most for the rest of their lives is that yes, they can do hard things.