For many youth who would rather be at the movies or playing video games, leaving behind modern amenities may not exactly sound like fun. And when blisters and sore feet start setting in, attitudes can get even worse. When that happens, the charge to “do your duty with a heart full of song” becomes even greater for leaders (and any not afflicted with attitude-itis).
“You’ve got to get into it!” says James Baird. “You want to have a super optimistic attitude. Kids are going to complain.” He was called after his mission to be a “pa,” who, along with a “ma,” was the leader of a “family” typically comprising around 10 youths. One trek activity may consist of 20 such groups.
“You have to figure out how to be in a place where you can inspire them to keep going and to appreciate what they’re doing,” says Baird, who grew a beard and taught outdoor crafts to his trek family.
A positive approach may even need to involve embracing square dancing.
“We encourage them to learn how to do it [square dancing], as this was an important activity for the pioneers to rejuvenate them after long days on the trail,” says Elder Lorin Moench, the director of the Mormon Handcart Historic Sites of Wyoming, which encompasses about 100 miles of historic trails and locations and is the destination of about 25,000 trekkers each summer. He encourages trek participants to bring portable instruments such as harmonicas and violins to play at their campsites and along the trail.
Phillip Millett’s attitude proved to be the most important thing he brought with him on trek. At age 19, he was older than what was usual, but because he had had so much fun at trek four years earlier, he contacted the stake president, trek leaders, and the stake Young Men president in order to be able to join.
Eleven miles into the first 13 of the trek’s initial day, rain began to drizzle. After arriving at their camp that night, lightning prompted the families to seek shelter. Then sleet fell, with the temperature dropping 30 degrees in half an hour and biting air penetrating hundreds of teenagers.
With some of the trekkers beginning to contract hypothermia, the stake president ordered them off the mountain. Ward members drove to the location to quickly shuttle the youths to safety.
But Millett rose to the occasion, staying behind and loading other trekkers’ items into the vehicles. His effort proved to be crucial in helping some 200-plus people make it that night to a Heber barn owned by a ma and pa.
After the trek, a powerful testimony meeting was held in a stake youth sacrament meeting. When the stake Young Women president asked the self-described “tough guy” to share his feelings during the meeting, Millett soon found himself crying.
“I can count the number of times I have cried,” Millett says. “I could say I knew the Church was true, that I had a spiritual confirmation of that, and I could tell my peer group because of what I experienced over that weekend.”
The next week, Millett met with the stake president and began working on his mission papers.