Michael Andrew Ellis

Writings, Homilies, and Parthian Shots

24 Jul 2022

Pioneer Day 2022

Mormon Pioneers

As I write this the night before Pioneer Day, my neighbors are setting off fireworks to commemorate July 24, 1847, when the first pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley and the “Mormon Moses,” Brigham Young, proclaimed, “This is the place.” It’s been 175 years since then, and much has changed since the days when the pioneers had to eek out an existence in the high desert. Much of the farmland along the Wasatch Front has yielded a harvest of multi- and single-family homes as more people have come to the state to work in technology on Silicon Slopes. Yet, no matter whether you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and thus have a particular interest in pioneer ancestors, each Utahan benefits from the foundation of courage and faith the pioneers laid. Their perseverance, resourcefulness, and foresight deserve our respect.

Many members of the Church in Utah can claim pioneer ancestry. Just yesterday, I was asking my barber if he had any pioneer ancestry and he said, “Yes, my great-great-great-great-grandfather founded _______. There’s a statue of him in the park in front of the library.” It must be nice to look back five generations and trace the faith of one’s forefathers to the present day. But on Pioneer Day, we members of the Church celebrate more than just the pioneers who pushed or pulled handcarts across the Plains. We also celebrate the pioneers in our families who first embraced the Gospel and joined the Church.

Ellis Family Pioneers

For the Ellis family, two of our earliest pioneers were my great-aunts, Ethel Aldolphia Shirley and Amanda Florence Shirley, my great-grandmother Ellis’s sisters. They heard the gospel message from some missionaries in Mississippi and were baptized on April 29, 1901. They emigrated to Utah in 1902 and over time married into the Clark and the Bailey families respectively. They also died in the faith.

Next is my late father, Robert F. Ellis, who learned of the Church from a friend at work. We lived in Georgia at the time. My dad embraced the gospel message readily, but my mom took her time. They were both Southern Baptist before, and my mom feared that she would be replacing the religion she was brought up with. One of the missionaries helped her to see that she would just be adding to it, so she received her witness and agreed to be baptized. They were baptized in 1977, when I was going on seven years old. A year later, we traveled all the way up to the Washington DC temple to be sealed together as a family. Then, I was baptized on my eighth birthday. It took great courage for my parents to push against tradition and join a religion that wasn’t condoned by the extended family. When my dad found out that he had relatives who had joined the Church before him, he was very happy.

Lee Family Pioneers

My wife, Shoua, is Hmong. In the late 1970s, she and her family fled the communist takeover of Laos and arrived in America in 1980. Over the next decade, she had experiences that prepared her to receive the Gospel. Against the wishes of her family, in January of 1989, she and her two sisters were baptized and confirmed members of the Church. Her faith and courage to heed the witness she had received and persevere against her family’s opposition has brought her many blessings since.

Pioneers in Our Lives

Considering the word “pioneer” in its broadest sense, we all have people in our lives who have led the way for us to follow. Learn about your “pioneer” ancestors by visiting Family Search or Ancestry.com. See if the older members of your family have scrapbooks or photo albums for you to look at, or stories to tell. Remembering the pioneers in our lives can give us a sense of continuity with the past and a touchstone for our future course.

In honor of the pioneers, check out this rendition of “Come, Come Ye Saints”:

What pioneers do you have in your life?

Wise words: "Die empty."