Mormon teens learn about heritage with trek into Sumter National Forest

abredeson@islandpacket.comJune 23, 2012 

Local teenagers recently took a trip back in time.

Dressed in pioneer attire, the group of about 100 teens spent three days pulling handcarts through Sumter National Forest in upstate South Carolina. They slept outside. There were no phones, no Internet, no newspapers, no connection to the outside world.

The group of Mormons, ages 14-18, were participating in the West Columbia & Savannah Stakes Trek 2012. The group included teens from Beaufort, Hilton Head Island, Ridgeland, Statesboro and Savannah. They joined teens from West Columbia for the trek June 13-16.

The trek, which is held every three years, gives youth an opportunity to re-enact the historic handcart migration of the 1850s.

Susan Buckles, media specialist for the Savannah Georgia Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said members of the church were fleeing religious persecution at the time and headed to Salt Lake City, Utah.

"Without money for horses, they purchased wooden handcarts and pulled their belongings across miles of rugged terrain to the Mormon settlement," Buckles said.

Treks such as this one are held around the world. The purpose is to teach Mormon youth about their heritage and to strengthen their relationships with Christ, among other things.

Lisa Staff, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Hilton Head Island, went along to take photos of the trek.

Staff said the teens were broken up into various groups as "families." The older teens played the part of "Ma" and "Pa" for each group. The families had to pull their handcarts over hills and through water. Adults were along for safety reasons, but the teens had to work together to solve any problems that arose.

"It's not just the youth hiking," Staff said. "They had historical stories of things that actually happened and people retelling them and acting the parts."

She said there was a mercantile store set up, and the teens had to figure out whether to buy wagon repair kits or candy.

She said at the beginning of the trek, the teens were given packets of information about the historical journey and noteworthy characters of the time.

Members of the church showed up dressed as historical characters and told their stories. She said at one point they heard drums and hollering, and then a man dressed like an American Indian ran past.

She said there was an angel of life and an angel of death to remind the teens that babies were born and people died along the historic trek. The angel of life would give a pretend baby to families. The angel of death would take people out of the family groups. At one point the teens had to pass by a funeral scene.

Staff said one night they had old-fashioned games, such as arm wrestling, log-sawing contests and cow-milking contests.

"You would think with all these youth and the technology, that they would kind of go, 'Oh, that's so dumb,' " Staff said. "But they were all involved in everything they could try."

She said at sunrise on the last day of rek the teens shared what they learned on the journey.

Beaufort resident Grayson Morgan, 17, said he learned that he can accomplish difficult tasks.

"It was a test for sure," Morgan said, adding that this was his second trek. He was 14 the first time around. He said while the trek was tougher for him physically the first time, the second time it was more of a mental challenge.

He said he learned a lot about himself on the most recent trek.

"It kind of boiled down to my relationship with God and why my ancestors went through what they did, and where I play a part in history," Morgan said. "It's really a time where you can think about who you are and why you're here, and what you're doing, and what impact you can make in the world. So that was what I thought about as I pushed myself to the limits."

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