Two Generations of Pioneers
Written By: Yenny Mo, Originally in Chinese
In the Chinese language, the word pioneer is composed of two main characters: xiān and qū. The meaning of xiān is “at the front” and qū is “to ride a horse at a gallop.” Similar to riding a galloping horse, xiān qū zhě refers to someone who is first to go forward bravely, exerting all strength to open a new way for others.
This is the same for the pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Joseph Smith was the first prophet after the restoration of Christ’s church. In the spring of 1820, he sincerely asked God with great faith which church he should join. He then saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, whose light was above the brightness of the sun, and they answered his question that he should join none of them. Joseph was called to restore the original church of Jesus Christ so that people on earth will have the opportunity to know the living God and know how to obtain eternal blessings. Because of this great mission, he suffered immense ridicule, persecution, temptation, and heartache. After all of these trials, he was martyred.
Early saints of the church were called to bring to pass the will of God. “Ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts…Wherefore the decree hath gone forth from the Father that they shall be gathered in unto one place upon the face of this land.” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:7-8). Thousands of converts decided to give up everything they had and left their homes to travel to the gathering place. The journey was hard. They suffered hunger, cold, illness, and uncertainty. They were expelled and persecuted constantly. Many sacrificed their lives in order to build Zion, to strengthen God’s church on earth so that they and all people on earth—past and future generations—could have the opportunity to receive eternal blessings. The state of Utah has established July 24th as the Pioneer Day to commemorate their heroic effort and sacrifice.
However, the word pioneer doesn’t just apply to those who crossed the plains. There are pioneers from every era of time. Adam and Eve were the first human beings on earth. Vincent Van Gogh was a pioneer of expressionism in the 20th century. Howard Reingold pioneered the development of virtual communities. We can be pioneers within our own families. I would like to share the experiences of two generations of pioneers in the Mo family.
My father was born in a village in Guangdong Province, China. He joined the army at age 19. Three years later, he returned to his hometown, became a physical education teacher, and met my mother. During that time, our family was living in poverty. Then in 1984, he was given the opportunity to go to Venezuela with the help of his cousin who planned the way for him and loaned him money to cover the cost of the journey and travel documents.
The trip began from Xin Ping Village to Shahu Town, and then to Guangzhou, where he stayed overnight at a friend’s house until the next morning. He then took another train to Hong Kong. Soon after his arrival, he spent the only money he had buying a new set of clothes, a pair of shoes, and a gift for his cousin as a Chinese tradition of etiquette. After shopping, he finally set foot on the plane to Paris, and then to Columbia. At the time, he was penniless and did not know a word of English.
Upon arrival, a driver picked him up, drove him to a designated hotel, and waited for a few days until other transportation arrangements were made for him to get to Venezuela. In those days, the government of Venezuela did not provide any visas, so the route to the country was extra long.
In the car were two Columbians, two Chinese (including my father), and the driver. After driving for a few hours and passing a steep hill, Dad could see the large deserted and dense forests. The sight gave him an ominous premonition. The sky darkened, and suddenly the driver explained to them that they were approaching the Venezuelan border, so they would have to jump out of the car as quickly as possible and hide. He had to negotiate with the border guards before coming back to pick them up. The passengers did as he instructed and jumped out of the car, hiding in trees while they waited for the driver to come back. It was a terrifying night. He said he had never seen such huge, wild forests and cliffs. The fear of being eaten by tigers, wolves, or wild beasts at any time also haunted him. Over the cliff’s edge was a seemingly bottomless abyss, and if they accidentally fell, they would certainly die. All they could do was wait, trembling, for the return of the car.
After more than half an hour passed, the car finally came. They got in the car, breathed a sigh of relief, and passed the border safely. The car advanced into the barren mountains and ridges. Soon the driver told them that there was one last border to pass. They had to jump out of the car again. Unfortunately my dad happened to jump onto an unstable tree trunk. The trunk was about to break, but there was another stable tree trunk not far away from the other person who was with him. My father asked him to give him a hand as he jumped over. The other person didn’t understand what he had said and didn’t reach out to help, so my father got stuck and was hanging on the tree trunk. He then exerted all of his strength to climb up by himself, firmly grasping the tree trunk until he pulled himself up safely. His newly-purchased clothing was torn, and his leather shoes were broken. They endured hunger in the cold night, and waited, listening to the howling of wolves.
More than an hour had passed when the car came for them again. They jumped inside, thinking that their adventure was finally over. Not long after they got going, the driver told them to get out of the car once again, and switch to another large truck full of boxes of plantains, where they would hide underneath. When my father saw the plantains, he realized that if the trestles under the boxes were to fall apart, the person underneath would surely be crushed. But they had no other option, so they went in as they were told. Other drivers and co-workers worked together to cover them up tightly with the remaining plantains. My father described that he couldn’t move his hands and feet, and had difficulty breathing due to the weight and lack of oxygen. They endured this hardship until they arrived in Caracas, Venezuela. My father’s cousin met him as he got off the truck and drove him to his house for a temporary stay. Finally, he could eat, change clothes, take a shower, and go to bed. He slept all day and night for about a week.
Soon he got a job working overtime in a factory in order to pay off the debt of $8,330. During that period of time, he would write home every month, telling his family that he couldn’t send any money home until his debt was paid. It took him four consecutive years to pay off his debts.
Later on, my father moved to St. Maarten to work in a Chinese department store for a fellow who was from the same village. He was also responsible for making lunch and dinner for the man’s family. Unfortunately, the man would complain that my father didn’t cook enough, while the man’s mother would complain that he cooked too much. This caused them to quarrel against each other more and more over time. The man’s wife believed that my father was the cause for the disputes in the family, so she kicked my father out of the house one night. He wandered penniless for three days, until another kind man took him in to work in a restaurant. He let my father sleep in the corner of the restaurant. Due to the heavy workload, he felt exhausted to the point that he decided it wasn’t working out.
His former employer eventually reappeared and begged him to go back to work in the department store, so my father went and worked for him again. But a few months later, the man’s wife still didn’t like my father, and kicked him out again. Soon, he found another job in a supermarket, where he was mistreated and abused physically and verbally by the wife of his boss.
Some time later, a wealthy man named Afoo, who passed by the supermarket daily, noticed that my father was an extraordinarily hard-working man. Afoo offered to hire my father to work for him. Because of my father’s diligence, Afoo looked after him and offered help wherever needed. He increased his salary over time, which enabled my father to send more money home, and even helped many family members to come to the island, including my mother, brother, uncles, aunts, and other relatives from both of my parents’ families. Eventually, Afoo sold one of his restaurants to my father. With that opportunity, he was able to open up more businesses. He provided sufficiently for my grandparents and his four children so that we no longer lived in poverty.
Finances were not the only blessing. Because of his success in business, my father had the ability to support my sister and I as we attended college in the Netherlands. During the first year of college, we both wanted to find a church to do voluntary work, hoping to live a more meaningful life in addition to studying. One day, my sister met the missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who invited her to attend the church services and we both did that Sunday.
As I stepped into the church, something about it felt familiar and warm. It was as though light filled my whole body, mind, and heart with inexplicable joy. At that point, I was living with a lot of fear and sadness. The lack of true happiness I felt in my life drove me to keep meeting with the missionaries every week, in an attempt to keep that unprecedented feeling of joy with me. Eventually, I developed a testimony that God lives. He is our heavenly Father. He loves us very much, and for this reason suffered to send His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to make infinite sacrifices for our eternal happiness. At the same time, He allowed me to have many experiences and trials so that I would become humble, and would come to understand that He is the only source of lasting happiness. I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in June of 2016.
In February 2019, I was doing an internship in England. I had the opportunity to attend a local church meeting one Sunday. I ran into a missionary and learned that she was younger than me, and a more recent convert. Because she insisted on serving a mission, her parents didn’t talk to her. The story was very sad, but at the same time her bright countenance and calm smile was unforgettable. In an instant, some impressive words appeared in my mind, as was described in the scriptures, “notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center… It did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn” (3 Nephi 11:3). That voice said to me, “Are you not in easier circumstances than her? What reason do you have to not to go on a mission?” It was very obvious that Heavenly Father was calling me to serve a mission through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
I didn’t want to hurt my family, so I kept telling Heavenly Father in prayers the many reasons why it wasn’t necessary for me to serve a mission. Every time I had an excuse, I was convinced otherwise by the example of a missionary. This became a pattern, and happened four times in three weeks. Finally, my sister and I fasted in the temple to gain clarity on this matter, and asked Heavenly Father if it was His will. We got the same answer at the same time, that I should go.
After we left the temple on our way home, I received a shocking message from my father saying, “I just woke up and felt nervous and uneasy. Don’t tell me that you are going on a mission!” In order to not worry him, I told him that I was not. After a while, my parents told me that a fortune teller in China told them that something was preventing me from continuing my studies, so they spent a long time convincing me to concentrate on my studies and not get distracted by anything else. Even so, I still filled out mission papers. I was told that because I have a Chinese passport, I needed to have parental consent. Many people thought that would be impossible, including my sister and other church friends.
This situation lasted until May. One day in the temple, I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to tell my father about going on a mission, and was reassured that everything will be all right. At that time, I was accompanied by an elderly couple, the Gouts, who had given me great support and care in many aspects of my life. On May 4th, after dinner with the Gouts, I video called my father from the dining table, telling him that I was going on a mission. His reaction was just as I had imagined. My decision brought him heartache like a knife through his heart.
My father’s perspective was that he had suffered much hardship to raise me up to this point, and now I was leaving to serve a God who was unknown to him. He was thoroughly disappointed in me, like he had lost a daughter. He even said, “I don’t know how to be a father anymore.” I could see that it was so hard for him; he had no more energy to speak, and ended the call. Although the Gouts couldn’t understand anything that was said, they also felt my father’s pain and became emotional because there were no words that could help my father understand the situation. They fasted and prayed a lot for me. I cried to Heavenly Father every night; there was a great spiritual battle in me trying to resolve the will of Heavenly Father and my own father.
A week later, he sent me 40 minutes of voice messages. Every sentence saddened me as he expressed his feelings. My heart was tormented after hearing his complaints, insomuch that I didn’t realize that he was agreeing to let me go until my sister pointed it out. He said “I know you are pressured between God and me. God wants you to serve a mission; I want you to work or study. Obey Him, because I don’t know what will happen in the future.” With his reluctant approval, my mission application was finally processed.
However, my family did not stop mocking me for my decision. I felt like I was worthless in my family and had only brought them harm. At the same time, I was suffering from a serious illness, and was taking medication that made me feel dizzy all the time. I had to give a presentation on my thesis in order to graduate before going on a mission. A miracle happened as I began to present, I felt perfectly fine as I wasn’t sick at all until the end of my presentation. I was also worried about my visa issues. Even so, I still felt calm, and I believe Jesus Christ was carrying me and sharing my burdens.
After graduation and leaving the Netherlands, I had about two months left before going on my mission. I felt the need strongly to go to Zhejiang, China and stayed at my friend’s house. It was necessary to avoid any potential obstacles that might prevent me from going on a mission, to apply for an American visa, and to keep going to church on Sundays. The night before I left, my family spoke to me in a negative way, causing me to fall on my knees and cry to Heavenly Father. One image came vividly to my mind: Jesus Christ in the garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified, as he knelt and prayed to his Heavenly Father, and learned that he had no other way but to endure the cross to save all mankind. He said “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). This gave me so much strength. I stood up and wiped away my tears as though nothing had happened. With renewed commitment, I was ready for departure.
During my mission, some unfortunate things happened at home, which made it more difficult for my family to understand why I was out helping others and not them. However, after returning home, I could see that my father began to have a new view of our church, as he saw the blessings and changes that the mission had brought me. He began to see how the gospel could help him, being a man full of anxiety. My father has always put family first, and what he cares most about is that our family should always be united. Jesus Christ has given us this opportunity to be with our families forever. My father began to realize that he really felt peace as he studied the Gospel with missionaries, which was an obvious contrast to his troubles in his career and family matters.
I used to think that my sister and I started the first generation of Christianity in the Mo family. But looking back, I recognize we relied heavily on the previous generation. My parents have made tremendous physical and mental contributions. They bravely escaped the village (their comfort zone) to the other side of the world (the unknown), and after a lifetime of their hardships and work, my sister and I had the opportunity to go abroad, meet missionaries, gain a knowledge of God, serve a mission, and allow the peace from Christ to flow into the lives of our family and friends.
Connecting two generations of pioneers has helped me understand that there are always pioneers before pioneers. There is continuity between generations of pioneers. All we did was continue the path of the previous pioneers, extending the journey to another point to fulfill God’s eternal purpose. Anyone who is willing to make sacrifices for a good becomes part of it. The price we pay can come in the form of hunger, tears, or physical or mental agony, but the happiness that follows these sufferings is eternal.