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Catholic teens from Spain join LDS handcart trek

By Greg Hill
LDS Church News
Monday, Aug. 11, 2008

With 18 Catholic students from Spain walking alongside them, Mormon youths of the Pleasant Grove Utah Stake had a unique handcart trek in Wyoming over Pioneer Day week in July. Friendships and understanding grew out of the experience at Martin's Cove, Rocky Ridge and Rock Creek Hollow.

The trek was one of various activities over several weeks for students, ages 14-18, most from the Medio Ambiente Maristas School in Burgos, Spain, visiting Utah under a program directed by Don and Ra'Shelle Wilson. The Wilsons, who have been involved for six years in the program hosting students from the school for the summer, are members of the Pleasant Grove Utah Stake. When they heard about their stake's handcart trek, they arranged for the visitors to go along. A different group of students come to Utah each summer to study English and learn about America.

There were 10 girls and eight boys in the group under the direction of their religion and English teacher, Jesus Diez.
Other stakes pitched in to help the Spanish visitors, one providing pioneer clothing and another supplying copies of the Book of Mormon to put with the other supplies in their trek buckets. The students were also encouraged to work on a physical training program prior to coming to the States.

Asked to report on their trek experience, most of the Spanish youths responded that it was hard, but that they were glad they finished it and were happy with the new American friends they made.

Victor Esteban, 17, wrote, "I think that the trek was a good experience for all of us, although it was hard and hot and sometimes sad. With these experiences, we can better understand the Mormon religion and the history of this country."

Andrea Rivas, 17, said the trek was hard, but added, "I am very proud of having done the trek and now I can better understand how this experience was for the Mormon pioneers."

Sara Gago, 15, reported, "The trek was very hard, but fun. The first day we walked a little and then we walked a lot. It was very hard. But now I can only remember the good things and the people were very nice. ... I think that I am never going to forget this."

Javier Hortiguela, 17, admitted he knew in advance the trek would be hard and that he didn't want to do it. "But now that I have done this thing," he wrote, "I think the trek is one of the most wonderful things that I have ever done, and I want to say thank you because now I have more friends and I can say that I did the incredible trek! I know I can do hard things like this. I had a wonderful trek family who loved me, so I want to thank you very much for this experience, although I am not a part of your church.

The Wilsons said that original plans were for the students to be part of the group from the stake's Spanish-speaking ward. But mixing them among the English-speaking youths gave them a great English-learning experience on the trek and they talked as they walked, and learned and sang Primary songs.

Ra'Shelle Wilson said the love and kindness of the youths and leaders from the stake has built a bridge "that spans from Pleasant Grove, Utah, USA, to Burgos, Spain, where through continued e-mails and contacts, even great friendships will continue to grow stronger and seeds of understanding can be cultivated."

Kevin Walker, first counselor in the stake presidency and overseer of trek planning, said, "I was absolutely amazed at how out of the way the stake's kids went to be friendly to the Spanish kids. They rallied around them and made them feel a part of what we were doing. Nobody told them to. We just let it happen."

At the request of the stake's youth, an impromptu trek reunion was organized the Saturday evening before the students returned home so the new friends could get together one more time. About 150 of the 208 who went on the trek showed up at the parking lot of a meetinghouse to sing, dance and talk one more time, according to Walker.

Expressing his feelings, Diez said, "Thank you very much to everyone who let me be a pioneer in this 2008 trek."
 

 

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