“I was miserable and I wanted to run away….It was a precious experience to me.” These are the words that Kai, our 17-year old Japanese exchange student, recorded in his journal concerning his experience on Trek this year. I believe that you will find similar sentiments by other Trek participants, concerning the beginning and end of their experience. Such sentiments might also reflect the attitudes of members of the Mormon pioneers portrayed in the film 17 Miracles.
We watched 17 Miracles as a family on the eve of Kai’s excursion to give a context on what he was about to do and what it means to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Kai is not a Mormon and knows little of the faith or Christianity in general. We found that the movie provided powerful testimony of the sacrifice of the Mormon pioneers and the faith that carried them through their journey.
17 Miracles chronicles the experience of Levi Savage, portrayed by Jasen Wade, and other historical figures. It shares seventeen miracles experienced by these individuals during their trek across the plains, based on real accounts. The faith of the pioneers is dramatically represented and is portrayed to be as significant as the miracles themselves, suggesting that such faith was the catalyst in their occurrence. In the case of each miracle, the pioneers demonstrate great faith and spirituality. As we watched, we were moved by the spirit of each miracle and the great blessings that it brought to the characters on the screen. My daughter took more than one occasion to tell Kai that they really happened.
We found several themes in the film that corresponded with the Trek experience, including: hardship, spirituality and faith, togetherness, and heritage. As noted by Kai, traveling across the plains with handcarts can be very difficult. While trek participants do not experience the full extent of the pioneers’ tribulation, viewing the vivid portrayals in 17 Miracles, along with reenactment, may provide a greater appreciation for the pioneers’ sacrifice. I know that it did for me. Trek can also be a spiritual experience when participants engage in testimony meetings and thoughtful meditation. Trek participants prepare something to share about one of their ancestors, perhaps like the pioneers portrayed in the film. They have some knowledge about their heritage. However, viewing what the pioneers experienced in the film and experiencing some measure of it themselves provides more meaning to many. Kai also noted that the togetherness we felt with others in his trek family was deeply significant to him. In the movie we see families and comrades struggle but hold together. The film’s epilogue shows that many of the experiences depicted in the film strengthened relationships between those that suffered together.
During this time of year when many of our thoughts are turned to the pioneers’ legacy, whether or not you participate in a Trek excursion, consider watching 17 Miracles. You may find, as my family did, an excellent opportunity to discuss and reflect upon what the pioneers’ experiences meant to them and what it means to you.