The Mormon church has become a well oiled machine. They have produced the same believer over and over again. The members all look the same. We can all recognize the General Relief Society President hairdo, sorry ladies. All men show their righteousness by the whiteness of their dress shirts. The members certainly think alike. They all shut down mentally, in the same manner, when confronted with controversial Mormon history. It is as if the church has a mold that shapes every member into the same, group think follower. This is accomplished through church indoctrination at an early age.
Primary age children are taught and programmed through songs, lessons and examples of what a "good member" is, according to the Mormon narrative. The first attribute a "good person" possesses is an unwavering obedience to God, aka the rank and file leaders. It is drilled into the heads of the members. They are taught to never question leaders, always follow their teachings, and they will never lead the believers astray. The members are taught that the leaders know what is best for them. This is why highly educated members are willing to do anything a general or even local leader asks. I know, because I was there once.
Trek is a strategy the church employs that can really solidify the concept of obedience in the young minds of teenagers and adults. It is basically a spiritual boot camp. It uses the same techniques as the military, only without the live ammunition and vulgar language. It strips the identity of each participant and aligns that identity with the group or "family". Each family creates a flag, motto and goal that causes more unification to the group or cause. It creates a group think, where individuality is not welcome and/or discouraged. This is all accomplished with the use of a handcart.
The lessons of the early Mormon pioneers and their failures are quite obvious. It was a disaster. It showed the incompetence of early Mormon leaders. The handcart travelers were not prepared, leading to unnecessary death and suffering. The church has spun a genius PR story. They have turned the disaster of the Willie & Martin Handcart company into a faith promoting and unifying experience. It has become a spiritual boot camp.
The strategy is to break down each participant physically, mentally and spiritually, then build them up with a more profound dedication to the Mormon church. This is done by first stripping away identity by making everyone wear the same clothes. Pioneer clothes are required. This makes everyone look the same. No electronics are allowed. All communication to the outside world is broken. If some teenager is breaking down, they can't reach mom or dad, unless they must go through the approved chain of command.
The conditions are difficult. Hot temperatures, sleeping in tents, specific diets, all while pulling a handcart. Every task breaks the physical and mental fortitude of the participant. When one is exhausted mentally and physically, he/she doesn't think clearly. This is point where the rebuilding of the person begins to occur. The process starts to shape the identity of the individual.
Sometime during the process, the teenagers are taught that bishops and leaders have spiritual authority over them. Once that link has been made, their bishop or leader can begin to influence all aspects of the individual's life. I recall on my son's trek, the kids had to place a big rock into their handcart. These rocks signified a sin or burden. This added extra weight to the handcart. Before crossing a river, the kids were allowed to remove the rock if they would "unload" a burden to the bishop, who was standing on the river bank. The teenagers walked up to this man and whispered their sin into his ear. Then they were allowed to remove the rock. The significance is that the member still had to remove the rock him/herself. This bishop didn't touch the rock, only he gave them permission to remove their own burden. This is highly disturbing, but drives the home the point into the minds of the kids.
During the last night, the groups have a testimony meeting where they all talk about the trek, their experiences, and share their testimony. In my son's trek, the bishop would call on kids to share their testimony. They had no choice, it wasn't volunteered. They just had 3 days of indoctrination of the authority of the bishop/leader, how he speaks for God, and blind obedience to leaders is all that matters. There was no out option for the kids. They are broken down and built up with allegiance to the church, its leaders and its teachings. Obedience above all. It allows the current system of authority to remain in control of its member's lives. As the lovely current President of the Mormon church would say, "Tears were shed, hearts were touched, a cart was pulled".