Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Faith of Our Fathers

A few weeks ago I accompanied the Youth of our Stake on a week-long trip to historical sites of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It was a wonderful week spent soaking up the vibrant energy of the teens we were with punctuated by several powerful faith building experiences as we walked the paths of the early Saints.

Among the locations we visited were Nauvoo and Carthage Illinois. These sites are significant to members of my faith because of events that transpired there in the 1840’s.

The early church experienced significant growth in a short period time after being organized by the prophet Joseph Smith. These early converts gathered together in Kirtland Ohio and Jackson county Missouri. Soon these settlements grew to be some of the largest cities in their respective states.

Especially in Missouri the swelling ranks of the Mormons incurred the wrath of the neighbors. Their ideas about religion and the fact that they tended to vote in a united block threatened the interests of those who supported slavery at that time. Soon armed mobs were terrorizing the Saints. Homes and crops were burned, people severely beaten and killed, women raped, and leadership arrested on accusations of treason. This all culminated with an extermination order issued by the governor of Missouri which made it legal to drive the Mormons from the state and murder them if they would not go.

All this because a group of people wanted to practice their religion in the way they saw fit.

The members were driven out of their homes in a brutally cold winter with barely the clothes on their backs. The suffering endured is difficult to imagine. After a period of time they settled on the banks of the Mississippi River in a swamp that no one else would possibly want.

They then toiled and built the city of Navuoo, which means beautiful in Hebrew. It truly was a beautiful city with the gleaming white temple at the center.

Then in 1845 Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were martyred by an angry mob in Carthage which was located a few miles from Navuoo. The prophet was there under the promised protection of the governor of the state. History records that he was left to the designs of those who openly vowed to kill him in hopes of destroying the Church.

To their great surprise his death did not level the religion he had led. Once again the Saints were forced to leave their homes under threat of violence to cross the frozen prairie and move far enough west to a place they could finally live in peace.

The more you know about their situation questions begin to form. Why didn’t these people just give up, disavow the church, and go back to a life where persecution wasn’t raging around them? As I visited these sites the spirit of those pioneers seemed to imbue the landscape. There is a tangible feeling of faith and hope that penetrates your soul. These are sacred places.

It became clear to me that these people didn't just believe but knew that Gospel of Jesus Christ was a restoration of truth upon the earth. That Joseph Smith was exactly what he purported to be, just a man and a prophet called of God. They knew that God was at the head of this Church. They knew these things so deeply that they were willing to give their lives for the Kingdom. It led them from Jackson County to Navuoo and from there into the Salt Lake Valley and the thousands of graves that lie along the trail are testaments to their belief.

So what to do with this knowledge? How does their sacrifice apply to us today?

Elder Dallin H. Oaks
 “Many of our challenges are different from those faced by former pioneers but perhaps just as dangerous and surely as significant to our own salvation and the salvation of those who follow us.  For example, as for life-threatening obstacles, the wolves that prowled around pioneer settlements were no more dangerous to their children than the drug dealers or pornographers who threaten our children. Similarly, the early pioneers’ physical hunger posed no greater threat to their well-being than the spiritual hunger experienced by many in our day. The children of earlier pioneers were required to do incredibly hard physical work to survive their environment. That was no greater challenge than many of our young people now face from the absence of hard work, which results in spiritually corrosive challenges to discipline, responsibility, and self-worth. Jesus taught: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

In the latest Ensign Magazine President Thomas S. Monson, the current President of the Church and prophet wrote

“A dictionary defines a pioneer as ‘one who goes before to prepare or open up the way for others to follow.’ Can we somehow muster the courage and steadfastness of purpose that characterized the pioneers of a former generation? Can you and I, in actual fact, be pioneers?

I know we can be. 

Oh, how the world needs pioneers today!”

Studying and understanding what the early Saints went through will inevitably lead one to the question “why did they do it?” Finding that answer for ourselves will allow us to follow in their footsteps and do the work God asks of us today. We can draw strength from their example and unite in heart with those wonderful people of the past. We too can sing with full purpose of heart that "all is well" even as the storms of life swirl around us. God was with them and He is with us as well.

I invite you find out for yourself what those Saints and I know. There is nothing more important. It will change your life.



To find out more or request missionaries to visit with you please visit mormon.org.

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