Inspired by April 2014 General Conference Talk by Elder William R. Walker
From the talk “Live True to the Faith” by Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy in the past General Conference we learn that “it would be a wonderful thing if every Latter-day Saint knew the conversion stories of their forefathers.” So why is it important that we know the conversion story of our forefathers? I don’t know the exact answer to this; however, as I come to know the conversion stories of my ancestors, I become more converted to the gospel. Stories of our ancestors and early members of the church can be inspiring and motivating. They may help us see our own trials with a better light to enable us to overcome these trials
For example, if we are struggling with participating in missionary work, we may read stories of our ancestors in order to be more motivated. One such case is that of Elder Woodruff. When on his mission in England, he felt impressed to visit a different part of the country. He immediately listened to this prompting and traveled to the farming country of Herefordshire where he met a prosperous farmer named John Benbow. He was welcomed with “glad hearts and thanksgiving.” He then met a group of over 600 people known as United Brethren “who had been praying for light and truth.” Almost all 600 people were baptized. We learn from this experience that we need to listen to the promptings of the Spirit in our lives. Are we acting on these promptings to invite others to listen to the gospel or are we cowering behind the many, although oftentimes true, excuses.
Another example is that of my ancestor Elias Higbee. In reading about his experiences, I can’t express the frustration that I have felt towards the way the early pioneers were treated. On the other hand, I am inspired by their continued faith during their trials. After relentless persecution, our early Mormon ancestors sought help from the Missourian government to no avail. This caused Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Elias Higbee to write a petition to the United States government in 1839. In this petition, they asked for relief from the immense persecution they suffered at the hands of the Missourians. They wrote the letter because “there is a point where endurance ceases to be a virtue.”
In their letter they make an account of the persecutions the pioneers experienced. Based on unfounded accusations, mobs were organized to expel the Mormons from their territories. In Jackson County, Missouri, mobs forcibly expelled Mormons from their homes, tarred and feathered them in front of their wives and children, burned down their houses and crops, and left the Mormons without refuge in the middle of winter. Trust me, this could not have been a good situation as I have visited St. Louis in the middle of December and it was COLD! Some women even gave birth in these terrible circumstances. The estimated damages incurred was $175,000 which is equivalent to $5.8 million today.
Their persecutions did not end here. These 1200 expelled pioneers eventually resided in Clay County, Missouri where they tried to live peaceably. In fact, they were prosperous and experienced large growth due to the selflessness and caring for others. Their hard work eventually led to them having “the best lands in all that region of [Missouri].” However, after another short three years, jealousy and anxiety began to abound among the Missourians. This anxiety “arose not from what the Mormons had done but from the fear of what they might do.” The Missourians eventually rose up against the Mormons and asked them to leave. The pioneers were promised that they would receive compensation for their properties if they would leave the area. In order to make peace, they agreed to these terms and left; however, they never did receive compensation. They then moved to Caldwell County, Missouri to face similar circumstances only a couple years later. In fact, they eventually were completed evicted from Missouri as a result of the extermination order issued by Governor Boggs. They then ended up in Nauvoo, Illinois, but their trials did not end with them leaving Missouri.
Elder Walker tells the story of his great-great-grandparents who were persecuted and driven from Nauvoo. They “felt greatly blessed to receive their endowments in the temple shortly before they crossed the Mississippi River and headed west. Although they were uncertain of what their future held, they were certain of their faith and their testimonies!” With six children, they slogged through mud as they crossed Iowa on their way west. They built for themselves a lean-to on the side of the Missouri River at what came to be known as Winter Quarters in Omaha, NE. The name itself isn’t all that inviting. Don’t get me wrong, Amy and I are very excited to move to Omaha.
I can’t imagine crossing the Mississippi river with my children. Just this past Friday, Amy and I took our kids to Dismal’s Canyon. We spent a few hours there and had a great time admiring the beauty of God’s creations. Cameron even remarked, “I love it here, let’s stay here all day.” However, only after a couple hours of hiking, we were completely exhausted. I can’t imagine the situation of telling my children that “we can’t stop now, we need to keep moving” for not only a few hours, but a few months! Or withholding my tears while responding that we will not be returning home.
Do we take the countless stories of our forefathers for granted? Today, it may appear easy for us to complain about our situation: “Mom, I don’t want to stop playing this video game!” or “My children are driving me crazy!” or “Writing a dissertation is not very fun!” Despite our current situation, we do not fear we will be chased out our own house or even shot at. We do not fear how we will take care of our children out in the cold with nothing. Nevertheless, our trials are real and may be daunting in their own way. Like our forefathers, we can live true to the faith.
Despite the conditions these pioneers faced, many of them lived true to the faith. It didn’t matter that they were cold and hungry, they knew that they have a Heavenly Father who loves them! It didn’t matter that they lost nearly everything, they knew they are children of God! It didn’t matter that they were betrayed, they knew Jesus Christ is their Savior who was also betrayed! It didn’t matter that they were driven from their homes, they knew that God speaks to prophets and apostles to guide them!
Can we state with the same surety that we know these same things? If we can, let us live true to this faith. If we can’t, maybe we can study the stories of our ancestors. Elder Walker states that “the more connected we feel to our righteous forefathers, the more likely we are to make wise and righteous choices.”
Let us strive to come to know our forefathers so that we can be strengthened by their experiences. Let us not forget our own spiritual experiences. Let us attend the temple, read our scriptures, and pray daily morning and night so that we too are converted. Let us act on promptings immediately. Let us not forget that God loves us so he sent His Son. Let us not forget that this gospel is the good news and that God directs His church with prophets and apostles today.