As a dad raising kids in 2018, I can’t help but feel the way Joseph Smith’s dad must have felt while he was raising kids way back in the early 1800’s. Despite what I lack, maybe I’ll get my kids in the right place at the right time.
Weak from hunger and exhaustion, members of the Willie company started from the base of Rocky Ridge early on the morning of October 23. William and Jane James, along with their children, started a little bit later because William and his oldest son, 14-year-old Reuben, helped bury two people who had died the previous day. Soon after the burial service, daughter Sarah James, age 19, led five younger siblings ahead to catch up with the rest of the company. They pulled the family’s lighter handcart. [Read more…]
Pictured is the reconstructed home of Joseph and Emma Smith in Harmony, Pennsylvania.
Joseph and Emma Smith moved from Palmyra, New York to Harmony, Pennsylvania to escape persecution. Joseph had been commanded to continue translating the plates, but the tasks of everyday life prevented the work from moving forward. Joseph asked the Lord to send him a scribe.
During this same time, Oliver Cowdrey found work in Palmyra as a school teacher. It was the custom for the school teachers of that day to live with the family of the children he taught. As a result, Oliver lived with the Smith family where he learned of Joseph Smith’s First Vision and the translation of the plates. He was fascinated with what he was learning and wanted to meet the prophet himself.
Oliver would later record that he had received a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the Restoration and Joseph’s prophetic calling through humble prayer while in Palmyra, before ever meeting the Prophet.
After arriving in Harmony, Oliver began working full time as Joseph’s scribe. Oliver frequently asked Joseph if he could see the plates to which Joseph would always reply that he was not allowed to show the plates to Oliver at that time. Oliver desired to see the plates so he could obtain a witness of the work. Finally, in answer to Oliver’s petitions, Joseph received a revelation from the Lord for Oliver which is now recorded as Doctrine and Covenants Section 6.
In Section 6, the Lord reminds Oliver that he had already received a witness that the Book of Mormon was true and that Joseph was a prophet. Verses 22-23 says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?”
Oliver would later say in response to this revelation that he had not told anyone of his secret prayer in Palmyra regarding the truthfulness of Joseph’s work. Yet, the Lord reminded him of the spiritual witness he had obtained which was greater than if he had seen the plates.
In today’s busy, chaotic, information overloaded world, sometimes the easy thing to do is to turn to Google, Facebook, or others to determine what is truth and what is not. There is a trap set to seek answers beyond the promised spiritual witness each of Heavenly Father’s children are entitled to. President Uchtdorf has said, “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.”
It is important in today’s busy world to take time to remember the moments when we have felt the spirit testify to us that this gospel is true. We need to keep fresh in our minds the times we have felt that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration, and that Jesus Christ is our Savior and the head of this church. Not only do we need to remember our past spiritual witnesses, but it is just as important to create moments when we can witness again the feelings of the spirit testifying that these things are true. And then we need to “doubt our doubts” because what greater witness can we have than that given to us from a loving Heavenly Father?
The Rockwell and Smith families were close friends while living in Manchester, New York (just outside of Palmyra). Although he was eight years younger than the Prophet no one loved Joseph Smith more than Orrin Porter Rockwell.
While serving several months in a Missouri prison on false charges, Porter let his hair and beard grow long. Once released, Porter walked over 200 miles to Nauvoo and arrived at the home of Joseph Smith during the middle of a Christmas Eve party. Not being recognized by anyone, Porter walked into the home, acted as though he were drunk, and started to make a scene. As the men of the party started to escort Porter out of the home, Joseph Smith asked them to wait a minute. Carefully looking into Porter’s eyes, the Prophet finally realized it was his friend. Joseph threw his arms around Porter and invited him to join in the festivities.
It is reported that Joseph promised Porter that night if he would remain faithful to the Church and did not cut his hair, he would be protected from bullets. Countless stories have been told of this prophecy being fulfilled.
Porter never lost his love and devotion to the Smith family. While visiting California, Porter paid a visit to the widow of Don Carlos, the youngest brother of Joseph Smith. He found her to be suffering from the typhoid fever, and as a result of her sickness, she had lost all of her hair. Porter had never cut his hair since that Christmas Eve long ago in Nauvoo and his hair now fell long over his shoulders. Without a word, Porter told her, “Few men did I love as I loved Don Carlos and his brother Joseph, and it will never be said of me that I passed up an opportunity to do his widow a favor.” He immediately went to the barber shop where he had his hair cut and made into a beautiful wig which he presented to his dear friend’s widow.
Interestingly, after the death of Don Carlos, his widow moved to California and left the church. In fact, she even changed her name so no one would know of her past association with the Church and the Smith family. Despite all this, the “Destroying Angel” still had love and compassion for her to the extent that he would cut his own hair even if he lost his prophetic protection from bullets.
As the storm set in, we feared our trek experience would be ruined. 136 children under the age of 12 were about to have soaked clothes and soaked sleeping bags before taking even one step along the Mormon Trail. We prayed for a miracle.
In July 2016, 273 members of the Colony Pointe Ward traveled to Martin’s Cove in Wyoming to participate in a Pioneer Trek Reenactment. We were excited to dress in our pioneer clothing and walk where the faithful Handcart Pioneers not only walked, but were miraculously rescued from death caused by freezing temperatures and hunger.
It was hot when we arrived early in the afternoon. Most were tired from the 6-hour drive, but were looking forward to the 3-mile trek. We gathered together only to be delayed by 2 hours because of a scheduling conflict. The majority of our group was under the age of 12 and the children were getting very restless, hungry, and uncomfortable. Somehow, everyone maintained a great positive attitude.
When it was finally time to start trekking, we put our handcarts in one long line and awaited final instruction before moving out. As we stood outside waiting to begin, huge dark storm clouds gathered in the west and were quickly moving straight toward us. We could see ahead of us the rain failing from these fast moving clouds. It would only be a few minutes until the rain would be pouring down on us.
Planning for this trek had taken over a year. Money had been saved for over three years. Several activities had been held in preparation for our trip. Pioneer clothing had been purchased or made. The excitement level for our trek had been very high for several months. The coordination of food, equipment, devotionals, musical numbers, and transportation required an unusual amount of preparation, commitment, and sacrifice by so many.
Now a storm was upon us. We hadn’t even started our trek. A rain storm would potentially dampen our positive and hopeful attitudes, and alter the trek we had hoped for for so long. The leaders of the trek gathered to discuss our options. Nothing. Nothing could be done. We could not wait out the storm and we could not hide from the storm. Perhaps we could huddle under the handcarts and hope for the best. We feared that wet clothing, wet feet, wet sleeping bags, and wet tents would ruin the experience for most in our group.
While standing on the very site where Heavenly Father so lovingly spared so many before us, He blessed our little group with a similar blessing. Had I not seen it myself, I may not have believed what happened. As the storm pushed on straight for us, and as we stood hoping for the best, the clouds split in two. We saw the clouds race to the left of us, and to the right of us. Only blue sky hung above us. As quickly as the clouds spit in front of us, they rejoined right behind us. Rain poured down immediately in front of us, immediately to our left and to our right, and immediately behind us. We were spared! Our equipment and clothing remained dry! We could not help but recognize the hand of our Heavenly Father in preserving our wonderful Pioneer Trek! Moroni asked if miracles have ceased. He then gives a powerful testimony and response to his own question when he says, “Nay, God has not ceased to be a God of miracles”.
Heavenly Father is aware of each of us, collectively and individually. He loves each individual. He cares for each individual. And even when it may not seem like a big deal to some, for others, the tender mercy of keeping dry while on trek was nothing short of a miracle. The same God that calmed the storm tossed Sea of Galilee, and split the rain clouds over Martin’s Cove, can and will bring peace and happiness to each of us as we strive to follow Him, keep His commandments, and draw nearer to Him in our everyday lives.