Thursday, October 29, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #41 Every Member A Missionary

(D&C 1:4-5,30; 65; 109:72-74; 123:12; OH p. 116-117, 124-125)

A LOVE STORY

Every missionary story is a love story, because missionary work is all about love.

"For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him
should not perish,
but have everlasting life."
(John 3:16)

"Beloved, if God so loved us,
we ought also to love one another."
(1 John 4:11)
"And faith, hope, charity, and love,
with an eye single to the glory of God,
qualify [us] for the work."
(D&C 4:5)
This is why we do missionary work: because we love God, we love his gospel, and we love people. But senior couple missionary stories have an extra element of love: the love of the husband and wife companions for each other.

This is that kind of a love story.

My great-uncle, James Rowell Leavitt Wyatt was born in Wellsville, Utah on July 31, 1895. He didn't look like other babies; he had a large purple birthmark that covered the entire right side of his face.  He wanted to serve in the military during World War I but was turned down because of the blindness in one eye caused by the birthmark. This was a disappointment to him.  He wanted to serve a mission for the church instead, but his father disapproved.  Uncle Jim accepted this double disappointment, but kept a life-long goal to serve a mission one day.

He married a kind and beautiful woman, Janette Bradshaw Bailey, and had a large family, and when that family was raised, they applied for the opportunity to serve a senior mission. With great joy they received the call to serve in the Tongan Mission. The Tongan Mission was made up of many small islands in the South Pacific. Uncle Jim and Aunt Janette were assigned to the island of Niue (nee-oo-ay), a very small land mass of 12 x 18 miles (about the size of Bear Lake on the Utah/Idaho border). The island of Niue is very isolated, many miles from any major island. Now it's an exotic, remote, travel destination, served by a weekly flight on Air New Zealand, but in those days, the early '60s, the only transportation on or off the island was by boat. The ship came once a month, and left again later the same day.

In addition to teaching the gospel, Aunt Janette taught the islanders to quilt, and to play the piano for their church meetings, and to use their native fruit to make something completely new and wonderful: banana bread! Uncle Jim and Aunt Janette loved the people of Niue, and the islanders loved them.

"Now therefore, ye are no longer strangers and foreigners,
but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God."
(Eph. 2:19)
As their 18-month mission was drawing to a close, Aunt Janette was suddenly taken very ill with a heart attack. She was in severe pain.  Uncle Jim and another elder administered to her, but she got no better.  They called for the doctor, who came to their home and then rushed her to the British hospital on the island (Lord Liverpool Hospital), but they could not save Aunt Janette.  Uncle Jim held her in his arms as she suffered. Finally she relaxed in his embrace, said, "Happy birthday, Dad," and took her last breath.  He had not remembered until then that it was his birthday, July 31st, 1963.  (This was, coincidentally, the very day that I was born.  Perhaps we passed each other on the way...)

The boat had just come and gone the day before and there would be no getting on or off the island for another month. The heat of the island required a burial within 24 hours. Janette Bradshaw Bailey Wyatt was laid to rest just outside the island church the following day. Uncle Jim conducted a beautiful funeral service for her, preached a sermon, and dedicated her grave without the comfort of his children and relatives in his grief, but he had a greater comfort, for

Neither death, nor life...shall be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
(Romans 8:38-39)

Uncle Jim preached the gospel and served the people of Niue for the remainder of the month.

The boat finally came, and Uncle Jim began the long journey home without his beloved wife. It was a Sunday, and as they put out to sea, some of the sailors asked him to conduct a church service for them, and so he continued his missionary work as he traveled.  When Uncle Jim arrived home, his family and friends gathered around him and held a memorial service for Aunt Janette. 

Janette Bradshaw Bailey Wyatt & James Rowell Leavitt Wyatt
in front of a banana tree on the island of Niue, Circa 1963.

She remained buried on Niue for three years while the Church worked through the necessary red tape to bring her body back to the United States.  The Latter-day Saint islanders made her grave a shrine. They built a little picket fence around it so the animals wouldn't disturb it. They brought fresh flowers to the grave often. They had loved and respected Aunt Janette and they grieved her passing.

After I wrote this post, one of those children who shooed away chickens and dogs from her grave wrote to me.  His name is Joseph Pouha, and he was seven years old at the time.  He added a wonderful perspective to the story which I am including here.

Joseph Pouha with his wife and children

When the news hit the island that the Church hoped to exhume Aunt Janette's body, the nonmember islanders were aghast and opposed, for it was in violation of all cultural beliefs and practices to ever disturb a body, and even worse, to allow an outsider to do it.

The Church members had come through a period of terrible persecution, both physical and emotional, when this happened in the 1950s.  Joseph's mother, Vetesenelia "Foli" Pouha, one of the original 26 converts, had been baptized by cover of night, and was abused and disowned when her family found out.  Then she had been greatly persecuted again when she decided to marry a returned missionary and outsider from Tonga, Nafetalai "Feki" Pouha.  You may have seen a Hollywood movie about Feki's mission on the island of Tonga:  He was Elder John Groberg's companion in The Other Side of Heaven.  If you haven't seen the movie, do it!  (Or read Elder Groberg's book of the same name which is also wonderful and, of course, more accurate.)  Feki spent his adult life gaining the love and trust of the Niueans through his work in the construction arm of the government, his service in the Church, and his kindness and aid to other people, especially ministers of other religions.

Things had smoothed over until Aunt Janette's death and possible exhuming riled everyone up again.  There were heated conversations in meetings between the government, the other ministers and the LDS authorities.  Often it was shouted that digging up a grave was the work of tevolo (the devil), and the question was asked, what islander would dare to do such a thing?  The answer came from Feki Pouha.  He would be willing to do it.  And because of his stature among the people, because they knew his heart and his love, the act was no longer questioned and he was allowed to do it in peace, with no disturbance.

Brother Pouha spent a week in preparation, instructing the missionaries who would help him, and making sure that all possible protocol was followed, and all reverence was observed.  A small white linen tent was erected around the grave in the mission home yard.  Little Joseph stood close by the tent and heard his father pronounce a priesthood blessing on the body of Sister Wyatt.  He gave charge to those present, "both on this side of the veil and legions of Aunty Wyatt's family on the other side of the veil to watch and take care that all would proceed with the will of God."

When her body arrived back in Utah, a formal funeral was finally held, and she was re-buried in the Wellsville Cemetery.

"So being affectionately desirous of you,
we were willing to have imparted unto you,
not the gospel of God only,
but also our own souls,
because ye were dear unto us."
(1 Thess. 2:8)

James and Janette Wyatt served their long-awaited mission with faith and love and gave the ultimate sacrifice for the spreading of the gospel to the islands of the Pacific.  Feki and Foli Pouha have also served the Kingdom of God in many ways which are ever increasing.  Foli became the Church's first accredited Polynesian genealogist and also helped translate the Book of Mormon into the Niuean language.  Feki served missions to Tonga and Nieua, and together they served a mission to Hawaii.  Brother and Sister Pouha eventually moved to Utah where Feki, who had been very ill, died two weeks later.  When the government of Nieu heard of the passing of Brother Feki, they closed their offices for a week to honor the man that became their servant leader.  Their children and grandchildren are continuing their legacy and have served missions throughout the world, including Puerto Rico, Uganda, and Colorado.  (Those are just the ones I know of.)

My great thanks goes to Joseph Pouha for sharing "the rest of the story" with me.  As he wrote in his e-mail, "There is a Niuean saying, 'Koe tagata, koe tagata motu, ka koe nakai koe motu tu taha,' which means in English, 'Every man is an island, but not an island to himself.'  [Two beautiful islands] may seem far apart, separated by miles of water, but if someone could reach down deep and unplug the water, we will find that both islands [are] connected."  So it is with all peoples of the world, in all times, all children of the same Father.

(Source: Carolyn J. Wyatt with Jane Wyatt Salisbury [daughter], unpublished manuscript; additional contributions made by granddaughter, Suzanne [see comments below], and personal correspondence with Joseph Archie Pouha)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #40 Finding Joy in Temple and Family History Work

EMMA SMITH'S EXAMPLE

Joseph Smith taught that "Seeking after our dead is the most important responsibility we have to perform in this life...if we neglect it, it is at the peril of our own salvation." When Joseph Smith introduced the concept of performing ordinances for the dead, one of the first women into the water was his wife, Emma. She was baptized for her father, her mother, her uncle, her sister, and her aunts, all of whom had rejected the gospel in this life. (Later, the baptisms for the men were redone by men, as that necessity had not been understood at first.)

Emma was the first woman in this dispensation to receive her temple endowment and sealing. She was also the first female ordinance worker. Throughout the year of 1843 and into the early part of 1844, she administered temple ordinances to many women, in her home and in the red brick store before the Nauvoo Temple was completed.


Emma Smith with son David,
born after Joseph was killed
from Joseph Smith Papers

ROOTS AND BRANCHES

To live, a plant must have roots and branches. A tree with branches but no roots is just a temporary decoation, and a tree with roots but no branches is a stump. The punishment to the wicked is that they will have neither. "For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch." (3 Nephi 25:1) Those who have the spirit of Elijah will live because they will be bound to their ancestors and to their descendants. Family history and temple work goes both directions. This is why without the sealing power the earth would be smitten with a curse. (See 3 Nephi 25:6)

While Joseph Smith was alive, he and Emma taught their children the gospel. When Joseph left his family for the last time, he asked, "Emma, can you raise my sons to walk in their father's footsteps?" She cried, "Oh, Joseph! You're coming back!" He asked the same question again and she gave the same response. He asked the third time, and she began to cry. At the time of Joseph's martyrdom Julia was 13, Joseph was 11, Frederick, 8 and Alexander, 6. David would be born that fall.

After that fateful spring, counting the widows of Joseph's brothers, his mother Lucy Mack Smith, Don Carlos's (his brother for whom the baby was named) wife Agnes, Samuel's wife Levire, Hyrum's wife Mary Fielding, and Emma, there were seven Smith widows, and more than two dozen children left without fathers. All of them faced great hardship. It was at this point that these women made tough decisions that affected their families for generations.

At Joseph's death, Emma understandably entered into a state of depression. Previously she had been very social, very outgoing and hospitable, but now she withdrew from friends who desired to help her. She remained charitable, continually taking needy children into her home, and constantly serving her mother-in-law, but she kept her feelings to herself and chose to stay in Nauvoo with her mother-in-law, when the Church migrated west.

We could never place ourselves in Emma's shoes to understand or judge why, but she did not raise her children in the faith of their father as he had begged her to do. She did not teach her children anything about the gospel, and all she told the younger ones about their father was that he was a good man. Don Carlos's wife remarried and her new husband moved her away and made her promise that she would never mention that she was a member of the Church, or a sister-in-law to Joseph Smith. This was to ensure her freedom from the persecution of the past. Emma seems to have taken the same approach.


Lucy Mack Smith also stayed behind. She had three older daughters at home, and she continued to teach them the gospel, at great effort, but with no Church unit or Priesthood leadership in Nauvoo, it only lasted for one generation.

For four generations, none of Emma's and Joseph's descendants belonged to the Church, and the majority of them did not even know much about it. The Smith family tree had no permanent branches.

Meanwhile, Mary Fielding Smith took her children on to Salt Lake City amid great hardship, and lived only four years after arriving there. Prophets and apostles descended from her line, including President Joseph F. Smith, President Joseph Fielding Smith, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, and Elder M. Russell Ballard.

THE PROMISE TO EMMA

A few weeks before Emma died, however, she had a dream, which she related to her nurse. In the dream, Joseph took her to a beautiful mansion and showed her through many apartments. In one of the rooms she saw a baby in a cradle and recognized it as her baby, Don Carlos, who had died at age 14 months. She had previously said that he had been the hardest baby for her to lose because she had had him the longest and had more time to grow to love him. With great joy she rushed to him and snatched him up and held him tight, and asked where her other children were. Joseph replied, "Be patient, Emma, and you shall have all your children." Then Jesus Christ appeared standing beside Joseph. It seemed the heavens were smiling upon Emma for all she had endured. And yet her actions after Joseph's death had a consequence. She would have to wait for someone else to teach her children and grandchildren the gospel before they could be hers again. It would take over 100 years.

GRACIA JONES

On the 17th of March, 1956 a bud broke out on the stump of the Joseph Smith, Jr. family tree when Gracia Jones, Emma's great-great-granddaughter joined the Church. She was a teenager, and a Mormon family for whom she babysat introduced her to the gospel after she told them that the picture on their wall was her ancestor. She knew nothing of the Church. As the missionaries handed her the Book of Mormon, before she even opened the book, she was filled with a burning, and she heard the words, "It's true, it's really true."

With the zeal of a new convert, Gracia caught the Spirit of Elijah. She innocently did her four generations of genealogy and submitted the chart to Church headquarters, linking herself to Joseph and Emma. When that chart arrived in Salt Lake City, the Brethren were understandably shocked. They sent a representative to Gracia's home in Montana. Then they encouraged her to seek out the rest of her family and bring the gospel to them, which she has taken on as a life-long mission. She has worked on both roots and branches of this family tree, doing temple work, locating relatives, traveling the world to meet them, taking them to the Legacy movie, putting their names on her huge family chart.

MIKE KENNEDY

17 years later, Michael A. Kennedy, another descendant of Joseph's and Emma's, joined the Church. As a teenager, he was asked to do a school report on an ancestor. He asked his father for information. His dad brought out a box of family photos and records to the coffee table and said that some of their ancestors were famous for starting the Mormon Church. Mike decided that would make a great report, and started spreading out the materials. Just then--just then!--the doorbell rang. It was the Mormon missionaries. They were invited in. The missionaries glanced at the coffee table and were understandably surprised to see a picture of Lucy Smith. “I told them I was writing a report on my ancestry and had decided to pick a topic on some guy who started the Mormon Church,” Mike said. “They went ballistic. I think they tried to give us all six discussions in the next ten minutes.”

It took a few years, but Mike finally joined the Church as a young adult in 1973, attended BYU, married in the Provo Temple, and joined the work of gathering the family. He was the first direct descendant to become a priesthood holder. He is currently chairman of the board and president of the family historical society, which produced the wonderful feature film, "Emma Smith: My Story." (Gracia Jones is also a board member and chief historian.) The society has produced a new DVD, "Children of Joseph: The Unknown Story," about the family after Joseph's death, which I am going to order this very minute! Their website is http://www.josephsmithjr.org/.

Emma Smith's sacrifice for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ was immeasurable, and despite the choices and circumstances that left her posterity adrift from it, the promise of her deathbed dream is being realized. After four generations, the Smith family tree once again has branches. Emma's children are coming home.


(Sources: Ehat & Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 106-107; Stanley B. Kimball, On the Potter's Wheel: The Diaries of Heber C. Kimball, p. 56; Hyrum L. Andrus, They Knew the Prophet, p. 147; Gracia Jones, Emma & Joseph: Their Divine Mission, p. 292; Gracia Jones, "My Great-Great Grandmother, Emma Hale Smith," Ensign, Aug. 1992, p. 30; Gracia Jones, "Choices and Consequences: Traditions of the Mothers--Lucy Mack Smith and Emma Hale Smith," BYU Campus Education Week lecture, August 23, 2001. )

To read Gracia Jones' conversion story, see My Great-Grandmother, Emma Hale Smith in the August 1992 Ensign.

To read Michael Kennedy's conversion story, go to http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/54186
and http://www.mormontimes.com/people_news/newsmakers/?id=2590

To read Michael Kennedy's testimony, go to
http://josephsmith.net/josephsmith/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=0ec3cddbda088110VgnVCM100000176f620aRCRD&locale=0

For a fun article about the first huge family reunion of Joseph and Emma's descendants, follow this link.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #39 "The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn to Their Fathers"

(D&C 2; 110:13-16; 138; JS-H 1:37-39; OH p. 98-99, 101-2, 105-7)

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

In the year 1918, Joseph F. Smith was the President of the Church, and his son, Hyrum Mack Smith, was one of the apostles. Joseph had a very close attachment to his son Hyrum, and always had. Hyrum had been ordained to the apostleship when he was only 29; now he was 45. He had recently returned from the harrowing experience of being the President of the European Mission and finding himself behind enemy lines in Germany when World War I broke out. Now, in January of 1918, he suddenly became ill and died, leaving his wife with four young children, and another one due in the fall.

Hyrum Mack Smith (left) with his parents, 
Sarah and Joseph F. Smith
from FamilySearch.org

The year 1918 was a bad year for almost everyone. Besides the fact that World War I was well underway, causing death and destruction around the globe, another even greater catastophe struck. On March 11th, the company cook at Fort Riley, Kansas reported in sick with a fever, sore throat, and a headache. He was quickly followed by another soldier with similar complaints. By noon, the camp's hospital had counted over 100 ill soldiers. By the end of the week, the number reached 500.

The American soldiers shipping out to Europe to fight against Germany that spring did not realize that they carried a weapon more deadly than rifles, bombs, or cannons. The virus earned the name "Spanish Influenza" because eight million Spaniards died of it in May of that year. The Spanish Influenza killed faster and with less mercy than any weapon of war. It hit people from age 20-40 the hardest. In a matter of hours, a person could go from strapping good health to flat in bed unable to walk. Patients felt as if they had been beaten all over with a club. Fevers would reach 105 degrees, causing the victims to become delirious and hallucinate. In June, Great Britain reported 31,000 cases. By summer, the flu had spread to Russia, North Africa, China, Japan, the Philippines, and New Zealand.

The tide of the illness waned over the summer in the U.S., only to return with a fury in the fall. At Camp Devens, near Boston, it was reported that the dead bodies were "stacked about the morgue like cordwood." In one day there, 63 men died.

On September 24, in Utah, Hyrum Mack Smith's widow delivered her baby, but she died of the birthing process, leaving the prophet's five little grandchildren orphans. Many other Utahns lost loved ones at the same time, as that was the very week the Spanish Influenza hit Utah.

The War ended in November of 1918, but the flu raged on. In one week that month, the town of Brevig Mission, Alaska lost 85% of its population to the flu. 30,000 San Franciscans took to the streets to celebrate the end of the war. As over 2,000 citizens of their city had died of the influenza, so the revelers were required by law to wear face masks. On November 21st, sirens announced that it was now safe to remove the masks. The next month, 5,000 new cases of influenza were reported in San Francisco.

December 22nd was appointed by the Church leaders as a day of fasting "for the arrest and speedy suppression by Divine Power of the desolating scourge that is passing over the earth."

Then, as quickly and mysteriously as it came, the Spanish Influenza left. It waned in mid-winter (January), with a slight resurgence in the spring, never to be seen again. To this day, neither the cause nor the cure is scientifically known. The death toll in the U.S. was 675,000--10 times the number of Americans killed in the war, and 55,000 more than were killed in the Civil War. Half of the U.S. soldiers who died in Europe died of influenza, rather than of violence. Exact numbers cannot be found, but very possibly 50 million people worldwide died of influenza. The Spanish Influenza was the most devastating epidemic in world history. It killed more in one year than the Bubonic Plague killed in four.

It was during this year of devastation that the Great Vision of the Redemption of the Dead was given from Heaven to soothe the souls of mankind. President Joseph F. Smith had been confined to his bed for six months of 1918, suffering from pneumonia, and was very near death himself. He was not able to attend to the logistics of running the Church, but his enfeebled physical state made him even more capable of attending to the things of the Spirit. The afterlife was a topic utmost in his mind all year, as it was for people all around the world. President Smith had been especially close to this topic all his life, as his father, Hyrum Smith, had been killed when he was five, his mother, Mary Fielding, had died when he was in his early teens, and of his 49 children (44 biological and 5 adopted), 14 had died (nearly one-third). Because he had meditated, researched, taught, and testified about the redemption of the dead so faithfully all his life, and because he was currently pondering the scriptures on the matter, he was prepared and blessed to witness first-hand in a vision, exactly what happens to people after they die. Through this vision to President Smith, the Lord comforted the saints around the world who were suffering intensely because of the loss of their loved ones and the fear of dying themselves.



President Joseph F. Smith's family in 1898
President Smith wrote the revelation down two days after he witnessed it. Within weeks, the Quorum of the Twelve had voted to accept it as a revelation. Today this vision is in our Doctrine and Covenants as Section 138. The Great Vision of the Redemption of the Dead was an answer to the questioning prayers of many, many of Heavenly Father's children, received, written, and accepted as revelation in October 1918, a month when 195,000 Americans died of influenza, the deadliest month in the history of the United States.

Joseph F. and Julina Smith


Be sure to check out the December 2009 Ensign, which has a wonderful article by BYU professor George S. Tate on President Joseph F. Smith, his intimate acquaintance with death, the catastrophic loss of life in World War I and the Spanish Influenza, and the great vision of the redemption of the dead.  It is a wonderful piece of writing, with additional details on the family deaths, and some beautifully poetic journal entries President Smith wrote in his loss. George S. Tate, "I Saw the Hosts of the Dead," Ensign, December 2009, p. 54-59.

For a delightful accounting of Joseph F. Smith's intimate method of parenting, please see "The Fathering Practices of Joseph F. Smith," by Mark D. Ogletree, available at BYU Archives.

(Sources: Arnold K. Garr, et.al., Encyclopedia of Latter-day History; Robert L. Millet, Selected Writings of Robert L. Millet (Gospel Scholars Series); Molly Billings, www.stanford.edu/group/virus/uda; "American Experience" at www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/influenza/; and "Grandpa Bill's General Authority Pages" at personal.bellsouth.net/lig/w/o/wo13/menu.htm)