Sunday, December 28, 2008

Worthy of Our Parentage

We are who we are in a very large part because of our ancestors. Their choices have shaped our opportunities and our circumstances, for better or for worse. Thankfully, I am descended from a long line of noble ancestry. And I owe everything to them.
I am the product of hundreds of years of searching for Eternal Truth. My ancestors, without exception (at least that I know of), came to the United States of America seeking religious freedom. On my mother's side, many of my ancestors were Puritans and Pilgrims. In fact, one of my great-grandfathers, Richard Warren, was on the Mayflower and was part of the scouting party that eventually chose Plymouth as a place of settlement.
The rest of my ancestors on my mother's side came to America to establish Zion. They were from the British Isles and the Netherlands. Mormon missionaries came to their countries and taught them in their homes, streets, and churches. My ancestors recognized that the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ had been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
One of them was named Mary Soar Taylor. Mary lived in Nottingham, England and was widowed when she was still a young woman, leaving her alone to care for her two sons, Jesse and William. Missionaries came and taught her that the True Church of Jesus Christ had been restored, and she accepted their message with all her heart.
She and her children wanted to join the Saints in Utah, but they were poor and had to wait several years until the opportunity came for them to come to Zion. In 1856, they left England and arrived in the Midwest where they would continue their trek. They couldn’t afford a wagon, let alone a team of oxen, so they pulled their belongings and supplies in a handcart in the Martin Handcart Company. But they left for Utah late in the summer, and an early snow storm caught their company on the high plains of Wyoming.

They were stranded.
Providentially, Elder Franklin D. Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had found them before the snow storm as he was returning from a mission in Europe. He had a fast team of horses and a carriage and made it to Salt Lake City on October 4 to report that there were still two companies on the plains.

Even though Brigham Young immediately sent help, Mary, her children, and their company didn’t arrive in the Salt Lake Valley until late November. Many died, and those who didn’t lost toes, feet, fingers, and legs. William eventually died from the effects of the experience. (For more information about the Martin Handcart Company, see James E. Faust, "Go Bring Them Home from the Plains," Liahona, Nov. 1997, 3; James E. Faust, "A Priceless Heritage," Ensign, July 2002, 2; "Remembering the Rescue," Ensign, Aug. 1997, 38; Paul H. Peterson, "They Came by Handcart," Ensign, Aug. 1997, 30.

Of all people, I think the members of the Martin Handcart Company were justified in complaining and criticizing Brigham Young and the other leaders of the Church. But they didn’t; other members of the Church did. The following is an account of one survivor of the Martin Handcart Company as he responded to criticism:

Some sharp criticism of the Church and its leaders was being indulged in for permitting any company of converts to venture across the plains with no more supplies or protection than a handcart caravan afforded.

An old man in the corner … sat silent and listened as long as he could stand it, then he arose and said things that no person who heard him will ever forget. His face was white with emotion, yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity.

In substance [he] said, "I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited was there, too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? …

"I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it."

He continued: "I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.

"Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company." (James E. Faust, "The Refiner’s Fire," Ensign, May 1979, 53).

I know that Mary, Jesse, and William felt the same way.
In fact, Mary wrote a brief history of her life and closed it with her testimony. She said:
I have written this sketch of my life as stated for the benefit of my grandchildren and others and I also add my testimony of the divinity of this work. I know that it is the work of God and hope and trust that any of my posterity that may come in possession of this may be strengthened in their faith by it, and be worthy of such parentage for truly we suffered much for the truth's sake, but the reward of the faithful is sure.
It's hard to hold back the tears when I read my grandmother's words. She gave everything because she knew that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the restored Church of Jesus Christ, containing the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And I strive to be "worthy of such parentage." I will be faithful to the end to this Gospel and to this Church. It is the least I can do for Mary and for Jesse and my other ancestors on my mother's side who gave everything to come to Zion.
And I am equally beholden to my father's ancestors. They were Mennonites. The Mennonites were part of the Anabaptist movement of the Reformation. During the Reformation, several men in Switzerland decided their infant baptisms were invalid because they did not have the option to choose for themselves. They were rebaptised, and thus the Anabaptist movement was born.

Among all the sects which emerged in Reformation Europe, the Anabaptists were the most radical. They sought to Restore the ancient Church of Jesus Christ. They actively proselytized their neighbors, and many rejected the authority of their secular leaders. As a result, the Anabaptists suffered severe persecution. Among the most radical of the Anabaptists were those living in the city of Munster, Germany. There, one Anabaptist leader claimed to be the prophet Enoch and Munster the city of Zion. They drove all non-believers from the city, but their neighbors retaliated and slaughtered the Munster Anabaptists.

After Munster, the Anabaptist movement needed leadership when a former Catholic priest, Menno Simons took the lead of the largest group of Anabaptists. He preached the need for the separation of Church and State, the importance of Faith and Works to gain salvation, and pacifism. The were known as the Mennonites.
The Mennonites gathered in communities and supported one another physically and spiritually. And because they were pacifists, they were driven from place to place. Finally, they were allowed to live in Prussia in the early Seventeenth Century. After one hundred years and prosperity in Prussia, the Prussian government demanded that the Mennonites give their sons to serve in the military.
Cathrine the Great of Russia, hearing of the Mennoites' prosperity in Prussia, invited them to come to the Ukraine and Crimea, which Russia had just acquired in the Crimean War. She promised that they would never have to serve in the military. But in 1871, Czar Alexander II of Russia ordered all men within the boundaries of his empire to submit themselves to military service. However, he opened a ten-year window of emigration for anyone opposed. The decree outraged the nearly forty-five thousand Mennonites, and after several failed attempts to dissuade the Russian government, the only solution was emigration.
And my ancestors ended up in the Midwest states of Kansas, Missouri, and the Dakotas. Their search for Truth and their desire to live according to the Truth they had received brought them here. Little did they know that the ancient Anabaptist desire to restore the ancient Church of Jesus Christ had been fulfilled through Joseph Smith. And little did they know that one of their descendants, my father, would find the fulness of the Gospel.
Dad was in high school working in a grocery store in Moses Lake, Washington. There were Mormons working in the store with him. And he had felt that there was something missing in his life. He approached the Mormons and asked if they had anything about their Church that he could read. They did better by bringing him to the missionaries and giving him a copy of the Book of Mormon.
Dad knew the Book of Mormon was truly Another Testament of Jesus Christ before he even finished reading it. He joined the Church and later served a mission in the Netherlands. While there, he had a mission companion named Jan. Jan's mother had just passed away, and his little sister, Diane, had to leave BYU to take care of her siblings.
Dad and Diane started writing each other. They were later married and had eleven children.
As you can see, I am who I am because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And I feel an immense responsibility, more of a privilege than a responsibility, to share this Gospel with all the world. It is the Gospel that my Mennonite ancestors strove to restore, and it is the Gospel the prompted the ancestors on my mother's side to leave everything to come to Zion.
May I be worthy of such Parentage!

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