Several years ago, my mother compiled a book about the original settlers of our town. She called it The Impact Families of Hooper. Well, all families have an impact, but she selected several that she thought the family members especially were memorable.
This week we were out in the country looking for Young Single Adults who are on the Church records. We met a young man, who, with his family, lived on a long dirt road many miles north of Richmond, Missouri. The family is active in the Church. I asked the father how he came to be in the Church “way out here?” He said that he was born in the Church. In the 1930s, missionaries walked down these roads and met his grandparents. They accepted the message and became an “impact” family in the Church. All of his uncles, aunts and cousins were and are Mormons. Now, his children are as well. The young man had recently had a serious auto accident, but plans to serve a mission when he is fully recovered.
One of the “impact” families in Church History is the Whitmer family. Peter and Mary Whitmer were one of the early converts. It was in their home that the Church was organized. They had eight children, five sons and three daughters, one daughter died young, but the other two married Oliver Cowdery and Hiram Page. So, two of the Three Witnesses and five of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon were from their family (counting there sons-in-law).
This is the new monument in Liberty, close to the Temple, in memory of the Missouri Leaders, the Eight Witnesses, Zion's Camp, and the Sadler Farm.
The Whitmers ended up here in Missouri. When Joseph Smith came with Zion’s Camp he organized the Presidency of the Church in Missouri. David Whitmer was called to be the President with W.W. Phelps as 1st counselor and his brother, John Whitmer as 2nd counselor.
The financial and other troubles that happened in Kirtland in 1837 spread to Missouri. Joseph and Sidney Rigdon found it necessary to leave Kirtland in the middle of the night in January of 1838. Their families joined them and they traveled overland in the winter. Emma was six months pregnant with four little children at her side.
While they were in route the High Council at Far West, under the leadership of Thomas B. Marsh (who was also the President of the 12) and Apostle David W. Patten, held councils and excommunicated the entire Missouri Presidency, as well as some of the other Whitmers, including Oliver Cowdery. This must have broken Joseph’s heart when he finally arrived at Far West and found that many of his oldest friends had turned on the Church, and him!
Some of them came back, but none of them ever denied their testimony of seeing the plates. In fact, their mother, Mary Whitmer, was also shown the plates by the angel, the only women on record to do so.
Oliver and several other Whitmers are buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in Richmond. Many years ago the Church erected a monument there honoring the Three Witnesses and the Whitmers. David Whitmer lived longer and is buried in the city cemetery in Richmond.
This is the stone at David Whitmer's grave.
Christian Whitmer was the first to die. He died “in the faith” before that terrible period. He is buried at another site. A monument was placed there in 2011 to honor the Eight Witnesses, Zions Camp, the Sadler farm (where the Saints found work and refuge when they were expelled from Jackson County) and those who died during the Cholera epidemic at the end of the Zions Camp experience.
We were driving along a dirt road near Excelsior Springs when we saw a monument. We stopped and found that it was the grave site of another Whitmer family member, Hiram Page.
John Whitmer is buried near Kingston. We have not been to that site yet. Kingston is named after Judge Austin King, who was one of the judges who tried Joseph Smith. He later became the Governor of Missouri and is buried near David Whitmer. When the Saints were driven out of Caldwell County, the citizens that moved in did not want Far West to be the county seat so they started a new town and called it after Judge King. Today, Kingston is the county seat of Caldwell County. This is Judge/Governor King's marker.
This mission is becoming an interesting and enlightening experience. When I left the mission field, 40 years ago, I thought my life of “tracting” had come to an end. I was not unhappy at that thought.
Sister Haws and I have embarked on a mission of “search and rescue” here in the Liberty Stake. On the rolls are 568 individuals that are designated as young (18 to 30) single adults. What we are finding is that many are not single, and a lot are no longer here. They have moved on, often to points unknown.
I am the first to acknowledge a person’s right, or agency, to belong and participate in the Church, or not. But, it is hard when the Church keeps a person’s record and assigns them to a particular unit. The leaders of that unit, and often missionaries like us, who are there to assist them, have a charge to seek out all of those who once entered into the Church by baptism.
As we drove around the neighborhoods this past month, looking for the homes of those we were seeking, it was as though I could see the past. I could see young missionaries going up and down those streets. They were knocking on the doors of those very homes. This happened many times and over a period of many years. Most people did not accept their invitation or message, but some did. A number of those invited them in and listened to what they had to say and a few, a small few, accepted it and decided to join with them in fellowship. There then followed a joyous baptismal service. The missionaries wrote home and expressed their joy to their parents. Then there followed a period of activity and involvement. Often there were children who attended Primary and many of the boys were ordained to the priesthood at age 12 and the girls joined in the Young Women’s program.
We are happy to report that many stayed and the impact of them staying is being felt by those who are happily participating in the Church.
Now for some of them something changed. If that family still lives there, the deacon or young woman (who is now in his or her 20s) most often does not live there. They may have moved on to marriage, the military, school, or just moved on. Most no longer want to affiliate with us; some are more adamant than others about that. Some are angry and express rage. This breaks our hearts. We wonder what the source of such hurtful feelings was. We know that we are not the true target, but it is to us that the rage is directed. We then apologize, retreat and try to express love and an invitation: Please come back!
I know all the research. I understand the categories. I can speak to why some choose not to affiliate with the Church. But we are now looking into the faces of the people. Most of the people we contact are experiencing various levels of upheaval and drama in their lives. We wonder if they had stayed with the Church and the principles taught by the Apostles and Prophets would they have found more happiness in their lives. We have. We know God has a plan of happiness. I have always held that the root of sin lies in thinking that we have a better plan of happiness than God does. When we repent, we first have to acknowledge that we were wrong, and he was right. That is a very hard thing to do, and that is where both humility and godly sorrow enter into the process.
When I was a young missionary, and we encountered a person who gave us a strong rebuke, we felt the influence of that rebuke for several minutes, often hours, and in a few cases days. We did several things to dispel the negative feeling, but always we had to have sorrow, empathy and love for the person who rebuked us, before we could move on. I remember several times stopping and saying a pray that both them and us could overcome the darkness we felt. Sister Haws and I have now had that same experience several times, and we are certain we will have it again, but we hope we can move on. We know it will still take sorrow, empathy and love.