March 28, 2021
This week’s post is long, but hopefully enjoyable. Today was our first fast and testimony meeting here at AOA. We are quickly learning that every experience is colored by the richness of history, Spirit and prophecy associated with this place. The songs we sing, the passages we study, the sacrament and our testimonies are illuminated by the “Light” that resides here giving them deeper meaning and significance.
This week was our first work schedule week. Elder Kenison was assigned with Elder Steffenson, from Kanarraville, Utah, to move the completion of the new duplex forward. From all I can gather, they are an awesome team. Elder Steffenson is a building contractor by trade and Elder Kenison has done a bit of all of it and is willing, able help at every turn. I do extraction work for 4 hours on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday mornings. By some turn of fate, I was assigned a computer programmed for a sister with disabilities who served previously. It has taken some effort to convince all involved to give me chance with the usual settings. Even so, I have left myself plenty of room for improvement and hope to be as good at extraction as our daughter, Katie, someday soon. On Friday mornings, the sisters create pages to preserve a photo history of our service and time here.
Elder and Sister Walker joined us for the first three days this week. Elder Walker is one of the emeritus General Authorities assigned to our mission. They come every other month to check on our progress, train, teach and inspire us, and give counsel on what should happen next. Elder Kenison and I had the opportunity to visit with the Walkers for a half hour on Monday. Wow, that was humbling!
Elder Kenison’s birthday was Tuesday, March 23, 2021. It was one to be remembered. We gathered for a dinner at the Diahman Center with a view of the entire Adam-ondi-Ahman Valley. Everyone made a fuss over him with a birthday hat and the birthday song. Just when we thought it couldn’t be better, the Walkers spoke to us. Sister Walker was very brief, but Elder Walker spoke to us as friends for over 90 minutes. Some serving already knew him and have served with him in the past. We are still trying to understand why we are so blessed to be here. It feels so good to feel welcomed, loved and included by such valiant, experienced, and faithful people. We enjoyed every word spoken and were shocked to see the time when Elder Walker closed. I am guessing few have ever had a more glorious birthday, a tastier meal, or a more distinguished guest list. I will share one take-away!
Following the prophet matters!
Elder Walker shared some of his history which clearly verifies the importance of following the counsel of the living prophet because that course ultimately blessed more than just us.
Elder Walker is from Canada and Sister Walker is from Provo. In the early days of The Church, the prophet asked Jesse Knight, a rather wealth man, to go to Canada and purchase land with his own fortune with the intention to sell it “very cheap” to the saints who would follow. He did so without hesitation and by doing so, he shaped the future of the Walker Family. He asked that a young woman who had recently graduated with a secretarial certificate be allowed to go and serve as his secretary in the venture. She was Elder Walker’s grandmother.
After serving a mission to Holland, Elder Walker’s grandfather returned to Utah with a nickel to his name. His mother had died when he was 15 and his father passed away while he was serving. There was no inheritance and little future for him there, so he went to Canada to get land and make a life. He joined the choir there and that is where this couple met. The rest, which included 12 children and many decades and two generations of Walkers in Raymond, Canada, is history!
Elder Walker came to BYU after serving a mission in Japan and found Sister Walker who was a cheerleader for BYU. What a team! What a history they have woven together!
The Walker’s Church service is inspiring. Stories spill from Elder Walker like they did from President Monson. His time as head of the Temple Committee is filled with miracles, battles, and adventures. He went from head of the Temple Committee to Director over the prisons and detention facilities for the Church. His stories revealed that both are the Lord’s work, and He directs the details of each.
The climax of his time with us was sharing a beautiful journal entry from Elder Graham Doxey, who was first sent to AOA to assess the area and make suggestions of what direction should be taken in the 1977. (Please note that this was the year after Darrel and I were married, and he promised we would serve a mission together someday.) Elder Doxey recorded the first visit President Kimball made to this land, on Sept. 2, 1978, in great detail. The part that most touched my heart was when they arrived and found a tour bus of saints enjoying the Spirit of this place. There was little else here at the time. President Kimball asked Elder Doxey to stop. The prophet got out and spontaneously greeted each person. I am guessing that was like a taste of Heaven for them. After touring the valley, President Kimball wanted to return to the tour group. He invited them to consider D&C 116 and D&C 117:53-57 with him. They sang hymn #49, Adam-ondi-Ahman together and then joined in prayer. As I considered that rare and beautiful experience, I knew it was exactly what the Savior would have done.
A heartwarming story. There are two cemeteries here at AOA and we visited both this week. We were surprised that one had the burial spot of “Old Yeller.” This is not the Walt Disney Old Yeller. This was a yellow dog that wondered into AOA years ago and adopted the missionaries. He was loved and cared for by all of them. He would greet them at the work center each morning, jump in a truck and spend the day with the Elder assigned to that truck. When Old Yeller, as he was affectionately known, finally died, it was a sad day for those then serving. They picked a knoll near Tower Hill to bury this faithful old dog and marked the hallowed spot.
A taste of History: Saturdays are left for the couples to use as they see fit. A trip to the nearest Costco in Kansas City seemed important, but this area is so rich with history that we had to experience some along the way. We visited the birthplace or Jesse James and learned the story of the James family. It gave insight into why Jesse James was so good at being bad. Their family was one tragically torn apart by the Civil War and paralleled the plight of saints in this area in some ways. In a nutshell, Jesse’s father was a Baptist Minister who purchased a farm in Clay County in 1840 and settled there with his bride, Zerelda. They were literally neighbors to the saints living in here at the time. It was a violent, brutal, lawless time and a dark plight in Missouri’s history. When Reverend James left to preach in California during the Gold Rush, he and Zeralda had three small children. She stayed here to take care of the farm. He succumbed to a fever while gone and never returned. According to the law at that time the farm then belonged to the children who became wards of an uncle appointed as their guardian. Their frantic mother quickly married a wealthy, much older man in order to get her children back. The plan backfired and the marriage soon ended when her new husband revealed that her children were not welcome. Eventually, Zerelda married a good and gentle man, and the family was reunited. Missouri was terribly divided on the topic of slavery and each side fought to swing the tide their way. The James had slaves. Frank, Jesse’s older brother had already joined a garrison of pro-slavery well known for their raids on abolitionists. Union soldiers came to the James home looking for Frank. They beat 15-year-old Jesse nearly to death while he was plowing in the field in an effort to get him to tell them where Frank was. When he was finally able to return to the house, he found they had hung his stepfather and then cut him down, three times trying to get him to talk and assaulted Jesse’s pregnant mother.
Anger, hatred, resentment, and revenge burned in Jesse’s heart for the next 20 years. Each of the 50 plus bank and train robberies attributed Jesse James and his gang were selected because they held large deposits of Union dignities and officers. Many believe Jesse was a confederate Robin Hood, who stole from the powerful, rich and gave to the poor whose lives were uprooted by the conflict. The money he took was never recovered and his short life suggested he lived modestly. He was killed by a member of his own gang, who was purchased by the U.S. army for $5,000 and exoneration of his war crimes. Jesse was shot in the back of the head in his own home in St. Joseph, Missouri at age 35 as he stood to straighten a picture on the wall.
Just as a side note, Jesse James Jr. was an actor for a time, and then went on to study criminal justice at a university.
We are standing on the porch of the original James Family Cabin. The window is in the room where Jesse was born in 1847. Left is the front porch as it now stands after the home had three additions through the years.
We attended our first Amish fish fry this week and that was a treat! We tried our first hush puppies and the best cold slaw we’ve ever tasted! We also visited the Watson Mill State Park, which is the remains of the Estate of Waltus L. and Mary Ann Holloway. Waltus moved to Liberty Missouri in 1830 and set up a carding and spinning mill, as well as a circular sawmill and gristmill. He married Mary Ann in 1834. I’m guessing they heard the name of Joseph Smith as they were here during the cold winter of 1838-1839 that Joseph spent in Liberty Jail. What started as a 80 acre farm became 3,660 acres by 1880. Waltus established a community complete with a church and octagonal school for his slaves and hired workers.
Thanks for following our adventures both spiritual and historical here. We love and miss you!