October 9, 2022

Today I am breathing a sigh of relief!  Our mission trip to Winter Quarters was Oct. 6-8.  I was asked to organize it and the pressure of feeling responsible for its success is over.  It was an inspiring visit.  The weather was perfect, our guides and presenters were the best to be found, and all grew in appreciation for the faith and sacrifice of the early saints who passed through Iowa and Nebraska. Hundreds who intended to make it to Zion in the Rocky Mountains, are buried in over 60 locations.  Scurvy and malnutrition was the leading cause of death.

Darrel and I were in Omaha with the missionaries last year, but this year was different.  Perhaps it was because I had prepared more intensely, hoping to provide a rich opportunity for those who went this year. I found that tears often filled my eyes as I contemplated the magnitude of what happened here. This is literally a place where life and death swayed in the balance for over 20,000  exiled saints who had no place to return to. It was a migration to save not only the saints but the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Due to the time of year and the condition of humans and stock alike, the saints could not move forward.  To top it off, 500 of their strongest men enlisted in the Mormon Battalion, leaving a majority population of women, children and elderly to face harsh uncertainty and the chill of winter.  Faith in every footstep describes what was required every day.  The saints’ ingenuity, sheer grit, and deep devotion to God and each other is beyond inspiring.  The leadership of Brigham Young and the Twelve was visionary. No era in history has greater evidence that God moves in behalf of the faithful and miracles follow.  After this visit, it is a miracle to me that any survived.  I am humbled to know that some of those who did are my ancestors! Knowing I have pioneer blood strengthens my resolve that “come what may,” I can endure in faith and find joy in the journey.

President Bennett

President Richard Bennett conducted our tour of the trail center. It is designed to tell the story of the saints who lived in this area briefly.   President Bennett is a retired Church History Professor from BYU and the President of the Winter Quarter’s historical mission.  He confided that their main assignment is to strengthen the faith of the young people who visit.  He shared some tender stories of hosting busloads of LDS youth and watching the power and spirit of the saints’ trek from Nauvoo to Salt Lake awaken something inside them.

We met Jacob at these doors when we picked him up from his mission in Nebraska.
Darrel, Dalton, Dawn and Me

Our session at in the Winter Quarter’s Temple was extra sweet as we recalled our first visit here.  It was when we picked our son, Jacob, up from his mission.  We joined him and the other elders returning home for a final session in this temple.  The stained-glass panels inside depict scenes from the early saints who endured life in this area. There is a pioneer Spirit evident that touches hearts.  Just before returning back to Adam-ondi-Ahman, we took Dawn Mckee and her grandson, Dalton, out to breakfast.  Jacob was an instrument in Dawn’s conversion, and we were there to witness her baptism just prior to his release. It was a sweet finale to our trip.

The drive home gave me a much-needed autumn experience which I discovered was enhanced by wearing my rose-colored sunglasses. 

Interesting facts

1. The Winter Quarter’s Temple is the only one in the world named after a place that no longer exists.

2. There were more deaths per capita  during the exodus from Nauvoo to Salt Lake than any other era of church history.

3. The first endowments for the dead in this dispensation were performed in the St. George Temple.

4. 50% of those in Nauvoo came from Great Britain.

5. There was a Council of Twelve and a Council of 50 who lead the Church after the death of the prophet Joseph Smith. Brigham was sustained the next prophet on his return trip from the Utah territory.  The pattern of the senior apostle becoming the next prophet was set in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

6. There is a “rain cloud” motif on the Salt Lake Temple that is symbolic of the divine revelation that governs the Church.  It is a constant reminder that the temple is a place of revelation.

7. Oliver Cowdery, who was a prime witness of the restoration, was out of the Church for ten years.  He returned to join the saints at the tabernacle in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Oliver had ordained Orson Hyde an apostle.  At this time, Orson re-baptized Oliver!  Oliver spoke to a congregation, the majority  of whom knew of him only in name.  He bore his final public testimony confirming the events of the restoration as we know it today.

For our Tuesday scripture study this week, we discussed themes and messages of conference that most touched us individually.  I heard the Lord’s voice again and again, but one spoke powerfully because of current concerns. Elder Steven J. Lund’s  remarks were directed towards youth seeking to hang onto the spiritual high of recent youth conferences,  but I found some valuable suggestions as we prepare to return home.

We, too, would like to “stay here, feel the Spirit and live like this”, rather than return the “corrosive environment” we sense awaits us. We’d like to avoid any chance that our “gleaming convictions could become etched, corroded and eventually crumble.”

We’ve found it simple to trust God and hear Him in this quiet, sacred place and we are about to return to a world filled with a “mortal flurry of distraction” and “prophesied disruption.”

Luckily, the couples who came 19 months ago are not the same as the ones going home.  We’re forever changed because we’ve learned together, grown together, and found strength in the bonds we’ve forged.  We are “new creatures” who have learned that it is possible to live on a higher plain. 

We don’t have to wear the badge to bear His name!  All is not lost! Learning to love and trust God on a new level, has offered us a desire for lasting discipleship. We’ve had moments of clarity here that have sunk deep into our hearts and have become a part of who we are becoming.  Elder Lund’s suggestions are equally pertinent to any wishing to hang on to a spiritual high or increase that Spirit in their lives.

Before we went on our trip to Omaha, Darrel, Cousin Ted, and Allen Mason dug and poured the footings of the new restroom at Tower Hill. They also laid the first three tiers of cinder block, filled them with concrete, painted and back filled them in preparation for the plumbing to be roughed in and the walls to be laid.   Other Elders finished re-roofing the 4-plex and the project to clear and beautify the view at the East Overlook was completed.  I never get over the amount of work done here by men who struggled to take the first three or four steps every time they get up.

After President Nelson shared a clip of new Book of Mormon video featuring 3 N and the Savior’s visit to America, I thought I’d share a link for those who haven’t seen it. The event and Spirit it contains is powerful!

Three of our 2020 missionaries joined us for fast and testimony meeting today. Serving here creates a bond that is as strong as that of family.  The reunion was joyous!  We plan to break our fast together this afternoon.  I hope this day is just one of many reunions we will have with those we love so dearly. Today we will finish up our last week of cleaning. That’s one “last” that is okay!  We are looking forward to the “last” visit from Elder and Sister Schwitzer this next week.  

May remembering the imminent return of our Savior guide what we do and say this week.  In the words of President Nelson, “…The gathering of Israel is the most important work taking place on earth today. One crucial element of this gathering is preparing a people who are able, ready, and worthy to receive the Lord when He comes again, a people who have already chosen Jesus Christ over this fallen world, a people who rejoice in their agency to live the higher, holier laws of Jesus Christ. I call upon you, my dear brothers and sisters, to become this righteous people. Cherish and honor your covenants above all other commitments. As you let God prevail in your life, I promise you greater peace, confidence, joy, and yes, rest…” 

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