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Early Mormon Missionaries

1830-1930

Grateful for a Missionary Heritage

Teaching the Tradition of Missionary Work in General Conference


Thomas S. Monson
Thomas S. Monson


Missionary Memories

I think of my own grandfather, Nels Monson, who waited seven years for his sweetheart to become his bride. The first entry in his missionary journal expressed eloquently his gratitude: “Today, in the Salt Lake Temple, Maria Mace became my eternal wife.” The entry written three days later was more somber: “Tonight the bishop came to our house. I have been called to serve a two-year mission to Scandinavia. My dear wife will remain at home and sustain me.” I treasure such faith. I cherish such commitment.

Learn more about Nels Monson’s missionary service
 



Henry B. Eyring
Henry B. Eyring


A Legacy of Testimony

That is how a legacy of testimony is created, preserved, and transmitted in a family. It isn’t easy, but ordinary people have done it. Like many of you, I had such ancestors. One was my great-grandfather John Bennion. We cannot duplicate what he did because the world has changed, but we can learn from it.

He was a convert to the Church from Wales. He, his wife, and his children came into the Salt Lake Valley in one of the early companies of pioneers. We know something of his life because after that time he kept a journal, making a short entry nearly every day. We have the journals from 1855 to 1877. They were published in one bound volume because his descendants hoped to transmit that legacy of testimony. My mother was one of them. Her last labor before she died was to transform the day books in which he’d written into a manuscript for publication.

His short entries don’t have much preaching in them. He doesn’t testify that he knew Brigham Young was a prophet. He just records having answered “yes” every time the prophet called him on a mission from “over Jordan” to the Muddy mission, then on to a mission back to Wales. He also answered “yes” to the call to ride into the canyons to track Johnston’s army and the call to take his family south when the army invaded the valley. There is even a family legend that the reason he died so close to the day when Brigham Young was buried was to follow the prophet one more time.

The fact that he wrote every day makes clear to me that he knew his ordinary life was historic because it was part of the building of Zion in the latter days. The few entries which record his testimony seem to appear when death took a child. His testimony is to me more powerful because he offered it when his soul was tried.

Learn more about John Bennion’s missionary service 
 



Dallin H. Oaks
Dallin H. Oaks


The Witness: Martin Harris

In 1832 Martin Harris’s older brother, Emer, who is my great-great-grandfather, was called on a mission from Ohio (see D&C 75:30). Emer spent a year preaching the gospel near his former home in northeastern Pennsylvania. During most of this time Emer’s companion was his brother Martin, whose zeal in preaching even caused him to be jailed for a few days. The Harris brothers baptized about 100 persons. Among those baptized was a family named Oaks, which included my great-great-grandfather. Thus, my middle name and my last name come from the grandfathers who met in that missionary encounter in Susquehanna County in 1832–33.

Learn more about Emer Harris’s missionary service
 



Ezra Taft Benson. Image courtesy of Busath.com
Ezra Taft Benson


Our Commission to Take the Gospel to All the World

Now I want to say a few words to some of you older brethren. We have need for select missionary couples.

My father was called on a mission and left mother at home with seven young children, and the eighth was born four months after he arrived in the field. There came into our home a spirit of missionary work that never left it, for which I am deeply grateful.

Some of you who are grandparents can have more influence on your grandchildren by letters from the mission field than by any other means.

I remember so well, after the chores were done, sitting around the kitchen table as mother read letters from father. It seemed as though it was halfway around the world as she mentioned the towns where he was laboring; but it was only Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Chicago and Springfield, Illinois; and other towns in the great Midwest. . . .

My father’s family later grew to eleven children. All eleven of us have now had the joy of filling missions. The last one recently returned from filling a mission with her husband in San Diego.

Learn more about George Taft Benson’s missionary service
 



D. Todd Christofferson
D. Todd Christofferson


Reflections on a Consecrated Life

I find in the life of my grandfather and grandmother Alexander DeWitt and Louise Vickery Christofferson an instance of such consecration. Grandpa was a strong man and was good at shearing sheep in the days before electric clippers. He got good enough, he said, that “in one day I sheared 287 sheep and could have sheared over 300, but we ran out of sheep.” During 1919 he sheared over 12,000 sheep, earning some $2,000. The money would have substantially expanded his farm and upgraded his home, but a call to serve in the Southern States Mission came from the Brethren, and with Louise’s full support, he accepted. He left his wife (then pregnant with their first son, my father) and their three daughters with the sheep-shearing money. Upon his joyous return two years later, he observed, “Our savings had lasted us throughout the two years, and we had $29 left.”

Learn more about Alexander DeWitt Christofferson’s missionary service  

 



David B. Haight
David B. Haight


Missionary Work—Our Responsibility

A few weeks ago, joy and nostalgia dominated our conversation as Sister Haight and I drove to the airport to see our eleventh grandchild leave for his mission. During our brief visit—with warm greetings and emotional embraces—we recalled some of the historical accounts of how the message of the restoration of the gospel had influenced our family, of how our missionary grandson’s great-great-grandfather, Joseph Toronto, heard and believed the message of the gospel from missionaries in Boston in 1843, 150 years ago.

Joseph Toronto assisted with the building of the Nauvoo Temple. Brigham Young had made a strong appeal on Sunday, July 6, 1845, for the Saints to “remember [and pray for] the temple” and to “pay your tithing.” The Saints were anxious that the temple be finished sufficiently that ordinance work might begin before the exodus westward. More workers and tithing were desperately needed. Joseph Toronto, the new convert, visited Brigham Young after the meeting and declared that “he wanted to give himself and all he had to the kingdom of God.” He handed Brigham Young $2,600 in gold coins (see Church News, 20 June 1981, p. 16). Brigham Young blessed the Italian convert, proclaiming that “he should stand at the head of his race and that neither he nor his family should ever want for bread” (Joseph Toronto: Italian Pioneer and Patriarch, comp. Toronto Family Organization, 1983, p. 10). Later, in 1849, he was called to accompany the new Apostle Lorenzo Snow to his native Italy to open that land for the preaching of the gospel (see Church News, 20 June 1981, p. 16).

We also spoke of Hector C. Haight, another ancestor, called from his home in Farmington, Utah, to preside over the Scandinavian Mission in 1856 with little or no ability to speak Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian. But, trusting in the Lord and with the assistance of the Scandinavian Saints, he accomplished his assignment. He reported in 1858 that “2,610 souls had been baptized . . . and [that] 990 members had emigrated to Zion” (Andrew Jenson, History of the Scandinavian Mission, Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1927, p. 128).

These ancestors, along with many others, gave inspiration and set the precedent of love for the gospel and its divine truth and for missionary service, which our children and grandchildren inherit but must personally acquire for themselves.

Learn more about Joseph Toronto’s missionary service

Learn more about Hector C. Haight’s missionary service