All images except for the last two are courtesy of lds.org, specifically in the gospel art kit section.
The Story of Our Heritage
-a true (if simplified) story of the beginnings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
But, then one day, he read in the Bible something that changed everything for him. It was in a book written by a prophet named James, and the part that was important said, If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not. Joseph Smith knew that that meant that he could ask God what church he should join, and that God wouldn't make fun of him or get angry with him for asking.
So, Joseph decided that he would do just that. He went to a quiet grove (which is kind of like a small forest) near his house and knelt down to pray and ask God what church he should join.
Well, to Joseph's surprise, Heavenly Father and Jesus came down to see Joseph right then! They told him that he shouldn't join any church yet, because God's church wasn't on the earth anymore, but that He was getting ready to bring it back to the earth and that they'd tell Joseph more about that later.
(Song: Oh How Lovely Was the Morning)
So, Joseph went home to his house, and thought about what had happened. He didn't join any church. He did tell people what had happened to him though. He thought everyone would be happy to know what he'd been told, because he figured they were all as confused as he was. But, he was wrong about that. Many people were not happy about what Joseph said. They called him a liar, and were very cruel to him. His family still loved him though, and they believed him and were very loyal to him.
A while later, Joseph had a visitor from Heaven.
An angel named Moroni came to Joseph, and told him about some sacred records that were hidden near his home. Moroni explained to Joseph where they were, (buried in a hill, under a rock) and told him that the next day he was to go to that hill, move the rock, and find the records. Only, he wasn't to touch them unless when he did, the only thing on his mind was the work that he could do for Heavenly Father. This last part was important, because the records were written on plates (kind of like really heavy paper) made of pure gold, and Joseph's family were really poor. The angel didn't want Joseph to sell the plates or do anything foolish like that.
(Song: An Angel Came to Joseph Smith)
So, the next day (after spending pretty much all night listening to Moroni), Joseph went to get the plates. When he got to the spot, he found the plates, but the angel Moroni came again, and told him that Joseph wasn't ready to have the plates yet. Moroni taught Joseph some things, and then told Joseph to come back on the same day the following year.
That happened four more times, and then, after four years . . .
Joseph was able to take the plates home and begin translating them. Now, if he thought people where cruel to him before, he had no idea how bad things were going to get. Now people were trying to really hurt him, and maybe even kill him. And especially, lots of people wanted to get their hands on those valuable gold plates so they could sell them and get a lot of money for themselves. It was really really hard, but Joseph had faith, and his family had faith, and the other people who believed in the church had faith. Because of all that faith, and because of Heavenly Father's miracles, the plates were translated and the translation became the Book of Mormon.
(Song: The Golden Plates)
Well, as more people joined the church, it ended up that there were two places where most of the Mormons went. One of those places was a town called Kirtland Ohio, and another place was in Missouri. Around then, the Lord told Joseph Smith that He wanted the Saints to build a temple. So they did.
And then, the persecutions and everything got so bad, (so bad that the Governor of one of the states ordered his army to drive the Mormons out of the state and if they didn't go, to kill them) that the people had to leave Kirtland and Missouri, and move to a place in Illinois, a place that they called Nauvoo. After awhile, the Lord told them to build a temple there too.
|Unlike the photo above, which is a picture of the actual structure built in the 1800s, this temple is a restored version of the Nauvoo temple, finished in 2002. The original structure was burned by arsonists in the 1800s|
For awhile, things were pretty good in Nauvoo, but then the persecutions started to come again, even worse than before.
They got so bad that Joseph Smith and his brother and two other men were put in jail again. Now, Joseph Smith had been in jail before this, but this was going to be his last time in jail. That's because while he was there, a bunch of men got their guns and painted their faces black (so that no one could recognize them) and joined together in an angry mob. Then, they marched up to the jail, and got inside and started shooting. There were a lot of them, and the prisoners didn't have any guns, so it wasn't very hard and it didn't take very long for them to kill both Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum.
Now, that was a really hard time for those people. Everyone was really sad, and confused, and they didn't know what to do or who to follow, and it was just awful. Mainly though, everyone was just really really sad and discouraged that the prophet had been murdered.
Well, maybe not everyone. There were lots of people who were happy. Lots of people were tired of having the Mormons around, and they figured that now that Joseph Smith was dead, that Mormonism would die too.
But, they were wrong. I mean, look at all of us today! We're in countries all over the world, and there are millions and millions of us now.
That's because this isn't the Church of Joseph Smith of Latter-day Saints, and it's not the Church of Thomas S. Monson of Latter-day Saints, and it's not the church of any other mortal person of Latter-day Saints.
It is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jesus Christ lives. Prophets are called and serve for awhile and then they die (or in Joseph's case, are murdered), but Jesus is resurrected and living and guiding His church, and He will keep on doing that for as long as there are people willing to follow Him.
(Song: Praise to the Man)
So anyway, back to our story . . .
Like I said, after Joseph Smith died, a lot of people were confused and concerned about who was going to be the new leader of the Church. But, Heavenly Father had taken care of everything. A little while before Joseph Smith went to the jail, Heavenly Father had told Joseph to organize the church, and to give the authority to lead the church to the twelve apostles, in the case that the prophet wasn't able to lead. So, when Joseph Smith died, Brigham Young, who was the senior member of the twelve apostles, became the new leader of the church.
Now, when the people who had killed Joseph Smith realized that the church was still going strong, they started persecuting the church members again. It was clear to Brigham Young, and to many others in the church, that it was time for the Saints to leave Nauvoo. But, where to go?
Well, Brigham Young had a vision, which is kind of like a dream that Heavenly Father gives you to teach you something. In the vision that Brigham Young had, he saw a valley that was in kind of a desert area between some really big mountains. He knew that this was where the Saints needed to go.
So, the Saints got some covered wagons and some handcarts, and all the things that they most needed, and they became pioneers, walking across America to get to the land that Brigham Young had seen.
(Song--whatever pioneer song strikes my fancy)
It was a hard journey, and sometimes it was really dangerous. It was a long journey too. It took several months.
It was so hard that a lot of people died on the way, and their families had to bury them on the plains. Other people got really sick, but they didn't die.
And then, in July of 1847, some of the men came into a desert valley that was in the middle of some really high mountains.
They were kind of excited, and so they ran back to Brigham Young to tell him about it. Brigham Young had caught a bad fever, and he was really really sick, but he knew he needed to see the valley. So, he went over to the place that the men had seen.
As he came to the area where he could see the valley, he recognized it from the vision that Heavenly Father had given him before. And then, he had another vision! While he was there in his wagon, looking over the valley, he was able to see into the future. He saw that someday the valley would be full of buildings and farmland and people, even though right then it was totally empty. He saw all that in his vision, and he saw the valley in real life, and he said to the others, "This is the right place. Drive on."
|Salt Lake Valley in 1847|
|Salt Lake Valley now|
So, they did. They drove on, and settled in that valley, and settled in valleys and hills throughout that whole area. They started farms and schools, and they laid the foundation for a new temple, and new homes, and new churches, and a whole new life.
And that life formed the basis for the life that millions of us live today. It's a good heritage to have, and one that I'm grateful to call my own.
(Song: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)