Persecution, 1924

    “Persecution, 1924,” Ensign, Jan. 1975, 13

    Persecution, 1924

    A Welsh family climbs ten miles of mountains to attend church.

    It was 1924 and we were living in the Welsh village of Abercarn, Monmouthshire—and we were the only Latter-day Saints in the village. Our family alone comprised the Abercarn Branch, and it was fully organized. We held our meetings faithfully—Sunday School on Sunday mornings and sacrament meeting in the evenings. On Tuesday evening, we held MIA. Our family sang and prayed together and a great love prevailed among us. But this love and unity in activity bothered Satan, and he intended to do something about it.

    We soon came to know what persecution was. We were made fun of, and many times I had my cap removed to see if I had horns. But there was nothing we could not stand. Then one day a young woman from the village began to investigate the gospel. Her father was a leading light in one of the churches in the village, and when he discovered she was attending our cottage meetings, he became extremely angry and started to defame our family and the Church. Soon the cry was taken up by others, and the Griffiths family became engulfed in bitter persecution.

    A local doctor even wrote an article that was published in the newspaper, claiming that 30 girls had been kidnapped from Wales and were confined as prisoners in the walled city of Salt Lake. Other articles appeared condemning the Mormons. One even recommended that our family be driven out of town.

    At this time we were living in a city-owned home, and one day we received an ultimatum from the city council that unless we stopped holding religious services in our home we would be evicted. My father appealed to the Church authorities for counsel, and he was instructed to follow the twelfth Article of Faith that states in part: “We believe in … honoring and sustaining the law.” [A of F 1:12]

    So our lovely faith-promoting meetings were suspended. The nearest branch to ours was at a little town called Varteg, about ten miles away over the Welsh hills. One evening after we had received the ultimatum, Father called the family together and presented the possibility of our walking over the hills to Varteg on Sunday to attend the meetings and partake of the sacrament. He put it to a vote and each member voted in the affirmative, even Ivor, who was only eight years old. Then started one of the greatest adventures of our lives.

    We would climb to the top of Llanvach Mountain, then down into Hafodrynys Valley, then back up Pontypool Mountain and down into Varteg. On our way we would sing and recite scriptures. Once we became lost in a dense fog, and Father gathered us together in a little circle and prayed. He asked God to guide us to our destination. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but I believe it was an answer to Father’s prayer, for the wind that usually roams the Welsh hills came up and dissipated the fog and we could see our way.

    Sometimes it would rain and we would be soaked to the skin. The Saints at Varteg would loan us dry clothes and put our wet ones around the fires to dry. The clothes did not always fit, and we laughed among ourselves at our odd appearance. But all the hardships and inconveniences were forgotten in the spirit that existed in those meetings. I remember so well my father’s favorite scripture: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:20.) That’s the way it was. The Spirit of the Lord was so strong that our tired bodies were renewed and our spirits uplifted.

    The weeks extended into months, and each Sunday we made the trek to Varteg. Then one day the city council received a letter dated April 12, 1924, that was discussed in their meeting. It was an inspired document written by an inspired servant of God.

    “On my desk is a clipping from the South Wales Argus which conveys the information that recently your honourable body took action against one of your fellow townsmen, depriving him of the right to hold religious services in his home. The only reason for such arbitrary action was that ‘He is a Mormon.’

    “Now the word Mormon, unlike charity, uncovers to the evil-minded a multitude of sins, so undoubtedly the reason for your action is all sufficient, especially to the credulous crowd. But have you gone far enough? Are you now aware of the fact that the gentleman in question is still offering prayers in his home? Have you not been informed by the ‘society for the promulgation of slander,’ or whatever that certain organization is called, that the tenant and his children against whom you are passing a special ordinance are rendering thanks to their God every night and morning?

    “Why not complete your work by demanding that such prayers be not offered in a house that belongs to a Christian city council? If you have the right to prevent his singing hymns and of speaking in the presence of his family, and of friends, of the grace and goodness of God, you also have the right to order him to cease his prayers ‘because he is a Mormon.’ Therefore, he must be deprived of one of the most cherished of traditional privileges.

    “No matter how upright his life, a gullible public imagines there is something bad about him, so in the interest of the public stop him from worshipping God in his own household. Since you have a good example in the Medes and Persians, who passed the same kind of legislation against Daniel 2,000 years ago, why not complete your commendable legislation and prohibit your tenant from teaching his children to pray?

    “In further justification of such action, have you not before you the testimony of one of your number ‘that 2 years ago 30 girls left a town called Machen, and you know whenever any girl leaves any town in Great Britain the Mormons are responsible,’ just as the early Christians were responsible for the overflowing of the River Tiber?

    “And for every evil of which bitter minds could accuse them, of course, readers of the press think you have investigated these charges against the Mormons. If you haven’t, and it is evident to everyone who knows the facts that you have not, then you have become a contributing influence to vicious slanders. To judge either a man, or a people so unjustly is unbecoming a body of intelligent men. I cannot believe the people from whom my mother came could be so bigoted.

    David O. McKay”

    The council decided to “table” the letter. However, the contents of the letter were published in the local newspaper, and things began to happen. Father was invited to speak at a meeting of the British Women’s Legion. And although many years have passed, my mind is still alive and vibrant with the memory of that evening when he spoke to those women. He told of his conversion to the Church and of the persecutions heaped upon his family. He told them of the boy Joseph Smith and his visions and how he gave his life to seal his testimony. Then he bore a fervent testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

    I remember so well those women wiping the tears from their eyes, and when Father concluded, there was no applause or other demonstration: just silence, as though those women were ashamed of what had happened in their village.

    When Father sat down, the chairwoman stood up and made a motion that this body of women go on record that the city allow the Griffiths family to hold worship services in their home. The motion was unanimous. A week or so later Father received a letter from the city council advising him that after due consideration they would allow us to hold our meetings once again.

    The father of the girl who had been prevented from attending our meetings still tried to stir up trouble against our family, but then a strange thing happened. My father went to his home one evening and the man met him at his door. Father called him by name and said, “I promise you that unless you stop persecuting my family, God will humble you to your knees.” Within the next few months events happened that did humble this man. His oldest daughter ran away and married the village drunkard. His oldest son was critically injured in a coal mine. His youngest son contracted an incurable disease. Then came the never-to-be-forgotten evening when a knock came at our door. My father answered it and there stood this man who had been persecuting us. His head was bowed and in a voice shaking with emotion, he said, “Mr. Griffiths, I have come to ask your forgiveness.”

    The man’s younger daughter was eventually baptized and emigrated to Utah. There she met a good man and married him in the temple and raised a lovely family. She is gone now, but she left her children a heritage of courage and conviction that is found only in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    As for my family, we found out what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:10.) There in that little cottage in Wales we did find a little bit of heaven.

    Illustrated by Sherry Thompson