Church History
11 A Glorious Privilege

“A Glorious Privilege,” chapter 11 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)

Chapter 11: “A Glorious Privilege”

Chapter 11

A Glorious Privilege

page of Book of Mormon being written in Hawaiian

Most mornings, Ann Eliza Secrist heard her two-year-old son, Moroni, calling for his father. She was days away from giving birth, and until recently her husband, Jacob, could simply attend to the boy himself. But on September 15, 1852, she and her three small children had stood in the doorway of their unfinished home in Salt Lake City and watched as Jacob drove his team up a hill east of the city. At the top of the hill he had waved his hat back at them, gazed once more at the city, and then disappeared behind the rise.1

Jacob was among the scores of missionaries called into service at the August 1852 conference. With instructions to leave as soon as possible, he joined a company of eighty elders bound mainly for Great Britain and other European nations. He was one of four missionaries sent to Germany, where he was assigned to labor for three years.2

So far, Ann Eliza was coping with her husband’s absence as well as she could. She and Jacob had grown up together in a small town in the eastern United States. During their courtship, Jacob had worked in another state, and while he was away they exchanged long, loving letters. They married in 1842, joined the Church soon after, and then followed the Saints west. Both of them had strong testimonies of the restored gospel, and Ann Eliza did not want to murmur about Jacob’s mission call. But time seemed to pass slowly while he was away, and she felt weighed down with grief.3

Thirteen days after her husband’s departure, Ann Eliza delivered a black-haired baby boy. She wrote Jacob the next day. “We had the babe weighed, and it weighed ten pounds and a half,” she reported. “He is not yet named. If you have got a name for it, write its name in your letter.”4

Ann Eliza could only guess how long it would take for Jacob to receive the news. Mail came sporadically to the valley most months of the year, and it stopped altogether when winter snows on the plains made mail routes virtually impassable. She had little reason to expect a reply from her husband before spring.

Not long after the baby’s birth, however, Ann Eliza received a letter from Jacob, sent while he was still on the trail east. She could tell from its contents that he had not yet received her letter. He told her that he had seen their family in a dream. The three children had been playing together on the floor while Ann Eliza lay in bed with a newborn baby boy.

If she gave birth to a son, Jacob wrote, he wanted her to name him Nephi.

Ann Eliza had her answer. She named the baby Heber Nephi Secrist.5

In the summer of 1852, twenty-year-old Johan Dorius arrived in the Vendsyssel district of northern Denmark.6 A shoemaker’s apprentice from Copenhagen, Johan had set aside his tools to serve a mission in his homeland. He had joined the Church with his father, Nicolai, and younger sister Augusta shortly after the first Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived in Denmark. His older brother Carl had joined the Church a little over a year later.7

The Church had grown rapidly in Denmark since Peter Hansen and Erastus Snow opened the mission. Within two years of their arrival, they had published the Book of Mormon in Danish—the first non-English edition of the book—and started a monthly newspaper called the Skandinaviens Stjerne. Now Denmark was home to more than five hundred members organized into twelve branches.8

Johan’s mother, Ane Sophie, despised the new and unpopular church, however, and she used her husband’s membership in it as grounds for divorce. Around the time that Ane Sophie and Nicolai separated, Johan had been called with other new converts to serve local missions and Augusta left Denmark with the first group of Scandinavian Saints to gather to Zion.9

In Vendsyssel, Johan traveled south to meet with Saints in a rural village called Bastholm.10 They met in the home of a local Church member. Johan felt joyful and inspired as he spoke to the congregation. Having already preached in the area, he knew most everyone in the room.

Around noon, just before the meeting ended, a mob of farmhands with tools and clubs entered the house and lurked around the doorway. Earlier that year, Danish Saints had petitioned the nation’s legislature for protection against mobs, but nothing was done. New converts in nearby Sweden had faced similar opposition, prompting some believers to be baptized in a tanner’s vat rather than risk being seen in a river.11

After the meeting ended, Johan approached the door to leave. The mob drew closer together, and Johan felt something prick his leg. He ignored the pain and stepped outside, but almost instantly the farmhands grabbed him from behind and clubbed him across the back. Searing pain shot through his body as the men jabbed him with sticks and sharp tools until his flesh was raw and bleeding.

Somehow Johan escaped and fled to the nearby home of a Church member named Peter Jensen. There his friends removed his torn clothes, cleaned his wounds, and put him to bed. A man anointed and blessed him, and an elderly woman stood watch in his room. After an hour and a half, however, drunken men pounded on the door. The old woman dropped to her knees and prayed for help. “They will have to hit me before they can hit you,” she told Johan.

A moment later, the drunken men burst into the room. The woman tried to stop them, but they shoved her against the wall. They surrounded the bed and started thrashing Johan’s bruised and lacerated body. Desperate to keep conscious and composed, Johan thought about God. But then the mob seized his arms and dragged him out of bed and into the night.12

Soren Thura was passing near the Jensen home when he saw the mob carrying Johan to a nearby river. Some of the men were yelling and swearing wildly. Others were bellowing songs. Soren strode up to them and elbowed his way between their shoulders. Their breath reeked of brandy. Soren glanced at Johan. The young man looked small and frail in his nightshirt.

The men recognized Soren immediately. He was a veteran of the Danish cavalry and had a reputation in Bastholm for being a powerful athlete. Assuming he would want to join them, the men told him that they had caught a “Mormon preacher” and were going to throw him into the river. “We will show this Mormon priest how to baptize,” they said.

“Let him go,” Soren said. “I will take care of this boy, and I dare any of you cowards to prevent me.” Soren was easily taller and stronger than anyone in the mob, so they dropped the missionary, hit him a few more times, and scurried away.13

Soren took Johan back to the Jensen home and returned the following day to check on him. Johan believed that God had sent Soren to rescue him. “This is no more than what befell God’s people in earlier times,” Johan testified, “and such chastisements are intended to humble us before the Lord.”

Johan’s message moved Soren, and he returned day after day to talk with the young man about his mission and the restored gospel.14

While Johan recovered from his beating, his fourteen-year-old sister, Augusta, was crossing the Rocky Mountains in a wagon train of around one hundred emigrating Saints. The road they traveled was sandy and well-worn after five years of heavy migration to the Salt Lake Valley. Yet even with a clear path, they were anxious about the trail ahead. Fall weather had arrived on the plains, throwing icy winds across the flatlands as temperatures dropped to an almost unbearable cold.

To make matters worse, the oxen were getting tired, and the Saints had used up the last of their flour, forcing them to send a rider ahead for more provisions. With no way of knowing how long it would take for relief to arrive, the Saints plodded on with empty stomachs. They were more than 150 miles from Salt Lake City, and the steepest part of their journey still lay ahead.15

Augusta and her friends often walked far in front of the wagon train and then waited for it to catch up. Along the way, they thought about the homes they had left behind. The twenty-eight Danes in the company had sailed to the United States with Erastus Snow, who had already gone ahead to Salt Lake City while Augusta and the rest of the company followed in another wagon train. Most of the Scandinavian emigrants, Augusta included, knew hardly a word of English. But every morning and night they joined the English-speaking Saints to pray and sing hymns.16

So far, the journey to Salt Lake City was proving much harder and longer than Augusta had expected. As she listened to Americans speaking their incomprehensible language, she realized how little she knew about her new home. She also felt homesick. In addition to her brothers Carl and Johan, she had three younger sisters named Caroline, Rebekke, and Nicolena. She wanted everyone in her family to join her in Zion someday. But she did not know if that would ever happen, especially after her parents’ divorce.17

On the trail west, Augusta survived on meager rations as the wagon train climbed ridges, descended steep ravines, and crossed narrow mountain creeks. At the mouth of Echo Canyon, about forty miles from Salt Lake City, women in the company spotted the man who had been sent ahead for provisions. Soon a wagon came loaded with bread, flour, and crackers, which the company captains distributed to the relieved Saints.18

The wagon train rolled into the Salt Lake Valley a few days later. Erastus Snow greeted the Danish Saints as they came to the city and invited them to his home for a dinner of raisin bread and rice. After months of eating little more than bland bread and buffalo meat, Augusta thought she had never tasted anything more wonderful.19

On November 8, 1852, George Q. Cannon opened his small brown journal and wrote, “Busily engaged in writing.” All day he had been hunched over a table in the home of Jonathan and Kitty Napela, translating the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian. Now, as he reflected on his day’s work, he asked the Lord to help him finish the project.

“I consider it a glorious privilege,” George mused in his journal. “I feel to rejoice while engaged in it, and my heart burns and swells while contemplating the glorious principles contained therein.”20

When George met Jonathan Napela in March 1851, he could not have known how important Napela would become to the Lord’s work in Hawaii. Yet it took until January 1852—almost a year after their first meeting—for Napela to accept baptism.21 Napela knew the restored gospel was true, but opposition from members of the community and the local Protestant church kept him from joining the Church right away. George, meanwhile, had succeeded in baptizing many people and organizing four branches on Maui.22

With Napela’s help and encouragement, George had begun translating the Book of Mormon soon after Napela’s baptism. Hour after hour, George studied passages from the book and tried his best to write out a Hawaiian translation on a sheet of paper. He then read what he had written to Napela, who helped him refine the translation. A well-educated lawyer, Napela was excellently suited to guide George through the complexities of his native tongue. He had also studied the principles of the gospel carefully and quickly grasped truth.

This process had gone slowly at first, but their desire to share the message of the Book of Mormon with Hawaiians spurred them forward. Soon they felt the Spirit rest over them, and they found themselves working quickly through the book, even when they came upon passages expressing complex doctrine and ideas. George’s fluency in Hawaiian also improved daily as Napela introduced him to new words and expressions.23

On November 11, fellow missionaries laboring on another island brought George three letters and seven issues of the Deseret News from Utah. Hungry for information from home, George read the letters and papers as soon as he had the chance. In one letter, he learned that apostle Orson Pratt had read the revelation on plural marriage to the Saints and preached on it publicly. The news did not surprise him.

“This is what I have been expecting,” he noted in his journal. “I believe it to be the proper time.”24

Another letter reported that Church leaders had learned about the translation of the Book of Mormon and approved of the project. The third letter informed him that apostle John Taylor, his uncle, had recently returned from his mission to France and wanted George to come home as well. Elizabeth Hoagland, the young woman George had been courting before his mission, was also anticipating his return. Willard Richards of the First Presidency, however, wanted George to consider finishing the translation before coming home.

George knew that he had served a faithful mission. He had grown from a homesick, tongue-tied young man to a powerful preacher and missionary. If he chose to go home now, no one could say that he had not magnified the calling the Lord had given him.

Still, he believed that the ancestors of the Hawaiian people had prayed for the chance for their descendants to hear and enjoy the blessings of the gospel. And he longed to rejoice with his Hawaiian sisters and brothers in the celestial kingdom. How could he leave Hawaii before finishing his translation?25 He would stay to complete his work.

A few days later, after spending the morning with Saints on Maui, George reflected on the goodness of God, and his heart filled with joy and unspeakable happiness.

“My tongue and language are far too feeble to express the feelings I experience when pondering upon the work of the Lord,” he exclaimed in his journal. “Oh, that my tongue, and my time and talents, and all I have or possess may be employed to His honor and glory, in glorifying His name, and in spreading a knowledge of His attributes wherever my lot may be cast.”26

That fall, Johan Dorius and other Danish missionaries were sent to preach the gospel in Norway. Like Denmark, Norway granted some religious freedom to Christians who did not belong to the state church. But books and newspapers had been warning Norwegians about the dangers of the Latter-day Saints for more than a decade, turning public opinion against the Church.27

One day, Johan and his companion held a meeting in a small house near the city of Fredrikstad. After the congregation sang “The Spirit of God like a Fire Is Burning,” Johan spoke of the origins of the Church and declared that God had again revealed Himself to humankind. When he finished, a young woman demanded that he prove the truth of his words with the Bible. He did so, and she was impressed by what he said.28

Two days later, Johan and his companion stopped for the night at an inn outside Fredrikstad. The innkeeper asked who they were, and the young men introduced themselves as Latter-day Saint missionaries. The innkeeper grew wary. County officials had strictly forbidden her to shelter Latter-day Saints.

As the missionaries spoke to the innkeeper, a police officer stepped out of a nearby room and demanded to see Johan’s passport. “It is in Fredrikstad,” Johan explained.

“You are under arrest,” said the officer, who then turned to Johan’s companion and demanded his passport. When the missionary could not produce it, the officer arrested him too and led both men to a room to await interrogation. To their surprise, Johan and his companion found the room full of Norwegian Saints—women and men—who had also been arrested. Among them were several Danish missionaries, including one who had been in custody for two weeks.29

Lately, government officials in the area had begun to round up and interrogate missionaries and other Church members. Many Norwegians were deeply suspicious of the Saints and believed their faith in the Book of Mormon disqualified them from the protections granted under the nation’s religious freedom laws.

News that Church members in the United States practiced plural marriage had also led some Norwegians to see the Saints as troublemakers who wanted to corrupt the traditional faith and values of the Norwegian people. By interrogating and imprisoning Latter-day Saints, officials hoped to expose them as non-Christian and stop the spread of the new religion.30

Johan was soon transported to Fredrikstad and placed in jail with four other missionaries, including Christian Larsen, a Church leader in Norway. The jailer and his family treated the missionaries civilly, allowing them to pray, read and write, sing, and talk about the gospel. But no one was free to leave.31

After several weeks, the county judge and other officials questioned some of the missionaries. The judge treated the men like criminals, hardly listened to what they said, and refused to let them speak when they tried to explain that their message was in harmony with Christianity and the Bible.

“For what purpose have you come to this country?” the officials asked Christian.

“To teach the people the true gospel of Jesus Christ,” Christian said.

“Would you return to Denmark, if you were liberated from prison?”

“Not till God shall release me through His servants who sent me here.”

“Will you refrain from preaching and baptizing?”

“If you or any of your priests can convince me that our doctrine and faith is not in accordance with the doctrines of Christ,” said Christian, “for I desire to obtain salvation and to do the will of God.”

“We consider it beneath the dignity of our priests to argue with you,” said the chief interrogator. “I now forbid you to mislead any more souls by your false doctrines.”32

While Johan and the missionaries waited for their day in court, they shared a cell with Johan Andreas Jensen. A sea captain, Jensen was a deeply religious man who had given his earthly goods to the poor and started preaching and crying repentance in the streets. In his enthusiasm to proclaim God’s word, he had tried to share his religious views with King Oscar I of Sweden and Norway, but he had been rejected every time he sought an audience. Frustrated, Jensen had called the king an “exalted sinner” and had been promptly arrested and imprisoned.

Soon the missionaries shared the restored gospel with Jensen. At first, the captain was not interested in the message, but he prayed for them, and they prayed for him. One day, as the missionaries bore testimony to Jensen, everyone in the cell was suddenly filled with joy. Jensen wept intensely and his face shone. He declared that he knew the restored gospel was true.

The missionaries petitioned the court to release Jensen long enough to be baptized, but their request was rejected. Jensen, however, assured the missionaries that he would be baptized as soon as he was released from prison.33

“This brought us all to humble thanksgiving to God, and truly it was a glorious day for us,” Johan recorded in his journal. “We sang and praised God for His goodness.”34