Church History
12 Their Faces Are Zionward

“Their Faces Are Zionward,” chapter 12 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)

Chapter 12: “Their Faces Are Zionward”

Chapter 12

Their Faces Are Zionward

woman leading cow

On the morning of April 6, 1853, Brigham Young stood with his counselors, Heber Kimball and Willard Richards, at the partially excavated foundation for the new temple in Salt Lake City. He had been looking forward to this day for months—if not years—and he could not have asked for a clearer blue sky. It was the Church’s twenty-third anniversary and the first day of its spring general conference. Thousands of Saints had come to the temple block, as they did twice a year, to hear the words of their leaders. But today was different. Today they had also come to witness the laying of the temple’s cornerstones.1

Brigham felt like rejoicing. He had broken ground for the temple and Heber had dedicated its site two and a half months earlier. Since then, workers had not had enough time to fully excavate the massive foundation, but they had dug deep trenches along its walls large enough to fit the enormous sandstone cornerstones. Finishing the excavation would take another two months of labor.2

With the Saints assembled, Brigham and his counselors laid the cornerstone in the southeast corner of the foundation.3 Each cornerstone weighed more than five thousand pounds.4 The temple would have six spires and would be much taller than the temples in Kirtland and Nauvoo, requiring a solid foundation to support its weight. In a meeting with architect Truman Angell, Brigham had sketched the temple on a slate and explained that its three eastern spires would represent the Melchizedek Priesthood while its three western spires would represent the Aaronic Priesthood.5

After the cornerstones were laid, Thomas Bullock, a Church clerk, read a sermon prepared by Brigham Young about the purpose of temples. Though many Saints had received the endowment in the Nauvoo temple or in the Council House, a building in Salt Lake City that Brigham had temporarily authorized for some temple work, most of them had experienced the ordinance only once and may not have fully grasped its beauty and significance. Other Saints, including many newly arrived Europeans, had not had a chance to receive the endowment. To help them understand the sacred ordinance and its importance, Brigham provided a description.6

“Your endowment,” the sermon explained, “is to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, enabled to give them the key words, the signs, and tokens pertaining to the holy priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.”7

Even before coming to the valley, Brigham had planned to build another temple as soon as the Church found a new gathering place. And once he arrived in the valley, he saw the temple in a vision. “Five years ago last July, I saw here the temple cornerstone not ten feet from where we lay the stone,” he testified to the Saints at the conference. “I never look at that ground but what the vision of it is before me.”8

As the Saints dedicated themselves to the project and paid their tithing, Brigham promised, the temple would rise in beauty and grandeur, surpassing anything they had seen or imagined.9

Not long after the cornerstone ceremony, Ann Eliza Secrist received four letters in one day from her husband, Jacob. Each letter recounted a different stage in his journey to the mission field. The most recent letter, dated January 28, 1853, indicated that he had finally arrived in Hamburg, a city in the German Confederation.10

Eight months after Jacob’s departure, Ann Eliza was more at peace with his absence. The Deseret News often printed letters from elders throughout the world, giving the Saints reports of missionary work in such far-flung places as Australia, Sweden, Italy, and India. Sometimes these reports described fierce opposition to the missionaries. Two days before Jacob’s letters arrived, in fact, Ann Eliza had read in the Deseret News about government efforts to expel a missionary from Hamburg.

Rather than fear for Jacob, Ann Eliza wrote him an encouraging letter. “It is of no use to try to stop this work,” she testified, “for it will roll on in spite of all the devils on earth and in hell, and nothing can stay its progress.”11

Whenever Ann Eliza wrote her husband, she mentioned their children’s health. That winter they had come down with scarlet fever, but each of them recovered from the disease by the spring. Then they contracted chicken pox, which vexed them for a month. During this time, the children often talked about their father, especially when they sat down to a meal that they knew he would have enjoyed.

She also wrote about the family farm, located about twenty miles north of Salt Lake City. Jacob and Ann Eliza had hired men to keep it running while the family lived in the city, and recently one farmworker had demanded glass, nails, and lumber from Ann Eliza to finish a house on the property. She supplied materials from her house in the city, even though it was unfinished as well. The same man later demanded payment for work he had originally agreed to do for free. Without any cash or wheat on hand, Ann Eliza had sold a cow to pay him.12

In her next letter to Jacob, however, Ann Eliza was pleased to report that the farm was prospering with a fine crop. She also noted that she felt strongly that she and the children should return to the farm, build a small house on the property, and live there. But she did not want to make such an important decision without first seeking Jacob’s advice. “I want to know your mind on the subject,” she stated, “and I want you to write me as soon as possible concerning it.”

She sent the request with more love and reassurance. “Although we are separated far, far from each other by large oceans, vast prairies, and snowcapped mountains, yet I continually think of you and your welfare,” she wrote. “Do not let anything trouble you concerning me, for I believe that God, whose service you are in, will protect me.”13

That spring, on the island of Maui, newspaper reports about Orson Pratt’s August 1852 sermon on plural marriage were causing an uproar. Hawaiians had once practiced polygamy, but the government had outlawed the practice and now prosecuted those who violated the law. Protestant missionaries had quickly seized on the teachings in Orson’s sermon and twisted them to ridicule the Saints and cast doubt on the Church.14

Convinced that truth and openness were the best way to respond to lies and misconceptions about the Church, George Q. Cannon set aside the translation of the Book of Mormon, translated the revelation on plural marriage, and preached about the practice to a crowd of a thousand people. George’s sermon dispelled confusion over plural marriage and clarified that individuals were not expected to practice it unless the Lord commanded them to do so.15

Before his sermon, George had shown his translation of the revelation to Jonathan Napela. Napela was pleased with it. Before his baptism in 1852, Napela had felt pressure from his Protestant friends to abandon the Church. Working closely with George in the Church had strengthened his faith. Though translating the Book of Mormon was hard work, now and then he and George would stop to discuss the book. Napela could feel changes happening in his life. It was like the passage in the book of Alma: a seed had been planted, and now it was growing. The restored gospel of Jesus Christ felt right and good, and he wanted to share it with others.16

Napela began accompanying missionaries on their visits, and he preached the gospel with power and eloquence. One day he even wrote to Brigham Young to share the story of his conversion. “It is very plain to us that this is the church of God,” Napela testified, “and my thoughts are buoyant to go to your place, when the proper time arrives.”17

When new missionaries arrived on the islands, their clumsiness with the language was almost comical. Napela offered to give them language lessons—a proposal they readily accepted. He provided them with Hawaiian Bibles and dictionaries, a place to study, and something to eat. Every morning and evening, the elders recited passages from the Bible in Hawaiian and Napela drilled them in the basics of his language. By the end of each day, his students were exhausted.

“I have always been a hardworking man,” one missionary said, “but this is the hardest work I have ever done.”18

After a few days of instruction from Napela, the elders could pronounce some words—even if they understood nothing they read. Within a month, elders were taking their books to quiet places in the woods to practice the language by translating Bible chapters from English into simple Hawaiian.19

When Napela concluded his instruction, the elders fanned out across the islands, better equipped to fulfill their missions. Soon Napela was ordained an elder, becoming one of the first Hawaiians to hold the Melchizedek Priesthood. The gospel had taken root in him, and thanks in part to his own efforts, it was starting to take root in Hawaii.20

William Walker glimpsed Cape Town, South Africa, for the first time on April 18, 1853.21 The city lay on the southwest end of a bay at the base of a high, flat-topped mountain. Another peak, almost as high as the other, rose above the west side of the city. From where William stood, on the deck of a ship about one mile from the coast, the peak looked like a massive lion stretched out on its belly.22

Eight months earlier, William and his companions, Jesse Haven and Leonard Smith, had been among the 108 men called into missionary service at the special August 1852 conference. William himself had been in the mountains southeast of Salt Lake City, cutting timber to build a sawmill, when his call was announced. He went to the city a few days later to hire men to help with the mill, and on his way there he learned about his new assignment.23

A veteran of the Mormon Battalion who was deeply committed to the cause of Zion, William had started preparing immediately for his mission. At thirty-two, he was leaving behind two wives, two small children, and a two-story adobe house in the city. He sold his share in the sawmill, purchased enough provisions to support his family for a year, and left Salt Lake City fifteen days later.24

After their ship dropped anchor at Cape Town, William and his companions disembarked and found themselves a world apart from Utah.25 Cape Town was an old Dutch settlement that had since come under British rule. White British colonists and Afrikaners—the descendants of the early Dutch colonists—made up a portion of the city’s thirty thousand inhabitants, while nearly half of its population were mixed race or black, including many Muslims and formerly enslaved people.26

On the evening of April 25, the missionaries held their first meeting in the town hall. Jesse opened his New Testament and preached from Galatians to an approving congregation. Leonard followed with a sermon about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and revelation. Some people in the audience began to make noise and heckle the missionaries. A riot broke out, and the meeting ended in chaos. When the missionaries returned to the hall the next day to hold another meeting, the doors were locked.27

The missionaries fasted and prayed that the Lord would open the hearts of the people to receive the truth and to show them some hospitality. Most nights the elders went to bed hungry. “Our friends seem to be very scarce,” William noted in his journal. “The devil is determined to starve us out.”28

Another factor complicating their work was race. A year earlier, the Utah legislature had debated the status of black slavery in Utah. Neither Brigham Young nor the legislators wanted slavery to become widespread in the region, but several Saints from the southern United States had already brought enslaved people into the territory. Brigham believed in the humanity of all people, and he opposed slavery as it existed in the American South, where enslaved men and women were considered property and lacked basic rights. But like most people from the northern United States, he believed black people were suited for servitude.29

During the debates, Brigham declared publicly for the first time that people of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood. Before this time, a few black men had been ordained, and no restriction existed then or afterward for other races or ethnicities. As he explained the restriction, Brigham echoed a widespread but mistaken idea that God had cursed people of black African descent. Yet he also stated that at some future time, black Saints would “have all the privileges and more” enjoyed by other Church members.30

Apostle Orson Pratt, who served in the legislature, opposed allowing slavery in the territory and warned lawmakers against inflicting slavery upon a people without the authority of God. “Shall we take then the innocent African that has committed no sin,” he asked, “and damn him to slavery and bondage without receiving any authority from heaven to do so?”31

Likewise, Orson Spencer, a former mission president who served in the legislature, had questioned how this restriction would impact missionary work. “How can the gospel be carried to Africa?” he had asked. “We can’t give them the priesthood. How are they going to have it?”32

Such questions about the priesthood restriction went unresolved, however, and the legislature ultimately voted to create a system of black “servitude” in the territory.33

If Brigham’s speech directly influenced the actions of William and his fellow missionaries in South Africa, their writings made no mention of it. The speech did not prohibit black men and women from joining the Church. But while other churches sought to make converts among black populations, William, Jesse, and Leonard focused their efforts primarily on the city’s white inhabitants.34

One day, after a month of unsuccessful preaching, William went several miles outside the city in search of new places to preach. Rain fell in sheets, and William’s trousers and shoes were soon drenched. After a while he stopped at an inn and introduced himself as a Latter-day Saint missionary.

The innkeeper stared at him blankly. “I don’t care who in the devil you are,” the innkeeper said, “just so you pay your way.”

“We travel and preach the gospel without purse or scrip,” William started to explain, but the innkeeper promptly turned him away.

William plodded wearily into the rainy night, his feet aching and blistered. Soon the wind picked up, and he begged for shelter at every home he passed. By the time he reached the town of Mowbray, four miles from Cape Town, he had been rejected sixteen times.

In Mowbray he called at a house and two men appeared at the door. William asked the younger of the two men if he had a room or a bed to spare. The young man wanted to help him, but he did not have a place to put him up for the night.

Disappointed, William stepped back out into the rain. But soon the older man caught up with William and offered him a place to sleep at his home. As they walked, he introduced himself as Nicholas Paul, the business partner of the other man at the door, Charles Rawlinson. They were building contractors from England who had moved to South Africa for work.

William and Nicholas arrived at Nicholas’s house a little after nine. William’s clothes were soaking wet, so Nicholas’s wife, Harriet, quickly made a fire. She then served a warm meal, and William sang a hymn and prayed. They then spoke for two hours before sleepiness overtook them and they retired for the night.35

A few days after meeting Nicholas and Harriet Paul, William arranged to preach to some convicts at a prison near the Pauls’ home. Nicholas attended the sermon with Charles Rawlinson, and both men were impressed by William’s message. Harriet told the missionary that he was welcome to stay with them anytime. Soon the Pauls offered to host a Church meeting in their home.

Nicholas employed forty to fifty people in Mowbray and had a good reputation. Yet when some people in town heard about the upcoming meeting, they threatened to smash in his windows and doors and break up the gathering. Nicholas said all were welcome to attend, but he threatened to shoot anybody who tried to insult William or anyone else in the house. When the day of the meeting arrived, William preached without interruption to a full house.36

With Nicholas’s help, the Church in Cape Town began to grow. One night, not long after the first meeting in the Pauls’ home, William told Nicholas not to postpone baptism if he was convinced of the truth. Nicholas said he was ready to be baptized, but it was dark and rainy outside, and he did not think William would go out in such a night.

“Yes, I would,” William said. “I never stop for rain or dark.”

William baptized Nicholas immediately, and in the coming days he also baptized Harriet as well as Charles and his wife, Hannah.37 Meanwhile, Jesse Haven wrote several pamphlets about the doctrine of the Church and the principle of plural marriage, and the missionaries distributed them throughout the city.38

By the first days of September, the Latter-day Saint missionaries had baptized more than forty people and organized two branches southeast of Cape Town.39 Among the new members were two black women, Sarah Hariss and Raichel Hanable, and an Afrikaner woman named Johanna Provis.40

With two branches organized, the missionaries called the South African Saints together on September 13 and assigned five men and three women to serve missions in the Cape Town area or distribute pamphlets in their neighborhoods.41 But Jesse Haven felt the area needed even more missionaries.

“If we had half a dozen more elders here, there would be plenty of work for them to do,” he wrote the First Presidency. “Those that have been baptized are well united—are determined to do right. They rejoice they have lived to see this day, and their faces are Zionward.”42

Around this time, George Q. Cannon and Jonathan Napela finished their translation of the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian. George could hardly contain his joy. Nothing on his mission had brought him more pleasure and spiritual growth. After starting the project, he had felt more of the Spirit when preaching, more power when testifying, and more faith when administering the ordinances of the priesthood. His heart overflowed with gratitude.43

Several days later, at a conference of twenty missionaries at Wailuku, George and the other elders discussed the best way to publish the book. George had worked as a printer’s apprentice in the Times and Seasons office in Nauvoo, so he had a sense of what it would take to accomplish the project. They could either hire a printer on the islands, or they could purchase a printing press and supplies and publish the book themselves.

“For my own part,” George said, “I do not consider that my mission is fully filled until I see the Book of Mormon in press.”44

The missionaries agreed and decided to print the book themselves. They appointed George and two other men to travel throughout the islands to raise money for the publication by collecting donations from the Saints and selling advance copies of the book.

Next, the men discussed the gathering of the Saints. More than three thousand Hawaiians had joined the Church in the three years since missionaries had come to the islands, but their poverty and Hawaii’s strict emigration laws prohibited them from permanently leaving the kingdom. When apprised of the problem, Brigham Young counseled the Hawaiian Saints to find “a fitting island, or portion of an island” where they could gather in peace until the way opened up for them to come to Utah.45

Francis Hammond, one of the missionaries assigned to find the temporary gathering place, recommended the Palawai Basin on Lanai, an island just west of Maui. “I have never seen a place better calculated for the colonizing of the Saints on these islands than this,” he had observed when he first saw the area. Its only fault, he believed, was a lack of rainfall during part of the year. But if the Saints built reservoirs, as they did in Salt Lake City, they would have plenty of water during the drought season.

The following day, the Hawaiian Saints voted to sustain the decisions to publish the Book of Mormon and find a gathering place in the islands.46 Two weeks later, George, Napela, and several missionaries traveled to Lanai to explore the Palawai Basin. They set out after breakfast on October 20 and climbed up the steep, rocky slope of a mountain until the land leveled off for a short distance and they could overlook the basin. The basin was about two miles wide, beautifully formed, and secluded from the view of the sea.

“It was a splendid piece of land and seemed to be well adapted for a gathering place,” George wrote in his journal. “It reminded me of Deseret.”47