The Prophet Joseph Smith » Mission to the Lamanites

[this teaching has not yet been illustrated]


The Book of Mormon made it clear that Zion—a New Jerusalem—would be built up in the United States, and it was only natural for early Church members to wonder about the time and place it would be established. While the prophet was spending the summer in Pennsylvania, the Saints in New York became excited over prophesies about Zion that Hiram Page claimed to be receiving by use of a seer stone.


Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, a local Methodist minister had convinced Smith's father-in-law of many lies about him, making life unbearable there for Smith and his wife. So at the end of August they returned to Fayette, New York, to live with the Whitmers again. Upon his arrival, Smith was distressed to find that Oliver Cowdery and the Whitmer family were among the many who had been taken in by the pseudo-revelations of Page.


Looking to Jesus for guidance, Smith received a revelation affirming that the location of Zion had not yet been revealed, but would be soon. Jesus also made it clear that only the President of the Church has the right to receive revelations on behalf of the Church and to establish doctrine. Jesus issued a commandment to the Saints through Smith, saying: "Thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the heart of the Church."


After much effort, Hiram Page and all those who followed him were convinced to confess their error and renounce his revelations and his seer stone, and acknowledge that Satan had conspired to lead them astray. And so a great good came out of this ugly incident, for up to this point, the Church was unaware of the confusion that would result from people other than the prophet claiming to be the spokesman for God.


In the wake of this incident, the prophet announced that Jesus had not yet revealed the precise location of Zion, but that it should be looked for on the borders of the Lamanites. By this he meant the frontier along the western border of Missouri. The Book of Mormon explained that the Native Americans were a remnant of the ancient Lamanite civilization, and predicted that many of them would convert and become a pure and delightsome people.


The prophet selected Oliver Cowdery to lead three other Church elders on this mission, and they departed in October of 1820 on a 1,500 mile journey. Their first stop was a Seneca Indian Reservation near Buffalo, New York, where they received a kindly and interested audience, and this marked the first time that any Native Americans had received a copy of the Book of Mormon and learned of their forgotten Lamanite ancestors and descent from ancient Jews.


While traveling through Ohio, at the town of Kirtland, the missionaries met a popular Campbellite minister named Sidney Rigdon who invited them to bring their message to his congregation of seekers—people who sought a return to New Testament Christianity. After the Saints had finished their presentation, Rigdon told his flock that the message they had just heard "was of an extraordinary character, and certainly demanded their most serious consideration."


In just three weeks in Kirtland, 127 people joined the Church, doubling its size. One enthusiastic convert named Philo Dibble traveled five miles to Kirtland after hearing of a "golden Bible". He described his own baptism, saying, "When I came out of the water, I knew that I had been born of water and of the spirit, for my mind was illuminated with the Holy Ghost." That night he found himself so full of joy he was unable to sleep.


Rigdon and his associate Edward Partridge were intrigued by the missionaries' message, but wanted to inquire further about the origins of this restored gospel. So they traveled to upstate New York where they found Joseph Smith at his parents' house. Smith was immediately impressed with both men. He compared Rigdon to John the Baptist, and he received a revelation that Rigdon should become his new scribe.


In January the missionaries crossed the western border of Missouri and entered Native American lands. A chief of the Delawares convened 40 tribal leaders, and Oliver Cowdery preached to them, saying, "Thousands of moons ago, when the red men’s forefathers dwelt in peace and possessed this whole land, the Great Spirit talked with them, and revealed His law and His will, and much knowledge to their wise men and prophets."


After staying with the Delawares for three days, the Native Americans were eager to learn more, but the US government's Indian agents discovered that the missionaries were in violation of the law because they did not have the necessary permit to proselytize in Native American lands. They were ordered to immediately return to Missouri or face military action.


Accordingly, the missionaries settled just across the border at Independence, Missouri, and contented themselves with preaching to interested settlers there. One missionary set up a tailor shop there to earn funds, while another headed back to report to the prophet. While the mission to the Lamanites was not very successful at converting Native Americans, their success at Kirtland, Ohio, would soon prove fortuitous.



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