Monday, November 3, 2014

Saved by Divine Guidance 1943 (or 1913ish)

What follows is a story of the kind that missionaries love to tell. I shared such stories on my mission in Hong Kong and I've head such stories from missionaries who have served the world over. Here is one such story from East Tennessee, as recorded in the Church Archives, without commentary or validation. According to the record, it comes from a letter written by Lyle J. Smith to the mission home in the fall of 1943.

"Last summer my companion and I were doing country work in an area seldom visited by the elders. As we approached a small cabin the occupant, a small old man, covered his face as the tears streamed down his cheeks. In asking what was the matter, he stated that he knew we were Mormon elders, though we had not intentionally given him any reason for believing so. He then related the following: 

" 'About thirty years ago, my brother and I operated a water propelled saw mill. On either side of the stream lived a family of Mormons and it was the habit of the elders to pass through the mill on their way to the members.

" 'As there was quite a bit of religious excitement in the community over the elders and as several threats had been made on their lives, we took it upon ourselves to rid the country of them. Knowing that they passed almost daily through the mill we arranged a trap door which, when the elders' weight was upon it, would open and throw them into a water chute which was filled with sixteen feet of water. Then when they had drowned, we would open the chute and empty their bodies into the river and the country would be rid of them.

" 'We did this and the day for the elders came and we went about our usual work. We saw them coming and busied ourselves sawing a log about two hundred feet from the trap. The elders approached the mill and when about ten feet from the trap stopped, looked at each other spoke a few words, turned, and went out of the mill and beat their way through a weed and briar infested path around the mill. That was the only time they had ever done that and I know that God guided those two elders from the path of death.'

" "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."—-23rd Psalms. 

Before you ask, I must tell you that I have looked in vain for Elder Lyle J. Smith. He does not exist. No missionary by that name served in Tennessee, or anywhere else as far as I can tell. But I did find, serving in the East Tennessee District in the summers of 1942 and 1943 an Elder Lyle J. Smart. I know it is more that just a slight difference, though perhaps a poorly hand written letter might have been mistranscribed just enough somewhere along the way. The version I was working with was typed, and certainly several iterations away from the original. Is the answer that simple? I don't know. But if I accept that the story was not made up out of whole cloth (It wouldn't be the first time someone made up an inspiring story) then this would explain why I couldn't find the reported source.

As for Elder Smart; He and his companions were working in an area near Knoxville...

"...among such isolated Saints where they are holding meetings, strengthening and instilling courage in the members' hearts, and performing the responsibilities given them by virtue of the Priesthood and their calling as missionaries."

Sadly, this lone reference was not specific enough to validate the story or isolate it to a specific location, since there were several areas with local members. The summer of 1943 there with 4 pairs of missionaries working in and around Knoxville. That same summer this photo was taken. Elder Smart is in the front row, on the right. Perhaps one of John Lyle Smart's descendants will see this and wonder this story really belongs to them. Or maybe they already know.

Left to Right - Front Row: Harvey A. Field; Don Hansen, District President;
James P Jensen, Mission President; Grant Skinner, Lyle J Smart.
Back Row: John Keller, Donald Foster, Jed Harris, Richard Coulam
And what about the two Elders from 1913ish? Well that is even too far removed with so few clues to go by. It isn't hard to come up with the names of those who served in East Tennessee that year. But even if we accept the story as it was told, there is no way to know if 1913 is even the right year, memories being as they are. There just isn't enough to go on yet. 

1 comment:

Judy Canty Martin said...

don't give up. I have 8 missionary journals from service in the SC conference during 1883-1897 when My people left. It has been a life's work, but bit by bit, name by name, I am finding more and more. I began my research in 1979, when my old World Book said Catawba was a grape! Now I am a Catawba, so I have come a long way.