The recent announcement regarding the purchase of the area around Haun’s Mill by the LDS Church brought back memories of my visits to Jackson County and the surrounding area. I reflected on the past perspective of the lands in that area and the significance they once held to the members of the church.
The resolve that the members of the church would one day march back and claim the lands of the center stake of Zion seems to have all but faded away. It is no longer cache’ to speak of returning to Missouri as we are now told to stay where we are to build up the kingdom of God where we reside. But what of the Lord’s direction that we hold off ‘for a season’ the reclamation of this sacred land? Are we left with only a few outliers (you know who you are.) to yearn for Zion?
A number of years ago, our ward held a leadership meeting on a cool fall Saturday morning. It was quite a sacrifice for the dozen people who gathered in the Relief Society room for several hours of instruction. It was nearly Thanksgiving and everyone had a lot to do. I would ask you to visualize yourself sitting on those nice padded chairs preparing mentally for the mundane instruction of the importance of your calling to the salvation of those whom you serve.
After the opening song and prayer, the bishop stands up and announces that the wards in the stake received a letter from Salt Lake. He turns to the first counselor, hands him the letter, and asks him to read it. Under the standard letterhead is the following:
November 13, 1998
To the Stake Presidents and Bishops of Ohio:
Brethren, we want to express our sincere appreciation for the service that you have rendered in your callings. As President Hinckley indicated in a recent conference, we are enjoying an unprecedented time of acceptance and accomplishment in the Church. Your efforts have contributed to that success and will be instrumental in moving the Church forward.
One hundred and fifty-four years ago, the Church was not cast in the same light. Due to unrighteousness, the Saints had been expelled from Jackson County and conditions were difficult at best. In February 1834, Joseph Smith received a revelation from the Lord regarding the situation. Found in the 103rd section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord called for 500 men to “Gather … together unto the land of Zion” The purpose being the redemption of the centerpiece of Zion. On May 24, the group, which became known as Zion’s Camp left New Portage, Ohio for Independence, Missouri. They took with them money to purchase lands, and food and clothing to assist their destitute brethren. It was also the determination of the camp to help their exiled friends maintain their possessions when the governor of Missouri re-instated them upon their lands. But en route to Missouri the brethren did not live up to the requirement made of the camp. Some of them were disobedient, even rebellious, towards the Prophet, and the Lord was not well pleased with them. Because the Saints were not able to follow the commandments, the Lord called for Zion’s Camp to be disbanded.
In the 105th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord declared that Zion might have been redeemed by that time, had it not been for the transgressions of his Saints. They had not been obedient to the requirements made of them. They had withheld their means, and in their hearts had said concerning the Saints in Zion, “Where is their God? Behold he will deliver them in time of trouble, otherwise we will not go up unto Zion, and we will keep our moneys.” Besides these evidences of a want of faith, they lacked that unity required by the law of the celestial kingdom, and it is only through the observance of that law that Zion can be redeemed. The Lord, therefore, commanded the elders to wait a season for the redemption of Zion.
My dear brethren. That season is now upon us. The Lord has instructed us that, in fulfillment of this revelation, Zion’s Camp is to be called out from among the stakes of Zion. This vanguard company will travel to Independence, Missouri to restore Zion and prepare for the return of the Saints. We ask you to identify worthy Melchizedek priesthood holders who are willing to accept a call for a period of two to three years. These brethren will be called to establish communities in Jackson County and the surrounding areas. New Zion’s Camp will leave from New Portage, Ohio on February 24, 1999; the 166th anniversary of the revelation. We will provide more information shortly, but plans need to begin immediately.
Our hearts and prayers are with you as we embark on preparations for this monumental return to the lands set aside by the Lord as the center stake of his Kingdom.
…. G. B. Hinckley, T. S. Monson, J. E. Faust
With great emotion, the first counselor read the words and then looking across those who had gathered together that morning, handed the letter to the Bishop. An eerie silence settled in the room as all pondered the words that landed in their ears and pierced their hearts.
What would your thoughts be if you were present in this situation? Would you be ready in three short months to uproot your lives and begin a journey into an unknown and likely hostile environment? What would your family do? How could you afford to disappear from your entwined life to take on such an assignment? How would this ‘invasion’ be treated by those who live there now. What would the media think of this outlandish scheme?