Elder Neal A. Maxwell has often said, “God is in the details.” He is not just the shaping force of history in its broadest sweep, but through his Spirit, moves and urges his children with a fine-tuning hand on their lives and in his kingdom. To the questions we are sometimes tempted to ask, “Does God really know that I exist?” or “Does God lead his kingdom on earth?” the answer is a resounding “yes.”
That is nowhere more evident than in the new Historic Kirtland, which was dedicated in May by President Hinckley. [Click here to read Historic Site Rises Again.] As reporters for Meridian, we are often on the frontlines of Church events, finding the key players to interview to get the inside story. Our questions are different than the journalists from other news outlets. We are not just interested in the facts, but the spiritual fastenings behind them.
We wonder, what is the invisible spiritual reality behind any Church story?
What underlying urgency motivated the builders of the Nauvoo temple to work their six-day a week, 12-hour days? Why did the Slovenian sister willingly give every spare hour for seven years to translate the Book of Mormon? Who had the vision, the eagle’s eye-view, to believe that Kirtland needed to be restored so that the Saints could remember more clearly what happened there?
How did events and people converge to move the kingdom forward, and how does God silently work among us?
After interviewing more people than we can count on topics that range from the Church’s growth in Russia to the inspiration for a stake preparedness program, we have seen that certain patterns emerge as the Lord does his work. All callings from him are not official, marked down in a book or sustained in a meeting. Some may be, but through the whisperings of the Spirit, he also quietly calls people to missions or assignments that are personal, unofficial, but nonetheless important to the unfolding of his kingdom. These may be small or large tasks-to be a good neighbor to a particular person or to share your talent in a special way. We’ve heard from many that when he’s in their lives, he leaves a signature upon his work, elegant, profound, and usually subtle.
This is what we have observed about his workings, based on evidence related to us again and again in news interviews:
1. God knows his children. We are known of Him in the most intimate and personal way. Those who invest in a relationship with him are indeed prompted and guided. They report that “they just had a feeling” to do something, that “they were impressed,” that they had a dream, or that they acted on a message from the Spirit and things worked out in surprising ways. They tell us that God “micromanages” his work, that he blesses his children with sometimes very specific insights.
2. They tell us that when they have felt a prompting from the Lord to do something, have been given, if you will, an assignment or an unspoken stewardship, they have often done their best to interpret what that means-and usually God intends much more. Their experience is that when the Lord’s signature is upon something, it blesses many lives, in ways that are wiser and more profound than the person originally understood. As he does his best to act upon his initial impression or understanding, more unfolds before him. It seems that the Lord reveals his intentions line upon line, and that a person often takes a step into the darkness before further light is revealed.
3. We have heard again and again, that those who have been urged by the Lord to do something hoped that meant the path would be made clear, it would be easy, it would readily fall into place. The person, prompted to relocate, assumed his house would sell easily. The person, asked through the Spirit to undertake a project, hoped it would come together without a hitch or an obstacle. It is the same as if a pioneer, asked to make the journey in 1847 to the Salt Lake valley, assumed the trail was a freeway.
For those many we have interviewed, this has not usually been the case. As with Nephi who said, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandment unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commanded them” (1 Nephi 3:7), things were made possible, but not always easy.
In fact, often when a person is about what he feels certain is the Lord’s errand, that is when the opposition is hardest, the test most severe. It is as if the person’s weakness had to be overcome on the journey to accomplish the mission or assignment.
The message seems to be, “You may take this journey, but the muddy bog of your own weakness lies right in the path and must be faced and overcome.” God, who never wastes an experience, knows how to accomplish his project–which is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life–at the same time he helps us accomplish our project.
What the Lord asks us to do is not just about the arrival at the destination, it is about the journey-which in our being willing to take it-stretches and expands us in ways we had never supposed. In fact, it seems that the very purpose of the journey was to expand the traveler, enlarge his mind and capacities, grind down his heart so that he may offer it as a sacrifice to the Lord.
Thus, we have heard from many that they have felt urged to do something from the Spirit, only to find it took longer than they imagined or was more difficult than they assumed. There were times, as they took their journey, when they wondered if the Lord was still interested, and only in looking back could they see clearly that he had been there all along.
They were comforted along the way with an occasional tap upon the shoulder, a reminder as they moved along the journey, that said, “I am here.” They saw miracles, but they also dealt with setbacks, and each step required faith.
4. We have seen that those who have clearly been instruments in the Lord’s hands to accomplish a purpose have been not only willing, but eager to submit to his will. They sought to be instruments. They sought to be instructed by Him, not to instruct. They patiently submitted to his time frame, while remembering that he had given them something to accomplish. They were willing to set aside their weaknesses to be his servant.
5. In talking to us, they have acknowledged, usually tearfully, that he can and has made much more of their lives, than they could have ever done.
We mention this pattern, spell it out as if it were a formula, when in fact it is the barest outline of a spiritual swell that is much more nuanced and powerful, because in this article and one or more that follow, we are going to tell the story behind the building of the new Historic Kirtland. Many people played key roles in this, but we are going to give a glimpse into the lives of four-Karl Ricks Anderson, former President of the Cleveland, Ohio Stake; Don Brewer, former President of the Cleveland, Ohio mission, Zane Lee, former President of the Kirtland, Ohio stake, and Cully Davis, former Ohio missionary, entrepreneur and fund raiser. Each had a piece of the puzzle that brought Kirtland to life again and each was responding to the movement of the Spirit in his soul.
As we heard each of their stories, and saw how the pieces fell together, we marveled at the workings of the Lord, and hope that you will feel what we felt as we share their experiences with you.
Karl Ricks Anderson, Champion of Kirtland
For several generations, Kirtland was all but forgotten among the members of the Church. It was to our collective imagination a mere stopping point somewhere between the high drama of New York and Nauvoo. What was left there was the beautiful Kirtland temple, cared for by the RLDS Church (now the Community of Christ), and not much else that we recognized and valued.
We knew that Christ had visited the temple there, that Moses, Elias and Elijah had returned the priesthood keys, opening the door to temple work, the preaching of the gospel to all the world and much more. We knew that it was in the Ohio that Joseph had received D & C 76, the vision of the three degrees of glory, which in an instant expanded our souls to a whole new understanding of the universe and eternity. Still, while the revelations impacted everything we knew, the place and its people, the confluence of events did not furnish our minds nor inspire us. We had forgotten.
When Karl Ricks Anderson was called to be the stake president of the Cleveland, Ohio stake in January 1974, Kirtland had not seen missionaries in about 135 years and no members of the Church lived there. Yet it had a promise from the Lord attached to it. For his first stake conference talk, he said, “I had a very strong feeling that I needed to focus on Hyrum and Joseph’s prophecies about Kirtland, which until then I had known little about.”
Through study, President Anderson learned that after the Saints had left Kirtland, moving first to Missouri and then Nauvoo, “the Lord declared that Kirtland would be reestablished and would again be a stronghold of the Church. In 1841, he declared, ‘I, the Lord, will build up Kirtland.’ ‘But,’ he added, ‘I, the Lord, have a scourge prepared for the inhabitants thereof.’ (“D&C 124:83D&C 124:83.)”
President Anderson said, “In his writings and talks, Joseph Smith referred at least nine times to Kirtland’s future, particularly in view of this prophecy. The night before his death at the hands of an angry mob in a jail in Carthage, Illinois, in 1844, he reported a ‘dream or vision’ in which he felt he ‘was back in Kirtland, Ohio . . . and was contemplating how it might be recovered from the curse upon it.’
“Earlier. he told Joseph Young that a future ‘stake at Kirtland . . . will be one of the princip[al] ones of Zion.’ Then, apparently referring to the faithful Saints who comprised the early Kirtland stake, he said that their posterity would be those who would be involved in reestablishing the stake there.
“In a letter to members in Kirtland in October 1841, Hyrum Smith, as ‘Patriarch for the whole Church,’ also said that while the Saints must leave their land and property in Kirtland, ‘yet your children may possess them, but not until many years shall pass away. . . . Thus saith the Lord, . . . and then I will send forth and build up Kirtland, and it shall be polished and refined according to my word'” (As quoted in Karl Ricks Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Kirtland).
Could it be that the time had come? Could the impression President Anderson was feeling be part of that commission?
President Anderson said, “I was prompted to give a charge to the stake that it was our job to build up Kirtland and my earliest understanding was that it needed to be done through missionary work. I had a strong feeling that launching this effort to build Kirtland was to be the focus of my mission as a stake president.”
He saw the scourge that had come upon Kirtland as the withdrawal of the word of the Lord and the dwindling of population and commerce, and he felt the time had come to reverse that.
For Karl Ricks Anderson, the effort to help Kirtland rise again was two-pronged. First, he felt, the Church needed to build a bridge of friendship and understanding with the RLDS Church who owned the temple and had a strong membership base in the area, and second he had to spend significant personal time coming to understand what Kirtland was all about.
He said, “As you are doing something like this, you are following what you hope is the right path and the right spirit in doing it, but until it is done-unless you can look back on it-you don’t see it as you are going along. You just plough ahead on faith.”
Toward the first end, President Anderson met often with the leadership of the RLDS Church in the area, working hard to eliminate any possible friction. When General Authorities came to visit the stake, he took them to visit their local leaders. His strong sense was that the Lord had given the RLDS the Kirtland Temple, and that they were the loving caretakers of the building. They not only had taken excellent care of it; it wouldn’t be standing today without them. Their motives were pure. “They love the Lord,” he said, “and are so kind to share the building with us.”
“Our motives,” he said, “had to be likewise pure without any ulterior motive and no resentment that they hold the temple.” He labored to teach our members that principle of friendship, and he felt it personally.
“When we first moved to Kirtland,” he said, “I went out to see the temple and locked my keys in the car. It was noon on Sunday, and the only way I could get my car opened was to borrow a coat hanger from their church across the street. Nobody could have been kinder and they went out of their way to help. One man insisted on coming across the street and doing it for me. They weren’t just satisfied to give a coat hanger, but their job wasn’t done until they came to help me.”
Later, in 1986, when the newly-built Kirtland Stake Center burned to the ground, the work of an arson, the first call President Anderson received the next morning was from the president of the RLDS stake expressing condolences and offering the use of their facilities “for as long as you want.” Karl Ricks Anderson said, “Talk about humbling. How can you get better relations than that?”
President Anderson’s second goal, to delve into the history of Kirtland, tutored in his research by his brother, Richard Lloyd Anderson, a noted LDS historian and from the Spirit. “You don’t have two better tutors than that,” he said.
He found eyewitness accounts to the appearance of Deity, compiled memories of those who had been present when Joseph received revelation. He learned about Heber C. Kimball’s initial reticence to go on a mission to the cultivated people of England, felt for the undaunted faith of Parley P. Pratt who took the burning of his house as a sign he should go on a mission.
As he found and compiled eyewitness accounts of Kirtland into the book Joseph Smith’s Kirtland, he awakened not only himself , but others to this holy place. He wrote in the preface, “Living in the shadows of the Kirtland Temple for over twenty years and having frequently walked Kirtland’s streets, hills, and places of history, I have sensed the unspoken sacredness of the area. On Sinai the Lord told Moses to remove his shoes, for he stood on holy ground. As I have become acquainted with the Kirtland Saints, the Moseses and Aarons of the 1830s, I have come to understand that they likewise walked on holy ground.The Saints in Kirtland also consecrated the ground with their sacrifices. .I too have become a witness to the divine calling of Joseph Smith in Kirtland.”
He learned things like this:
Most of the Saints who followed the Lord’s command to “go to the Ohio” acted out of pure faith. Brigham Young said:
When we arrived in Kirtland [in September , if any man that ever did gather with the Saints was any poorer than I was-it was because he had nothing. . . . I had two children to take care of-that was all. I was a widower. “Brother Brigham, had you any shoes?” No; not a shoe to my foot, except a pair of borrowed boots. I had no winter clothing, except a homemade coat that I had had three or four years. “Any pantaloons?” No. “What did you do? Did you go without?” No; I borrowed a pair to wear till I could get another pair. I had travelled and preached and given away every dollar of my property. I was worth a little property when I started to preach. . . . I had traveled and preached until I had nothing left to gather with; but Joseph said: “come up;” and I went up the best I could.
The Church in Kirtland was developed by the Lord through a prophet and other leaders who had personal knowledge of Him, and a major part of this schooling involved firsthand knowledge and understanding of Deity. The following was recorded by John Murdock about an appearance that occurred March 18, 1833 on the occasion of the organization of the First Presidency in the Newell K. Whitney store:
The visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely! The visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair, a bright silver grey, curled in most majestic form, His eyes, a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white, and He was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I have ever before seen. His countenance was most penetrating, and yet most lovely! And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage, from head to feet, it slipped from me, and the Vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never before felt, to that degree.
Impassioned with knowledge of Kirtland, Karl Ricks Anderson spread it on, frequently taking visitors from Church headquarters to Kirtland to increase their understanding and commitment to the area. That Kirtland would rise again was an idea never far from his heart, and he began to realize that it wasn’t just missionary work that was required, but the restoration of historic sites as well.
President Thomas Monson would tell Karl, “If we do not preserve our roots, we lose them.” This just couldn’t be.
In January of 1976, two Ohio stakes sponsored a unique missionary fireside in the Cleveland coliseum called “What Makes Mormons Run” featuring top-drawer LDS athletes talking about the Word of Wisdom, as well as President Kimball. Twenty thousand people came, 16,000 of them investigators. Afterwards, true to the Spirit that led him, President Anderson took President Kimball to Kirtland. By this point, Karl Ricks Anderson was a man with a mission. It was a meaningful visit that would impact the future of Kirtland forever, for when President Kimball returned to Salt Lake, he called a mission president, who would ignite on fire with the same spirit.
The next step was under way to lift the scourge on Kirtland. (Watch for the next article on Kirtland early next week.)
2003Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.