Stories: (#3) Frank and Sam
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|This is the third in a series of stories about the California Central/Oakland mission, which we have sent to each of our sons during the first few weeks of their missions. This story had been passed down through several levels of retelling and so I cannot vouch for the exact authenticity of all the details, but this is as it was told to me.
Last week, I told you about Elder HendricksonÂs first day. If you have opened this envelope first, I suggest you read that last one before this one, as my discussions will sort of follow a sequence with events referred to in letters past. I left you last week with an account of "Elder Hendricksons First Day", and alluded to the fact that Bill Hendrickson went on to accomplish some pretty spectacular things while serving as a missionary. I will continue with this letter by telling you about "Frank and Sam".
One of those things which Elder Hendrickson accomplished while serving in California from 1974-1976, was participation in the baptism of an African Prince whose full name I never could pronounce, much less spell, and so remember him only by his first name, "Frank". Actually, I never met Frank personally, but received an indirect introduction to him quite some time before even meeting Elder Hendrickson.
In the Spring of 1975, I had the privilege of being called to serve as Zone Leader of the San Joaquin Valley. This area occupied, geographically, a land-mass which was 4-5 times larger then the other 4 Zones in the California Oakland Mission combined. Population wise, however, my Zone (which later became part of the California Fresno Mission) was smaller then any of the other Zones which resided in densely Populated areas of the Oakland Bay (Oakland, Fremont, San Francisco, San Jose/Pacifica). Because the distances involved where far beyond the miles we were allotted for our vehicle, I was given special permission to be alone in the bus stations. And so, I frequently took Greyhound busses which were used to travel between northern and southern ends of the Zone, a distance of approximately 120 miles.
Within the San Joaquin Zone, which we nicknamed "The Big Valley", were the Stockton, Modesto North, Modesto South, and Merced Districts. All toll, we had about 30-36 missionaries in the Zone at any given time. Our boundaries where Lodi and Northern Stockton on the North ,Madera and Yosemite on the South, the Sierra Coastal Range mountains on the east and the Sierra Nevada Moutains down to the California-Nevada border to the west. In our mission, Zone Leaders were also District Leaders of a District within the Zone. My District was Modesto North. We had a system of leadership training such that Zone and District Leaders (ZL's and DL's) were companioned to so called Zone Leaders Companions (ZLC's) and District Leaders Companions (DLC's). The ZLC's and DLC's pretty much had responsibility for all proselyting about the area in which Leader Companionships served. District Leaders had responsibility for a given District and reported to the Zone Leader. The Zone Leader had a Stewardship to the entire Zone. Zone leaders reported directly to the Mission President, or one of his two Assistants.
Because of the huge geography over which I had Stewardship, President Russon would often assign a third Elder to our area so that my Companion could work our area and District while I was on the road. I was blessed with some spectacular LC companions, as President Russon knew that while I was gone, my companion would have more responsibility then most other LC's. We often had unusual 3rd Elders, however. Those assigned to us as 3rds were typically missionaries who were having problems of some sort. Those problems always seemed to work out in the Big Valley, and as a result, we had some pretty interesting companionships. I will tell you about some of them in another letter.
In order to visit every District in the Zone (there being 4 weeks to a normal month, one week per district), I would take the bus once a month from Modesto to Merced, which was farthest removed to the South. I took it as a personal challenge to pick up at least one contact on the trips to and from. It seemed as if the Lord always provided at least one person sitting next to me going or coming on the bus, with whom I could discuss the gospel and obtain a commitment to follow up with the missionaries. I would leave, usually on Tuesday morning after Prep. Day (Mondays), spending Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday down south; then return on Friday, having conducted PPI's with every missionary in the District over three days, and usually getting the chance to work in each of the areas with them. In this way, I could get to know the Elders as well as get a feel for the area and local issues, which were then reported back to the Mission President in a written weekly report on each Elder and Area in the Zone. I suspect very few missionaries ever appreciated how carefully President Russon kept track of each and every Elder or Sister, reading from each one not only a personal president's letter every week, but also both a Zone and District Leader's Report. Later, while serving as an Assistant to President Russon. We spent a great deal of time discussing and praying about every single Elder and Sister on a weekly basis, representing about 150-175 Full time Missionaries. I know your Mission President will do the same for you, and encourage you to realize how important a role each and every missionary plays in the Lord's Eternal Plan.
Sometime over the Summer of 1975, I was returning from Merced after spending a week with Elder Baily (the District Leader) and his companion, who coordinated my visits with each of the missionaries in the Merced district. Madera was one of these areas. That was the same area in which Elder Hendrickson had been assigned about a year and a half before when he'd had his turbulent first day. I had heard stories about a Black member who was studying Engineering and Refrigeration at UC Fresno while living in Madera. As the story went, this Member belonged to some important Family in Africa.
One of the things you have to understand at this point in the story is the history of Blacks and the Priesthood in the Church.
When the Saints settled in Missouri during the persecution years of mid to late 1830's, Joseph Smith set a policy that in order to join the Church, one had to renounce Slavery and give up any Black Slaves which one may have owned. Understand, back then, it was a very different society. Missouri was in the heart of the Old South, which was strongly Pro-Slavery. By the Saints taking such a posture at that time in Missouri, they became very unpopular. Many historians believe this was perhaps the strongest non-religious motivation for pro-slavery Missourians to drive the Mormons out. It may also have been why Illinois (which sported a voter majority who were emancipationists), initially received the Saints somewhat kindly and permitted the establishment of Nauvoo.
While the Saints were still living in Missouri before the extermination order, Black people began attending services together with White Mormons. This absolutely violated many of the Deep South Taboos about Whites and Blacks mixing together in Society. There came a point in which Joseph Smith baptized the first Black Man into the Church. Shortly thereafter, he attempted to confer the Priesthood upon this new Black Brother. As he laid hands on the memberÂs head, Joseph suddenly stopped and excused himself, sensing a need to communicate with the Lord on the issue. In a revelation which was not recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph explained that the Lord had established a sequence by which the Priesthood would be distributed among his children. At first, only the Patriarchs held the Priesthood. At the time of Moses, the priesthood was expanded to the Sons of Aaron, and shortly thereafter, to all the Sons of Levi, or male members of the Tribe of Levi, thus the "Levitical" priesthood. Male Levites remained the ONLY men on the earth to hold the priesthood until the time of Jesus Christ. Following his death and resurrection, the Lord conveyed revelations to Peter which enabled even uncircumsized gentiles to be baptized. During this time, the Priesthood expanded to include worthy male members of the Church who were not necessarily Levites, some not even Jews (as you know, this infuriated the Jewish Leaders of the time).
While we know that Negros certainly lived in parts of Northern Africa, and some must have migrated up into the Middle East, there is no Biblical racial reference in the New Testament (Although there is some mention in the Old Testament) to Negros. Joseph Smith was told in a revelation in the 1830's that the time had not been prior, and was not then for Black Members of African descent to receive the Priesthood. This did not refer specifically so much to a Black skin, as even Blacker skinned aboriginal peoples from Australia were actually excluded from this policy as time went on. The significance had more to do with African Negro descendancy, which is generally considered to be from Egypticus, wife of Ham, son of Noah. Joseph never said that these members would never hold the Priesthood, only that their time to do so had not yet arrived.
During the civil rights era of the 60's, this position was misinterpreted by political groups who saw the Church as fodder for propaganda about prejudice and discrimination. Blacks were never forbidden from joining the Church (as some other "Christian" churches did). Nor were Blacks ever denied Priesthood support or service. Those members who happened to be Negros were provided all the blessings of Priesthood support, just as are women and children to this day. However, because they could not hold the Preisthood, there were no Black Church Leaders, and Blacks did not go through the endowment during mortality. Keep in mind that, even in the time of Jesus, only Levites were permitted in the Temple. That did not mean the rest of Israel was being discriminated against, it simply means that the Lord has established his own timeline for an orderly progression of things.
As a result of all this, militant groups organized against the Church during the 60's. There were those who targeted the Church for hostility on the issue of Civil Rights. BYU actually had its basketball courts firebombed by visiting radicals from other College campuses. Missionaries were frequently physically abused by indignant Blacks and Black sympathizers. It was a challenging issue in its time, and during my mission, it was an issue that approached a zenith of tension.
So, to get back to Elder Bailey in Merced. Elder Bailey dropped me off in the Bus Station so that I could catch the Greyhound bus back up to Manteca. It always felt a bit strange to be alone as a missionary. I would often supress that feeling by either personal study or by attempting to engage someone in a Gospel Discussion. On that particular day, I was Reading John Hawk's "Compendium to Reading the Book of Mormon". As I sat in the waiting area, 5 rather large Black men came into the terminal. Each had a parallel series of scars which had been evidently cut under their eyes. Four of them surrounded me, while the fifth sat down directly to my front, and said in a rather peculiar accent, "Pardon me, but are you a Mormon Missionary". I could hardly deny such a question , besides there was this nametag, just like the one you now wear, hanging from my Left coat pocket. I replied "Why, yes, I am..." . He then replied, "I want you to explain to me the Mormon issue of Blacks and the Priesthood".
Now, understand, here I am, a lone missionary in the Merced Greyhound bus station with very few other people in the terminal. I am surrounded by these big black guys with some kind of ceremonial scars on their faces. It is during an era when missionaries are frequently being accosted on racial issues. I remember thinking "Oh Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit...".
I answered him, "Certainly", and proceeded to relate the position of the Church as I understood it at the time. This led to a rather lengthy discussion, during which time, my bus was called, and I advised this black man that I had to leave. His four companions began to close in on me at this, but he dismissed them with a wave of the hand and gave some sort of command to one of them in a language that I did not understand. He then advised me that he would go with me on the bus and asked what my destination was. I told him, and one of the other fellows went over to the counter and purchased a ticket for him.
Together, this Black leader and I boarded the bus proceeding north back up the Valley on Highway 101. His four friends followed, driving a dark sedan which tailed the bus. After finding seats, he introduced himself as Sam .Â
again, a last name I could not pronounce. He was first cousin to the Grand Monarch of the country of Ghana in Africa. Sam was a member of the royal family. He had been sent by his Uncle, the King, along with 4 security agents from his country to travel to the United States and investigate what had happened to the Crown Prince, a fellow named Frank.
Sam related to me that in his country, there were no missionaries. It was in fact the policy of the Church, at the time, not to send Missionaries into middle Africa. However, Books of Mormon had filtered up into the middle country from South Africa. These books had created quite a stir among the people of Ghana, to the point that many villages organized groups which studied the Book on a regular basis. However, with no Priesthood, there was no direction, and many wondered about how to implement the Book of Mormon into a religion. They approached Christian missionaries from other denominations in Africa at the time. Of course, the other Churches were uniformly critical and condemned the Book right out of hand. However, there was something very powerful about the influence of the BOM on these people. Besides, there is no passage of scripture in the Bible which comes even close to the powerful statements in II Nephi which address the Lord's position on race... "For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of this goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile". (II Ne. 26:33).
Sam explained that his cousin, Frank, the royal prince, had been deeply affected by this Book of Mormon. To the point that he determined to come to America and find out more about it. Frank's father, the King, had forbidden his son to go off on some adventure seeking after the Book of Mormon as if it was the Holy Grail. Frank, however, left his country to the condemnation of his Father and traveled to America, somehow settling in California and winding up at Fresno State University. Evidently, Frank had settled in Madera and was living there when, one day, Elders Hendrickson and Hansen knocked on the door. Frank was more then ready to receive them and was shortly thereafter baptized. Prior to being baptized, Frank travelled to Salt Lake City and had an audience with President Spencer W. Kimball. Bill Hendrickson related to me later that when Frank returned from Salt Lake City, he told Elder Hendrickson " ... I still am not sure that I understand why the Lord has denied my people of the Priesthood, but I know with every fiber of my Soul that President Kimball is a Living Prophet, and I must join with the Church, for it is what the Lord wants me to do...".
When the royal family in Ghana discovered Frank had been baptized, Sam was dispatched to go to America. Sam was commanded to report back to the King what had possessed the crown prince of Ghana to so leave his senses as to join a Church which was accused of being racist, and so far removed from his own culture. Sam had visited with Frank and was also deeply affected by the Gospel message. Sam told me that he found a great conflict arising within his own heart. Here he had come to bring the crown prince to his senses; to bring Frank home, back to his own people. Sam was supposed to convince Frank to abandon this strange religion in a far off place and assume his rightful place as leader and statesman. Instead, the things which Frank had related to Sam where churning in Sam's own heart. Sam was troubled and felt himself slipping over to Frank's way of thinking about the Gospel. Of course, Sam did not understand that what he was feeling was the Holy Ghost testifying of the truthfulness of the Gospel. I pointed this out to him.
By the time we had reached Modesto, about 2/3rd of the way to Manteca, Sam took his leave of me. He thanked me for my time and courtesy in speaking with him. I of course attempted to get him to visit with Elder Bailey, but he indicated that he would follow up with his cousin. He got off the bus and went back to the dark colored sedan driven by his bodyguards. He entered that car with one last wave to me and I never heard from him again.
About 2 months later, I was called to serve as an Assistant to President Russon along with Elder William Hendrickson. Bill and I sat up one evening in the shadows of our room overlooking the magnificent Oakland Temple. As the lights of Oakland bay framed the temple in the Background, Bill told me about his expriences with Frank. I told him about Sam. We both wondered what the Lord had in store for these two courageous, pioneers of the late 20th century. They were both men who had, in the tradition of this Church throughout the last 150 years, followed the whisperings of the Spirit to a strange new land.
I was released in March of 1976. Bill returned home about 3 weeks later. We were reunited at BYU the following Fall, myself with a new bride and Bill as always, the consumate friend. We were there together in Provo, for a missionary reunion in the Fall of 1978, when President Kimball announced his revelation which is recorded as Official Decleration -2 on page 293 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This revelation essentially expanded the Priesthood to all worthy male members of the Church without regard to race or color. I recall that Bill and I shed a tear or two when we learned that Frank (and I hoped perhaps also Sam) had been among the first to be ordained in the Melchizedek priesthood. They returned to their country and in short order, organized numerous Stakes. We heard that in the first few months following the revelation, thousands of People in Ghana were baptized, having been long prepared through study of the Book of Mormon. The Lord had carefully sculptured a plan for the benefit of his African children. I have often thought it a rather wonderful thing, over the years, that a few Missionaries serving somewhere so seemingly commonplace as Central California, could catch a glimpse of something so grand.
Try not to notice those sweet sisters too muchÂ
Sure Love you Son...
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