I have always been fascinated by the story of the pioneers of the Restored Church. Their acts of faith and courage provide a glorious and priceless heritage for all members.
Europe holds an important place in this heroic story. The European continent was a field ready for harvest where thousands of these pioneers received and embraced the gospel before embarking for America, the place of gathering designated by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
In recent years I have been blessed to visit some of the sites from which these first converts came. I paused in Preston, England, to contemplate the quiet waters of the River Ribble where the first baptisms in Europe took place just 175 years ago. On the quays of Copenhagen I admired the statue of Kristina, who, with eyes looking out towards the open sea, symbolised the hope of thousands of Scandinavians who left to go to Zion.
In many countries more recently opened to the gospel, the easiest thing is to directly approach the first converts themselves! Many are still there, active, happy, and proud of their past. They can describe the fervour of those early years, when meetings were held anonymously in cellars, cinema halls, or the back rooms of restaurants. Many know about building the first meetinghouses or the interminable expeditions to the Swiss Temple. In the lands of the east, the local pioneers will describe the years of privation behind the iron curtain and the miracle that occurred when missionary work commenced in these lands after 1989.
This story is still ongoing. It continues to play out before our eyes. Prophecies are being fulfilled. The Lord is at the helm and nothing can prevent the accomplishment of His work. Today, as yesterday, the growth of the Church is accompanied by acts of faith and miracles.
For several years the Area Presidency has proclaimed an ambitious and optimistic vision for the growth of the Church in Europe. As children of Europe, we have seen the Church establish itself, grow, and mature. The testimony of past miracles nourishes our faith in the future.
We feel that a new spirit is hovering over our continent. The number of baptisms is seeing sustained growth. Many more young people are going on missions. Attendance at meetings and trips to the temple are constantly increasing. A new abundant harvest is being prepared.
Some years ago, then Elder Gordon B. Hinckley addressed two young missionaries in Sweden. He picked up a glass of water and said, “Sweden has for many years been like this glass of water – not much action. In the middle of the 1800s when the first missionaries came to Sweden, thousands of people joined the Church. It was a great and mighty harvest. When you go home, I want you to tell the members that there will be a new harvest, a second harvest in Sweden that will bring thousands of Swedes into the Church.”1
That second harvest is, and will be, broader than the first. Europe has become a crossroads and a gathering place for peoples of the whole world. One only has to walk through the streets of our major cities to see it.
Jesus told his disciples that in the last days, “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations.”2 This prophecy is being fulfilled by new countries being opened to the missionaries, but also by the conversion on our continent of thousands who have come from all the nations of the world. As these people of diverse languages and cultures are being welcomed into the Church, they are blessing our wards and branches.
The members in Europe today have a historic role to play in this second harvest, just as they did in the early years of the Restoration. I pray we will all be motivated by this glorious vision and that, united together, we will work to achieve it.
1 Ensign, July 2000
2 Matthew 24:14