Looking Back: Visiting Sacred Ground with a Prophet of the Lord
Contributed By Gerry Avant, senior contributing editor
I’m often asked about memorable assignments during my 45-year career as a reporter, editor, and photographer for the Church News. The following is one that often comes to mind: a certain visit to Adam-ondi-Ahman.
President Spencer W. Kimball and his wife, Sister Camilla Eyring Kimball, traveled to Missouri on September 1, 1978. The purpose of the trip was for him to dedicate the Independence Missouri Stake Center. That gave them a rare “free day” on September 2, and Adam-ondi-Ahman was only 70 miles northeast of Independence.
Located on the eastern bluffs above the Grand River, Adam-ondi-Ahman is the site the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith as the land where Adam dwelt and where Adam would return just prior to the time of Christ’s Second Coming.
It became a place of settlement for Latter-day Saints in 1838, as upwards of 1,500 gathered in the area before being evicted by local mobs that same year. The Church currently owns about 3,000 acres of the undeveloped farmland, including the valley and surrounding areas.
Invited to go on the brief tour, I rode in the same van with President and Sister Kimball, along with President Kimball’s personal secretary, D. Arthur Haycock, and two or three others. I enjoyed listening to conversations as we rode along highways and country roads.
Anticipation mounted as we approached Adam-ondi-Ahman. Most in our group had gone there many times. I wondered how I would feel to go there in the presence of a prophet.
Descending from the hills, we entered the valleys where a modern-day event transpired that I’m sure many of those involved recorded in their journals as a spiritual highlight.
We came upon a tour bus parked by the road. Someone in our van recognized a local member, who was pointing out a site to some LDS tourists. President Kimball asked our driver to stop. President Kimball said, “Let’s get out and meet these people.”
We got out of the van and walked up behind the tourists, who hadn’t noticed that another vehicle had stopped. The guide was the only one who saw us approaching. Suddenly, her eyes widened, and a look of astonishment flashed across her face. The tourists turned around to see what she was looking at: a prophet of God standing in their midst on a country road leading to the valleys of Adam-ondi-Ahman.
The tourists were on their way from Adam-ondi-Ahman to another site. President Kimball said if they didn’t mind returning to Adam-ondi-Ahman, they were welcome to join us there. No one hesitated to get on the bus for the return visit.
In a four-wheel-drive vehicle, President and Sister Kimball rode down a rocky, uneven trail to the valley, where the tourists and several other members gathered around them for an impromptu devotional at the edge of what was then a field for growing peas. A former mission president, Graham Doxey, read passages from Doctrine and Covenants sections 107 and 116 as well as from the Old Testament’s second chapter of Daniel—all pertinent to Adam-ondi-Ahman.
President Kimball spoke briefly about the history of the valley. A woman in the tour group sang the hymn “Adam-ondi-Ahman,” the first verse of which is:
“This earth was once a garden place,
With all her glories common,
And men did live a holy race,
And worship Jesus face to face,
As President and Sister Kimball started to leave, the tourists and local members began singing “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” Many had tears in their eyes. President and Sister Kimball turned to face the small assembly and joined in singing.
As the singing concluded, President Kimball said, “When you sing that, I hope you realize that you are not singing about just today’s prophet, but are singing also of Adam, Abraham, Elias, Moses, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and all the other prophets the Lord has sent to the earth.”
I think of President Kimball’s comment every time I hear that hymn.
After a prayer was given, we left Adam-ondi-Ahman.
I’ve often wondered about what kind of impact that experience with President Kimball in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman had on the members from that tour group. I hope I will hear from some of them. As for me, it was a day of extraordinary experiences that I really cannot describe with mere words.