Long ago, an elderly Navajo brother told me something that I have reflected upon many times in the years that have intervened. He said: “This gospel is something we have been trying all our lives to remember; now all at once it comes back. Our fathers used to be with your fathers in the long ago, but then we came to a division in the road with a great stone in the middle. We went one way and you went the other. We went around that big rock for a long time; but now we are back together, and we will always walk together from now on.”
There is great understanding in this view of the history of the Lord’s dealings with his people.
Many times I have tried in my mind to span the long centuries that link us to our common fathers, this Lamanite brother and I; and my soul is stirred when I remember that in our veins flows the blood of the Lord’s elect—the great patriarchs of the Old Testament, such as Adam, and Enoch, and Noah. I am humbled to know that our common father was Abraham, of whom it is said there were no greater ones and through whose seed the Lord has chosen to carry out his holy purposes on the earth. Isaac, one of the great prophets of all time, and Jacob, the father of all the house of Israel, are our ancestors. Joseph who was sold into Egypt, a man of constant virtue who was in his day a savior to his father’s house, is also the father of most members of the Church today, including the descendants of Lehi, Ishmael, and Zoram.
I have thought of the parting of our ways, when our fathers began to take their separate paths around that great rock that has kept us apart these many centuries, when, through disobedience and rebellion, the words of Moses began to be fulfilled: “The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies … and [thou] shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth. …
“And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone.” (Deut. 28:25, 64.)
How completely and thoroughly have these prophetic words come to pass! For although the scriptures are filled with examples of the Lord’s patience with ancient Israel—how he endured their pettiness, listened to their eternal complaining, recoiled from their filthiness, groaned at their idolatries and their adulteries, and wept at their faithlessness—yet his people finally did reject him through unrighteousness and rebellion. Then, true to the words of his holy prophets, the Lord suffered them to be scattered—first one branch, then another, and another—to the four corners of the earth: “For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve.” (Amos 9:9.)
First, the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered and its people carried away captive to Assyria nearly 2,700 years ago. From thence these people, our fathers, known to us as the “ten lost tribes of Israel,” and principally Ephraim, were scattered among the heathen nations of the earth, to fall into the darkness of an apostasy that lasted for millennia.
Little more than a hundred years after this first captivity, the southern kingdom of Judah was attacked by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies; Jerusalem was sacked and its inhabitants, the Jews, taken into exile. After a time, some of them were permitted to return, but the remainder were scattered throughout western Asia. Following the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles, however, Jerusalem was once again destroyed, and unrighteous and rebellious Judah was once again driven from the land of their inheritance to wander to and fro in darkness upon the earth to await the gathering of Israel in this day.
In 600 B.C., just prior to the exile of Judah, the Lord led yet another precious branch of the house of Israel out of Jerusalem. Father Lehi fled Jerusalem before the destruction and was directed by the Lord to establish his seed upon the American continents. These were a people with an impressive roster of great and inspired leaders. These were the people of the Book of Mormon, the Lord’s “other sheep” (John 10:16), whom he personally visited in the meridian of time, who at one time achieved for the space of 200 years a society of perfect peace and unity. Nevertheless, these too fell into disobedience and rebellion and wickedness and were cut off from the presence of the Lord, to be scourged, scattered, and “led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her.” (Morm. 5:18.) The remnant of this people are our brethren the Lamanites.
Many long centuries have come and gone since the momentous day of the parting of our ways. Countless peoples have lived and died; many kingdoms have risen and fallen. Within the limits of the vast horizon of world history we have seen the hand of the Lord; we have seen a great river divided into smaller streams, to wander over the face of the land, moving ever farther from the place of their origin; we have seen the wanderings of the many branches of Israel, natural branches once part of a strong and healthy tree, then broken from the living tree and scattered.
Yet the Lord has not forgotten Israel, for though Israel was to be sifted among all nations, the Lord nevertheless said, “Yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth” and be lost. (Amos 9:9.) In our own time we have seen the political developments that have prepared the way for the gathering of Judah to old Jerusalem, to the land of their inheritance. Our comparatively recent history has also unfolded the preparation of the land of the Americas for the restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and we have witnessed much of the gathering of the remnants of Joseph in the land of the New Jerusalem and the grafting of the natural branches of Israel into the new tree of the restored gospel. We ourselves are witnessing the fulfillment of the words of the great prophet Isaiah:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
“And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isa. 2:2–3.)
And though we have seen the beginning only, yet shall the work of bringing Israel again to Zion expand to the uttermost parts of the earth. In this regard, I am reminded of the words of the prophet Habakkuk: “For I will work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.” (Hab. 1:5.)
“Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;
“But, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.” (Jer. 23:7–8.)
Of immense importance to this work of gathering the scattered branches of the house of Israel is the work of carrying the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to the Lamanites, for the Lord’s work in these latter days can in no wise be complete until these children of great promise are brought back into the fold. The Lord said through his prophet Lehi, “Behold, I say unto you, Yea; they shall be remembered again among the house of Israel; they shall be grafted in, being a natural branch of the olive-tree, into the true olive-tree.” (1 Ne. 15:16.) We are witnesses to these events; we ourselves, both Lamanite and gentile, have seen the removal of the great stone of our separation.
This process of redeeming the Lamanite people has been far from easy, especially for the Lamanites themselves. For a thousand years after the closing of the Book of Mormon record, these people wandered in spiritual darkness and were scattered upon the American continents and the isles of the sea. They lost their written language, their high culture, and, worst of all, their knowledge of the living God and his work. Faith was replaced by fear, rich language by crippled dialects, and an understanding of God and his ways by idolatry, even human sacrifice. Since the coming of the white man to the Americas, they have been driven mercilessly, killed, and degraded. When Columbus came, these descendants of the Book of Mormon peoples and those with whom they had mixed numbered in the millions and covered the islands of the Pacific and the Americas from Point Barrow to Tierra del Fuego. But the conquerors found a prey, and in the land southward they robbed and despoiled and slaughtered in the name of gold and silver. In the land northward the 400-year “Battle of America” drove the tribal nations, much reduced in numbers, into the far corners of desolate lands. The peoples of the isles of the sea were corrupted by European and American seaman adventurers and were reduced nearly to extinction by disease. Someone said, “If my pen might have the gift of tears I would write a book and call it ‘The Indian,’ and I would make the whole world weep,” Only the most brazen soul could fail to weep when contemplating the fall of this people, and yet it was the decree of the Lord that the Lamanites should be preserved in the land, that this remnant of Joseph should again come into their promised inheritance.
When I was a young man living among the Lamanites more than seventy years ago, the destruction of the Lamanites was a stark reality. It seemed impossible to me that this broken people could ever rise from the destruction and become a mighty people once more, as the Lord had promised. I remember reading the words of President Wilford Woodruff, spoken in a day when the Lamanites were literally the “vanishing Americans”:
“The Lamanites will blossom as the rose on the mountains. I am willing to say here that, though I believe this, when I see the power of the nation destroying them from the face of the earth, the fulfillment of that prophecy is perhaps harder for me to believe than any revelation of God that I ever read. It looks as though there would not be enough left to receive the Gospel.” (Journal of Discourses 15:282.)
Yes, when I was a lad of ten I could read with perfect empathy the moving words of old Chief Tamenund in Cooper’s novel: “The anger of the Manitou is not done. Why should Tamenund stay? The pale-faces are masters of the earth, and the time of the redmen has not yet come again. My day has been too long. In the morning I saw the sons of Unamis happy and strong; and yet, before the night has come, have I lived to see the last … of the Mohicans.”
Yet the Lord’s promises with regard to the Lamanites began to be fulfilled with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in this dispensation (see Ether 4:17), and I have lived to see them begin to flourish once more and to put on their beautiful garments.
My interest in the Indian people was nourished by a patriarchal blessing that came to me when I was a little lad of eleven years. My father took us children to get our patriarchal blessings. The man who gave mine to me was Samuel Claridge, a white-headed little Englishman, very short. I quote just a few lines of it:
“You will preach the gospel to many people, but more especially to the Lamanites, for the Lord will bless you with the gift of language and power to portray before that people the gospel in great plainness. You will see them organized and be prepared to stand as the bulwarks round this people.”
Certainly not a patriarch nor anyone else could ever have guessed that, because I was just a little ordinary country boy when I received that blessing. There was no evidence that I would ever go into the world and preach the gospel, and certainly not that I would go to nearly all the tribes in the world. So it was quite remarkable that these promises should come as they have. The Lamanite people are increasing in numbers and influence. When the Navajos returned from Fort Sumner after a shameful and devastating captivity, there were only 9,000 of them left; now there are more than 100,000. There are nearly 130 million Lamanites worldwide. Their superstitions are giving way. They are becoming active politically and responsible in their communities wherever they dwell. Their employment and standard of living are increasing.
The Church has been established among them to a degree, and it will continue to be established on an ever-increasing scale. There are now more than 350,000 Lamanite members of the Church. They attend their meetings faithfully. They have the priesthood among them. There are branch presidents, quorum leaders, bishops, stake presidents, high councilors, mission presidents, and leaders in all phases of the work among them. They are attending the temple and receiving the ordinances necessary for exaltation. They are intelligent and faithful; they are a great people and a blessed people.
Truly our paths have met once more—we a mixed remnant of Israel, principally Ephraim, even referred to as gentiles, now come forth out of captivity (see, e.g., 1 Ne. 13:19, 39), a people with a long history of apostasy and darkness and persecution, now only through the grace of Almighty God restored to the blessings of the gospel, that we in turn might be a blessing to the nations of the earth; and the Lamanites, also a people of disobedience now returned to the fold, whose sufferings have been sore, and punishment severe, and humiliation complete, whose affliction these many centuries must certainly be fruit meet for repentance. And what should be the nature of our reunion? We are relatives. We are brothers and sisters under the skin. We should receive each other with great joy, as the prodigal son was received, who, “when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20.)
I rejoice that it has been my privilege to carry the gospel to the Lamanites from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, from the reaches of Canada to southern Chile, and in the islands from Hawaii to New Zealand. I have eaten with and visited with these my brethren and sisters and have been a guest in their homes.
I have met some who are a little bit ashamed that they are Lamanites. How can it be? Some would rather define themselves as Nephites, or Zoramites, or Josephites, or something else. Surely there must be a misunderstanding. Would they separate themselves from the great blessings the Lord has promised to his covenant people? Would they cast off their birthright? For the Lord himself has chosen to call these people Lamanites—all the mixed descendants of Father Lehi, and Ishmael, and Zoram, and Mulek, and others of the Book of Mormon record; all of the literal seed of the Lamanites, “and also all that had become Lamanites because of their dissensions.” (D&C 10:48.)
You who are Lamanites remember this: Your Lamanite ancestors were no more rebellious than any of the other branches of the house of Israel. All the seed of Israel fell into apostasy and suffered the long night of spiritual darkness, and only through the mercy of God have any of the branches been saved from utter destruction—the gentile-Ephraimite mixture first, and then the Lamanite remainder of Joseph, that the saying might be fulfilled, “the last shall be first, and the first last.” (Matt. 20:16.) You who are Lamanites remember: In your past are men such as the Nephi and his brother Lehi who, cast into prison while in the service of the Lord as missionaries, were so righteous and full of faith that though they were encircled by fire they could not be burned; whose faces shone like that of Moses when he descended from the mount; whose persecutors asked, “Who is it with whom these men do converse?” And the reply came: “They do converse with the angels of God.” (Hel. 5:38–39.) You are a chosen people; you have a brilliant future. You might possess all of the wealth of this earth, but you would be nothing compared to what you can be in this Church. You might rule over many nations, but you would have nothing compared to what you can have, through the holy priesthood, as a king or a queen unto the Most High God.
You non-Lamanites who, looking at these your brethren and sisters, can only see that which is “dark and loathsome,” take heed to yourselves! Look into your own past—any of our pasts—and you will find centuries of loathsomeness and unrighteousness. And then look to the scriptures and discover the Lord’s opinion of his chosen people, among whom the Lamanites are numbered. You who “pass by on the other side” when you meet one of these who have, as one may say, gone down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fallen among thieves and been stripped and beaten; in the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith, “you know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and Kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap. You don’t comprehend it.” (Wilford Woodruff, General Conference Report, April 8, 1898, p. 57.) if you had been with me recently to witness a chorus of small Lamanite children singing “I Am a Child of God,” you would have begun to see a vision of what the Lord has in mind for these, his people.
The Lord said, “I will soften the hearts of the Gentiles, that they shall be like unto a father to them [the Lamanite remnant of Joseph].” (2 Ne. 10:18.) A loving father does not despise his children. These are a chosen people and this Church has an important part in restoring them to their rightful inheritance. The chasm between what they are and what they will be is opportunity. The gospel furnishes that opportunity: it is ours to give. “And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and … how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be.” (1 Ne. 13:37.)
There is one point I would like to make clear as I repeat what the Lord said: “I will give this land to you on one condition.” The title to the land of America is a conditional title, and only those who live the laws of God and serve him faithfully can inherit it. He wanted the Jaredites to come over. They found America. They lived for a long while here and ripened in iniquity before they encountered the people of Mulek. The land then was given to Lehi and to his sons and their families, but when a fulness of iniquity arose among these children of the land, they were swept off. Therefore, I want us to keep in our minds the fact that this land is ours only so long as we live the commandments of God. Whether it is Greeks or Italians or Norwegians or whoever is going to enjoy this land, they are going to serve God or they shall be swept off.
That is what makes me so frightened today when I read the magazines and the newspapers and see that the gentiles who are living upon this land today are failing, to some extent at least, to live the commandments. There is much evil, much wrong, much wrongdoing in this land of ours. Many people break the laws of God, and the day will come when he just cannot tolerate it. He says he won’t. When they become ripe in their iniquity, the day will come when they will be swept off. That day frightens us a little bit, doesn’t it, when people get so near the edge with their immoralities and their ugliness.
So, my appeal today is for the Lamanites, all the Lamanites, the Mexicans, the Polynesians, the Indians, to live the commandments of God and prove themselves worthy of this choice land. And a further word of caution: Keep your strength up to high purpose. Keep your eye single to the glory of God. Maintain your faith and live the principles of the gospel. Remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not compatible with radicalism or communism or any other of the “isms.” There could be those who would profess to be your saviors. They could enslave you with their force or their strange philosophies. If some of their leaders have motives that are selfish and questionable, have nothing to do with them. Perhaps some would even excite you to unwise actions. Beware of them. Keep your feet on the ground and your heads high. Listen to your duly elected tribal leaders and stay with those who want independence, equality, and full freedom for the Indian people by peaceful means alone. Only these kinds of successes will be enduring.
The Lord has a comprehensive plan, and I have a firm conviction that the blueprint he worked out many millennia ago will be carried out through the programs of the Church. Even now the Church is bringing to bear its resources to educate the Lamanites, to improve their living conditions and their health, to bring them to a knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer. I have asked for increased effort in the missionary work among the Lamanites, and I have been most gratified by the response. The missions in the Lamanite areas are the most active and most productive of all, with many more converts per missionary than in any of the other missions. It is as in days of old: “And thus we see that the Lord began to pour out his Spirit upon the Lamanites, because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words.” (Hel. 6:36.) We have many Lamanite missionaries in the field now, and there will be many, many more, I am sure.
And can we not exercise our faith to expand this work even further? Enos prayed a prayer of mighty faith and secured a promise from the Lord that the Lamanite would be preserved. How glorious it would be if a million Latter-day Saint families were on their knees daily asking in faith that the work among these their brethren would be hastened, that the doors might be opened.
The Lamanites must rise again in dignity and strength to fully join their brethren and sisters of the household of God in carrying forth his work in preparation for that day when the Lord Jesus Christ will return to lead his people, when the millennium will be ushered in, when the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory and its lands be united and become one land. For the prophets have said, “The remnant of the house of Joseph shall be built upon this land; and it shall be a land of their inheritance; and they shall build up a holy city unto the Lord, like unto the Jerusalem of old; and they shall no more be confounded, until the end come when the earth shall pass away.” (Ether 13:8.)
In this I have great faith.