The very first country outside of the United States that missionaries were sent to was Canada. In 1833, Brigham Young and others brought thirty newly baptized Latter-day Saints from that country to join those members already in Kirtland, Ohio.
“Canadian Pioneers” is a three-part story about a young girl and her parents who listened to the early missionaries, recognized and joined the true church of Jesus Christ, and became pioneers. Although the story is fiction, it is based on actual happenings as recorded in Journal of Discourses by Brigham Young, History of the Church by Joseph Smith, and Joseph Smith’s Kirtland by Karl Ricks Anderson.
A knock on the door startled the Thomas family. Who could be out on a night like this, with the snow falling in great sheets and lying deep on the ground? Mary Ann’s father hurried to the door but stopped long enough to lift his rifle from its pegs.
A man clothed in a shabby, thin, black coat stood in the doorway, holding two books under his arm. “Hello,” he said. “Would it be possible for a stranger to find a place to stay here this night?”
Her father regarded the man carefully. Many wicked men traveled the frontier of Canada, hoping to rob innocent families. “Who might you be?” he asked at last.
The man smiled, and Mary Ann and her older brother, Nathan, crept closer for a better look. Mary Ann stared at his feet.
“My name’s Brother James Reed—I’m just a harmless stranger traveling in your parts,” the man said cheerfully.
Her father kept a ready hand on the rifle. “Why?”
“I’ve come to tell all who will listen about a new religion that teaches the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Mary Ann could see her father tighten his grip on the rifle. “I’ve no need for a new religion, thank you,” he said.
He was putting his hand on the door to close it, when Mary Ann hurried to her mother’s side and whispered, “Mother, look at his feet! They’re bleeding!”
“Wait,” Mother called, moving closer to the door. She looked out at the tracks of blood in the snow. Then stepping forward, she pushed the rifle away. “Brother Reed, I’m a good Christian woman, and I’ll turn no man away from my door on a night like this with feet in that condition.”
Upon noticing the man’s worn boots, Father invited the man inside. “Come in. Evil men rarely tramp around with bleeding feet. You can spend the night.” He stabbed a finger at the man. “Then you must be on your way. I have little time for preachers.”
Carefully Mary Ann helped the man remove the boots from his feet. He wasn’t wearing any socks! Mother came forward with a basin of warm water. Gratefully he lowered them into it.
“I do appreciate this,” he said. “I’ve been turned away from five homes this day. May the good Lord bless you for your care of one of His poor servants.”
Father sat by the fire, rubbing his rifle with an oily rag. “It seems to me that if the good Lord wanted you to spread His message, He wouldn’t send you out on a night like this, dressed as you are.”
Nathan spoke up. “Father, remember what Parson Grimes read in church Sunday?” He went to the chest under the window and took out the family’s Bible. Opening it, he leafed through it. “Here it is, in Luke 9:3. The Savior is talking to His Apostles: ‘And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece.’ “
Mary Ann whispered to her brother. “What does scrip mean?”
“It’s a bag to carry food in,” Brother Reed whispered back. Chuckling, he lifted his toes from the water and wiggled them. “The scripture doesn’t mention socks, but I don’t have that, either!”
Mary Ann thought she caught a smile on her father’s face before it disappeared. But he said brusquely, “Do you claim to be an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ?”
“No sir. I’m just one of His humble servants. But there is one traveling with me in this part of Canada. His name is Brigham Young. I can tell you without a doubt in my heart that he’s an Apostle, called by a prophet to testify of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Suddenly a warm feeling entered everyone in the small log home. Mary Ann felt a deep wonder inside. Could this really be true? Could there be an Apostle here in the wilderness of Canada?
Mother replaced the Bible in the chest. Then she pulled a pair of hand-knit stockings from it. Mary Ann cringed when she saw the knotty socks—the very first pair she had knitted. When Mother handed them to Brother Reed, he put them gratefully on his now-dry feet. “God bless whoever knitted these.” His eyes twinkling, he turned to Mary Ann. “Was it you?”
She nodded and ducked her red face.
He sighed with contentment. “Never have my feet felt better. Thank you, dear sister.”
Mary Ann lifted her face and saw the truly grateful look in his eyes.
Mother asked, “Is this Apostle of Jesus Christ, this …”
“Is he in as much need as you are?”
“We travel just as the Lord advised in the New Testament. Brother Brigham has as little as I. Wherever we go, people who listen to the message of our Savior and help us are blessed. In Matthew 25:40, [Matt. 25:40] it says, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’”
Mother sighed, “Then let’s hope that he found shelter tonight.” She went to the fireplace. “Now I’m going to feed you a good meal while you tell us about your new religion. How is it different?”
“The gospel has been restored. God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to a boy They have chosen to be a prophet on earth today.”
Picking up her baby sister, Anna, Mary Ann moved closer to listen to the stranger. “You mean a prophet like Moses and Abraham?” She asked in awe.
Brother Reed smiled at her. “Yes. His name is Joseph Smith. They told him to start a new church. It was to be just like the one the Savior organized when He lived on earth.”
Father continued to rub the rifle with the oily cloth. “So you claim to have prophets and Apostles?”
“All as poor as you?”
“Yes, sir. But remember the Savior Himself chose fishermen instead of rich men for His Apostles. Brigham Young worked at building houses before his call.”
Nathan moved closer. “What are those books you carry?”
“One’s the Bible—just like yours. The other is the Book of Mormon, a sacred book Joseph Smith translated from ancient writings given to him by an angel. It tells of Christ’s visit to the people here in the Americas.”
“May I look at that book?” Father asked.
Brother Reed handed the book to Mary Ann. “Would you take this to your father?”
As she carried the book, she felt a special reverence for it.
“Just read where it’s marked,” Brother Reed said.
Father read aloud Moroni’s promise. Then he closed the book. “It looks like your feet are going to need some time to heal,” he said gruffly. “And I want to study this book. If after I read it, I find that you’re a liar, then you’ll be out on your ear. If it’s true, we’ll listen to all that you have to tell us. And you’ll be welcome to stay as long as you will.”
“Fair enough,” Brother Reed said with a smile. Gratefully he wrapped himself in the blankets Mary Ann provided, and lay down by the fire to sleep while Father read into the night.
(To be continued)