The Thing of Most Worth94983_000_003
I never cease to marvel at the great instruction that was repeatedly given by the Lord to different persons who inquired of him through the Prophet Joseph Smith about what would be the most important thing they could do.
Said the Lord, “Behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father” (D&C 15:6).
The scriptures contain many examples of noble men and women who, with commitment and dedication, shared the word of the Lord with others. Added to those inspiring accounts can be counted also the almost inexhaustible supply of stories and experiences from the Saints of the latter days who have consecrated their all to the upbuilding of the kingdom of God.
A nineteenth-century example that has always been compelling to me is the story of Dan Jones, the Welshman who was with the Prophet Joseph Smith the evening before the Prophet’s martyrdom. A brief review of his life is worth telling.
Dan Jones was born 4 August 1810 in Halkin, Flintshire, Wales. When he was seventeen, he went to sea. He learned of ships and sailors, the sting of salt spray whipped by a stiff wind, the pitching of a boat in a terrifying storm. In 1840 he emigrated to America. There he acquired and captained a small boat that plied the waters of the Mississippi. He carried passengers primarily from New Orleans to St. Louis. His boat was subsequently lost. By 1842, when he was thirty-one, the short, stocky Welshman owned a half interest in the Maid of Iowa, a boat large enough to carry three hundred passengers.
While engaged in river traffic, Dan learned of the Mormons, who had been driven from Missouri and had found temporary refuge in Quincy, Illinois, and then had gone on to establish “Nauvoo the Beautiful” on ground where the river makes a sweeping bend, creating the illusion of a peninsula reaching out into the water. Indications are that Dan Jones read some of the anti-Mormon articles then being published in newspapers and periodicals. All of this piqued his curiosity. He wanted to learn more about these people. He met them, was taught, and accepted the truth. In January 1843, he was baptized in the cold waters of the Mississippi River.
The following April he took a boatload of English converts up the Mississippi to Nauvoo. There he met Joseph Smith. It was mutual respect and appreciation at first sight.
In June of the following year, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were arrested and taken to Carthage. Dan Jones was among those who accompanied them and was locked in jail with them. On the last night in Carthage, when apparently the others had gone to sleep, Joseph Smith whispered to Dan Jones, “Are you afraid [to die]?” He replied, “Has that time come, think you? Engaged in such a cause, I do not think that death would have many terrors.”
To this Joseph responded with the last words of prophecy he is known to have spoken: “You will yet see Wales and fulfill the mission appointed you before you die.” 1
The next day the Prophet asked Brother Jones to deliver a letter to Orvil H. Browning of Quincy, Illinois, requesting that Mr. Browning represent Joseph and Hyrum in their forthcoming trial. While Brother Jones was leaving the jail and walking through the mob, his life was threatened. As he rode off on horseback, bullets flew about him, but none touched him. In his haste to get away, he lost his direction and thereby avoided a mob who might have killed him. He finally reached Quincy and there learned of the shooting of Joseph and Hyrum that sultry afternoon of 27 June 1844. He never got over his love for the Prophet. He never flinched in his loyalty to the cause to which Joseph Smith had dedicated his life.
The fulfillment of the Prophet’s statement came some months later when Dan Jones was called to go to Wales. His wife, Jane, accompanied him. They traveled with Wilford Woodruff and others to the British Isles. Elder Jones was assigned to labor in northern Wales. Though he had the great asset of speaking both Welsh and English, he accomplished relatively little in touching the hearts of the people of that area. On the other hand, William Henshaw, who did not speak the Welsh language, enjoyed considerable success in the south.
When Brother Henshaw was released a year later, Elder Jones was called to preside over all the work in Wales. He made his headquarters in Merthyr Tydfil in southeastern Wales. Working with a handful of missionaries, he witnessed a remarkable harvest. From 1845 to 1848, approximately 3,600 were baptized. It is estimated that in terms of population, one out of every 278 people in Wales at that time was baptized into the LDS Church.
Opponents of the Church had access to newspapers and other publications to attack the Mormon missionaries. But the press would not open its columns to Elder Jones. He therefore determined that he would answer with publications of his own. He enlisted the help of his brother, John Jones, a Protestant minister who owned a printing press. It is said that John printed Dan’s literature during the week and denounced him from the pulpit on Sunday.
Dan Jones’s publication was the first Mormon periodical published in a language other than English. 2 Issued in 1846, it carried the title Prophwyd y Jubili (“Prophet of the Jubilee”).
We catch the spirit of his sometimes feisty manner in his opening article:
“Dear Reader,—Behold the beginning of a new era in our age, yea, the most remarkable which has ever been, the most wondrous in its preparations, the most goodly in its deeds, and the most glorious in its effects of every previous age. Once more the golden keys of heaven have been entrusted to men for them to open all treasures, to unlock all mysteries and for the clarification of all errors in the midst of mankind. Already the doors of eternity can be seen opening on their rusty hinges, its hidden pearls and the treasures old and new are once again starting to shine before the eyes of men as in the days of God! Let the inhabitants of the earth rejoice, and let every Welshman give a hearkening ear to the good news of great joy which is sounded through this last trumpet.” 3
He had an interesting missionary technique. It was essentially one of controversy, a technique not fit for our time but used well by him then. He feared no one. He moved with great boldness. Of his method it has been written: “He would often advertise in a town for several weeks that he was coming to ‘convert’ the whole town. He would inform the mayor, the city council, the ministers, and the police force of his intentions. He would have the local members of the church distribute thousands of tracts to all the city. When he arrived at the railroad station he was often met by all of the officials of the city and many excited citizens.” 4
Ministers of other churches lashed out against him. They used their pulpits and the public press. Of their antagonism, Dan Jones wrote, “Most of the stories that were told on poor Brother Joseph in America, are here fathered on Captain Jones, and I often hear those who don’t know that little man [himself], unhesitatingly denounce him as ‘a curse upon this nation.’” 5
Public opinions raged this way and that. But instead of shrinking, Dan Jones capitalized on controversies. He drew such public attention that people had to decide whether the gospel of the Mormons was true or false. An increasing number of converts came into the Church while a veritable storm arose against the Mormons in general and Elder Jones in particular. He was vilified in the press. He was shouted at in the streets. His life was threatened.
In those circumstances he wrote, “I delight in the trophies of war. I came here to fight for the spiritual freedom of my brethren, and I thank heaven … that He is knocking off their shackles by hundreds! Who that has tasted of the sweets of liberty would say, ‘hold!’” 6
This was also the season of gathering the Saints to the Rocky Mountains of the western United States. Nauvoo had been abandoned. Its sacred temple had been desecrated and burned. Leaving behind their Mississippi home, the Saints laboriously crossed Iowa to the Missouri River, where they established Winter Quarters. That was in 1846. The next year the first company threaded their way up the Elkhorn River and along the Platte River through what is now Nebraska, up into the highlands of present-day Wyoming, and thence into the valley of the Great Salt Lake. “Come to Zion” was the call.
The converts for the most part were extremely poor. But they had been urged to save and scrimp to become a part of the great gathering. The first group to leave Wales consisted of some three-hundred-plus Saints who assembled at Swansea and there took a boat to Liverpool. At Liverpool it was necessary to divide the group, with 249 going on the ship Buena Vista and 77 on the Hartley, which was to follow. Elder Jones was to go with those on the Buena Vista. Compounding his many worries, his wife, Jane, had given birth to their daughter Claudia shortly before the departure date. It was first determined that she would remain behind and he would return for her later. She developed a different idea. After he was gone, she took passage with her baby and caught up with him at Council Bluffs, Iowa.
It was seven weeks’ sailing from Liverpool to New Orleans. Today we can scarcely imagine the misery of such a journey, with 250 people crowded on a relatively small ship for that period of time. It was necessary to take enough food for the entire trip. The shipping company was required by law to carry the basic food supplies, but the people were invited to bring other things to add taste to their meals.
At New Orleans the Buena Vista’s passengers were transferred to a riverboat which carried them to St. Louis. Though they had survived with minimum loss through the long journey across the sea, they were now faced with a plague of cholera. Between New Orleans and St. Louis and then, via another ship, up the Missouri to Council Bluffs, some sixty-seven died along the way. An individual would appear perfectly well one day and would expire the next. The boat stopped frequently along the way to permit burials.
At Council Bluffs, the first Welsh-speaking branch of the Church in America was organized. Here also the immigrants secured ox teams and wagons. These people had been miners and craftsmen. They knew nothing about driving oxen and handling a heavy wagon over a road that was really only a rutted trail. They had to be taught how to hook up and unhook, how to speak to the plodding oxen, how to care for them when their feet became sore. They left Council Bluffs on 13 July 1849 and spent 108 days traveling to the Salt Lake Valley.
On October 18 a terrible snowstorm struck when they were in the high country of Wyoming. Sixty head of their cattle died. Finally, on October 26, they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. It had taken them eight months to travel from Liverpool to Salt Lake City. One-fifth of their company had died of cholera, and others had been lost, including a few whose testimonies had withered along the way.
Today we can leave London around noon and arrive in Salt Lake City the same evening.
Once in Utah, Dan Jones settled in Manti, where he was elected the first mayor in 1851. A year later, however, he was called to serve a second mission in his native land. Again he responded without hesitation. With a few others, he began the long trek east. When about eighty miles out of Salt Lake City, he met a group of Welsh Saints coming to the Valley. They had been baptized during his first mission, and they could scarcely contain their feelings when they met their beloved leader, they on their way to the valleys of the West, and he on his way to the valleys of Wales. They sang; they wept; they spoke with words of true affection. They spent a happy day together before parting. As they were separating, Elder Jones gave William Morgan a letter to be delivered to the Presiding Bishop of the Church, Edward Hunter. It breathes the spirit of this remarkable man and his love for his Welsh brethren and sisters:
“Esteemed Bishop Hunter.—Many of my compatriots are coming across in the 13th Company; I do not know their condition; perhaps their money and their provisions are scarce. If so, when they reach the Valley, I shall be grateful to you for furnishing them their needs, through the hand of [Brother Morgan], and I shall pay you in Manti, San Pete Valley.” 7
According to an editorial in the Millennial Star, Dan Jones was the “greatest benefactor the Welsh ever had.” 8
Once back in Wales, Elder Jones again put his whole energy into the work. During his second mission, some two thousand new converts came into the Church. It was remarkable.
By this time, the Church had established the Perpetual Emigration Fund. With this kind of financing and with the Church chartering ships to cross the Atlantic, an individual could travel all the way from Liverpool to Salt Lake Valley for the equivalent of about forty-five dollars. Yet even that money was hard to come by, and only because of the fund was it possible for most of these converts to leave their native land and travel to Zion.
Out of his experience, Elder Jones wrote a pamphlet giving detailed instructions to those who would go. I like the counsel found in the opening paragraph:
“First, pay your rightful debts to everyone, or obtain the kindness of those you owe either to freely forgive or to allow you time to pay at the end of your journey; without doing one or the other we do not advise anyone to emigrate towards Zion.” 9
He insisted on this. Honesty and integrity were of the essence of this man.
Again he crossed the sea in 1856 with another large group of Welsh Saints. They became part of the handcart migration of that fateful year. They made it to the Valley without great suffering, but the two companies who followed after them, the Willie and Martin Companies, suffered terribly because of the snowstorms in which they were caught.
Elder Jones did not travel with the earlier-going handcart company. He came with a group of returning missionaries who were able to travel faster than those with carts. It was this group that found the Willie and Martin Companies beleaguered in the Wyoming storms and brought word to Brigham Young, who immediately marshaled resources to go out and help them.
By this time in his life, Brother Jones was suffering from ill health, sick from the exertions of his service, a victim of terrible weariness. From this time onward, the candle of his life burned lower. His beloved wife, Jane, died 24 February 1861. Less than a year later, on 3 January 1862, he died of tuberculosis at the age of fifty-one.
As friend to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, he had walked with prophets. He was unflinching in his loyalty to the cause they preached. His dedication was unquestioned. His zeal in teaching the gospel was seldom equaled. In 1844 he had looked into the eyes of those who killed the Prophet and Hyrum, and in his native language he published an account of that tragic event. He was persuasive and powerful, whether speaking in English or the Cambrian (Welsh) tongue, in bearing witness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
He knew something of the cost of faith in moving forward the work of the restored gospel. He would have given his life for it. The fact is that he did so. His tremendous exertions, his unflagging zeal in speaking and writing, the long and tedious journeys back and forth across the sea and the plains all took a toll. He never spared himself in the cause to which he dedicated his life.
The Saints of Wales loved Captain Jones, as they affectionately called him. They listened to him. They leaned on him. They followed his counsel. They accepted his testimony and used it as the foundation of their own.
Tens of thousands in the Church today are descended from those whom he and his associates taught and baptized. In terms of the number of converts, Dan Jones must certainly be included in the half dozen or so most productive missionaries in the history of the Church. He dedicated his life to the teaching of righteousness and the building of faith.
I add my testimony of the greatness of his contribution and of the everlasting consequences in the lives of generations of people when we will take the Lord at his word and share the gospel with others: “Behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father” (D&C 15:6).
May each of us examine our own lives, our own environment and conditions, and then prayerfully, energetically, and with dedication set about to bring the souls of our families, neighbors, friends, and associates unto the Lord.
The Lord repeatedly has said that “the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people” (D&C 15:6).
A nineteenth-century Welsh member, Dan Jones, is a noble example of one who consecrated his all to building up the kingdom of God.
Brother Jones was vilified in the press and his life was threatened, yet he helped teach the gospel to thousands of fellow Welshmen and did not spare himself in the cause to which he dedicated his life after joining the Church.
There is no end to the contribution we make or to the everlasting consequences in the lives of people when we help bring the souls of others to the Lord.
Rex LeRoy Christensen, “The Life and Contributions of Captain Dan Jones,” master’s thesis, Utah State University, 1977, page 17.
Ibid., page 24.
Ronald D. Dennis, translator, Prophet of the Jubilee … (pamphlet), Provo, Utah: Ronald D. Dennis, 1981, page 1.
Christensen, “Life and Contributions,” pages 39–40.
Ibid., page 27.
As cited in Ronald D. Dennis, The Call of Zion, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1987, page 77.
Christensen, “Life and Contributions,” page 44.
Ronald D. Dennis, translator, Yr arweinydd i Seion (The Guide to Zion), Swansea, Wales: Dan Jones, 1855, page 1.