When was the last time you saw a missionary wearing a floor-length dress? How about a coat with tails? You can find them in Minneapolis, Minnesota—but only if you know where to look. And no, you won’t find them at the prom. But you also won’t find them doing “normal” missionary things like tracting and teaching.
These aren’t official full-time missionaries. They’re the youth of the Plymouth First Ward, Minneapolis Minnesota Stake, and they are using their musical talents to share the story of the Restoration with their friends and neighbors. Journey with Joseph—the name of the play they presented in their stake and the other stakes in their area—is a musical missionary lesson that the youth worked for months to perfect.
“This is a good opportunity for all of us to give back some of what we’ve been given in the gospel. There’s a really good feeling with this group,” says 16-year-old Margo Larson, a violinist in the production.
And sharing good feelings—especially the ones that come from learning about the First Vision and the Restoration—are what this whole production is about. When the youth are asked about what makes the program great, they talk about the beautiful music and the chance to really be friends with all of the youth in the ward, not just the ones their age. Every person has a different song or part of the play they like best, a part that has strengthened their testimony of a certain event in Church history. But the thing most of them feel strongly about is the opportunity it has given them to develop stronger testimonies of the role of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his family.
“Before, I had always heard about Joseph Smith in Sunday School and Young Women. But with this production, it’s very easy to picture just what happened in his life. This makes it real,” says 15-year-old Katy Meikle.
“I would have to say that I’ve always known that the Church is true, but this music has confirmed things in a way I’ve never experienced before,” says 16-year-old Mary Hawton. “Now there are things about the gospel that I feel I understand better. I understand what the Restoration means to me and that what we’re doing is all because of the foundation Joseph Smith’s work laid for us.”
But making this original production work wasn’t easy.
“I was in the Mia Maid presidency,” says Katy, “and in six months we only had four activities to plan because all the other activity nights were being used for Joseph rehearsals. I was kind of discouraged, but not any more; it’s all been worth it.”
Journey with Joseph started out as a single song. It was written by Kurt Metzger, a member of the ward, to be sung by the youth. The song was written as a tribute to the Prophet, titled “Great Shall Be the Memory of Your Name,” and was sung at a youth conference. End of story.
Well, not exactly. The youth sang it again in a church meeting a few weeks later, and the bishop soon called Brother Metzger to write an entire presentation. And so Brother Metzger got to work. As the weeks flew by, ward members busily sewed costumes, painted scenery, and choreographed dances. The youth spent hours and hours learning lyrics by heart, then moving on to the next song, which was sometimes still in various stages of composition as they learned it. For some people, the idea of getting a full-length presentation written and produced in six months would seem crazy. But the youth had the energy, the leaders had the creativity, and they all had the dedication to make it work.
It wasn’t easy, but Jon Kirkham, who plays the part of Hyrum Smith in the presentation, says that sometimes the things that require the most sacrifice also become the most valuable.
“I’m so busy with school and everything that lately things have just been nuts. Last week I came home from my job and discovered neither of the cars were home, so I had to ride my bike to the church. It’s about half an hour by bike, but once I got there I didn’t care how tired I was. It’s just incredible being there with everyone and learning about the Prophet and the Church,” says Jon.
Seventeen-year-old Mindy Coon plays Lucy Mack Smith. “I tried to really understand how much love Joseph’s mother had for him,” she says. “She was one of the first people to recognize that what Joseph was saying was true. Learning about her so that I could portray her was really a humbling experience.”
Eighteen-year-old Nate Brian, who plays Joseph Smith, also feels that he has gained insight from being in the production. “Being able to, in a very small way, live the life of Joseph Smith has been so incredible. I’ve realized so many things, and it strengthens me to know that even though we’re human, if we live righteously, we can achieve great things.”
And it goes on and on. Through the long hours of practice and the stress of learning new things rapidly, the youth also come to understand much better what the early Saints went through to get the Church and its programs up and running. It’s all about sacrifice, loving others as yourself, enduring heartache and illness, and having enough faith in the Lord to carry you through.
But it isn’t just about hardship; it is also about living the gospel. It is about the happiness and blessings that come as a result of obedience. And it is about sharing the gospel message with others. Lots of things have changed for missionaries since Joseph Smith was a prophet—they ride bikes instead of buggies, and they don’t wear all that cumbersome clothing. But no matter what they wear or where they are, their message has remained the same. And, if you know where to look, you just might find member missionaries who are so excited about the gospel, they’ll even sing about it.