|Dear President Albright,|
I was the 108th direct descendant of the Prophet Joseph Smith to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons). I was the 2nd direct descendant of Joseph to be endowed in the new Nauvoo Temple. I think it is time to share my story with a larger audience.
I was raised in the Reorganized LDS church, now known as the Community of Christ. All of my life I had been taught to distrust and fear the Mormon church which is headquartered in Utah. My journey to become a Mormon started in the summer of 2005 when I ran across a web site: JosephSmithJr.com. I spent several hours reading what was there. I e-mailed the site and explained who I was. I was contacted the next day and was invited to visit Utah in August for a Joseph Smith Family Reunion. I was fearful to go, and was actually concerned for my safety and well being. I left thinking I was like a sheep being led to the slaughter and I might be going out on a nice plane, but I was coming back in a pine box! But contrary to my beliefs, it actually was a delightful experience. My niece Kim Larson and I were picked up at the airport by John and Gwen Smith, the great-grandson of Hyrum Smith, Joseph’s brother. They were our hosts for the next 3 days.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, a Smith cousin as a descendant of Joseph’s brother Hyrum, addressed us. About 200 descendants attended the gathering. Most, like me, were not members of the Mormon church. We were also hosted by descendants of Samuel Smith, another of Joseph’s brothers. Our reception was totally awesome. The warmth shared will last a lifetime.
The last night we went to a play at the Marriott Center at BYU celebrating Joseph’s 200th birthday. I will never again in my life have the feeling of total emotion I felt as I stood in the middle of the stadium with my family as we received a standing ovation from 23,000 people. We were also guests of honor at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s weekly broadcast, during which music director Craig Jessop welcomed us and paid tribute to Joseph’s wife, Emma, for her collection of hymns. The choir sang hymns centered on Joseph, “Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning,” and “Praise to the Man.” When they sang “Joseph’s First Prayer,” I wept openly for the first time in 50 years. This had never happened to me before, not even at the deaths of my parents, wife or son. We were also shown displays of Joseph and Emma Smith in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building as the Church celebrated the 200th anniversary of Joseph’s birth. Under the direction of descendants Michael Kennedy and his wife, Darcy, and Gracia Jones – the first Smith descendant to join the Church – we held a family dinner in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. The art department at BYU presented me with a beautiful book about my Great Great Grandfather Joseph Smith. I was also presented with an LDS Hymn Book in memory of Emma’s contributions to Church music. After I returned home to Nebraska, I placed both of these new books in my living room. At this point I was a total emotional wreck, but I knew what I needed to do. For the next few months I did much research and soul searching. I looked back to the Reorganized church only to find out they had changed the church name, denounced the Book of Mormon, and denounced Joseph Smith as the prophet–all of which I was very opposed to. I felt that the original Church was the one to pursue.
In January of 2006, two young Mormon Missionaries came knocking on my door, Elder Batin and Elder Williams. When I invited the elders to come inside, they immediately noticed the LDS hymnal and the art book about Joseph Smith on my table. Needless to say, when the missionaries discovered I was NOT a Mormon, they stayed in my living room teaching me for most of that day. Our discussion was fascinating for them and for me because I already knew so much about their church history which intertwined with RLDS history; however, many of the gospel principles were different. Over the following weeks I took all the missionary lessons and struggled with the huge disparity between what the elders were teaching me and what my RLDS friends and family had taught me my entire life.
The conflict within my heart and soul grew to the point that I finally told the missionaries that even though I believed their message and all their LDS doctrines, I could not join the Mormon Church until I could find out for myself why Brigham Young had left Emma behind in Nauvoo with five children to raise. I was conflicted and could not come to a resolution that would comfort me. It did not make sense to me that Emma had been left to fend for herself, after being so instrumental in the Restoration. I also spent several evenings in the home of David and Jodi Edwards who were LDS friends of mine, and where Elder Sandhu and Elder Johnson taught me further doctrines.
In April of 2006, I was driving down the highway to work and singing along loudly to a Southern gospel radio station. I still remember the song I was listening to was titled: “Joy, Joy Wonderful Joy” by the gospel group Bill and Gloria Gaithers. Suddenly, to my dismay, the radio went completely silent. I was a bit irritated at this since the car I was driving was almost new. How could the radio break so soon? I hit the dash and fiddled with the radio dials, but finally gave up and just drove along the road alone and in complete silence. In the quiet I started to ponder about my dilemma. Should I join the Mormon church as I wanted and enjoy fellowship with the Saints? Would this upset my family and the many generations of Smiths who were angry that Emma had not been taken West along with the Saints? Suddenly, to my surprise, I clearly and distinctly heard a women’s voice speaking to me. It was as clear as if it had come through the radio speakers. The voice said: “Robert, Follow your heart. I stayed in Nauvoo because I was tired and could travel no further.”
I knew instantly that the voice belonged to Emma Smith, my Great, Great Grandmother. It was made clear to me at that moment that Emma had just given me her permission to be baptized into the Mormon Church! My ancestors would not be angry with my decision to join my new found faith. My last remaining concern and stumbling block had just been miraculously removed. I was baptized on May 13th by my cousin Michael Kennedy, the President of the Joseph Smith Family organization, and the first descendant of Joseph to receive the Melchezedic Priesthood. I was confirmed by my good friend and stake president David Edwards . Also baptized at the same baptismal service by Michael was Caleb, the son my good friends David and Rebecca Denning. David is the son of my second cousin Gracia Jones and is stationed here in Omaha. I was overwhelmed with emotion that the great-great grandson and the great-great-great-great grandson of Joseph were to be baptized during the same service! It was a joyful occasion. Caleb’s and my baptism was the first time that a descendant of Joseph and Hyrum had worked together in the baptism of a family member. I could only imagine the rejoicing and tears that were shed by the two brothers on the other side of the veil. Their families were being united again after 150 years. The beautiful dedicatory prayer at the Kirtland Temple offered by Joseph, especially D&C 109:70, is continuing to unfold, that the prejudices of Joseph’s posterity “may be broken up and swept away as with a flood.” Among Joseph and Emma’s posterity are now some 125 living adult descendants who are members of the Church, and of them, at least seven have served full-time missions. Our prejudices have indeed been swept away as if by a flood! Thanks for your efforts to spread the light of truth!