Literary Lorenzo Snow #15: Our Missionaries

August 4, 2013 | no comments
By

Joseph L Townsend

For many members of the Church the most intense period of “faithful, energetic service in the Kingdom of God” during our lives is our missionary service. So it is no surprise that many of the ideas expressed in the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow lesson #15 are characteristics that we associate with missionaries—service as “ambassadors of Christ,” and “helping others receive salvation” are quickly listed as things that we too should adopt in our service in the Kingdom. Often we use missionary service as an example for how our own service should be conducted.

But, this doesn’t mean that missionary service is the only service we perform as Church members, or even that service should be restricted to service in the Church. But it does mean that missionary service is a useful example. The following poem discusses the rigors of missionary service—as an example:

The author of this poem, Joseph L. Townsend, is best known as the author of many of the hymns in our hymnal today, including “Choose the Right,” “The Iron Rod,” “Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words To Each Other,” and “Hope of Israel.” Born in Pennsylvania in 1872, Townsend came to Salt Lake City, Utah to improve is health and discovered Mormonism there as well. He served an LDS mission to the Southern States, owned and ran a drugstore in Payson, Utah for 15 years and then taught at Brigham Young Academy (the high-school predecessor of BYU) for a couple of years before teaching at Salt Lake City High School. And he wrote poetry — 10 of his hymns are in our current hymnal.

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Our Missionaries

by J. L. Townsend

Wearily tramping day by day
Over the country far and wide,
Earnestly reaping by the way,
And two and two, and side by side,
Are Mormon Elders moving.
Over the turnpikes rough and worn,
Over the lanes through wheat and corn,
Treading the paths in wood and field,
Where honest folks a shelter yield,
They ev’rywhere are roving.

 

Oft on the wayside rocks or trees,
Hungry and footsore, long they rest,
Talking of home and liberties
Ne’er given to a weary guest,
However much befriended.
Thousands of miles away from home,
Daily they on their circuit roam,
Facing the storms, or dust and heat,
Until their mission is complete,
Their tiresome labors ended.

 

Bible in hand, they teach the truth,
Like it was taught in Palestine,
Calling on all, in age or youth,
To heed the Gospel plan divine
Restored again from Heaven.
Freely they give the words of life,
Ever opposed by Satan’s strife;
Ever withstood by Pharisees
Who fight the truth by calumnies
As when it first was given.

 

Ever at work, their lives at stake,
Warning the world of what will be,
Warning the world to turn, forsake,
And flee the harlot mystery.
The great sectarian babel.
Threatened with clubs and coats of tar,
Errors’ accustomed plan of war;
Hated by priests who truth deride,—
The welcome that the Elders bide
‘Mid foes that love a fable.

 

Wearily tramping day by day,
Seeking the humble, rich and poor,
Calling to all: Repent, obey
The ordinance that will insure
The Savior’s approbation.
Over the wide land everywhere
Swiftly the Gospel now they bear:
Soon will the land be left untilled,
The Gentile times be all fulfilled,
And fallen every nation.

 

Judgments and plagues, with war and fire,
Over the world will swiftly go,
Bringing a devastation dire,
With millions crying in their woe
Who heeded not the warning.
Then will the Saints enjoy their rest,
Gathered together in the West;
Living beneath the laws of God,
Secure, while His avenging rod
Brings terror, woe and mourning.

 

Yearly from Zion still they go,
Happy are they when one believes;
Happier still whene’er they know
They may return with gathered sheaves
As brands plucked from the burning.
Tramping with neither scrip or purse,
Sheltered by friends while foes accuse,
Leaving it all for God above
To mete to all, in hate or love,
The sure reward they’re earning.

 

O, when the Book of Life is read,
There may the reapers and their sheaves,
Named with the Church that Christ has wed,
Be found upon its sacred leaves
Recorded close together!
Then will the reapers joyful be
Greeting the souls they helped to free.
Wearily tramping, day by day,
Upon the lone or dusty way,
No more, no more, forever.

The Contributor, v3 n7, April 1882, p. 217

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The missionary service described above is a bit different from what missionaries experience today. While missionaries today do have to walk, in general they don’t have to travel between towns and cities on foot as Townsend describes. Nor do missionaries have “their lives at stake” nearly as often as they did in Townsend’s day—the above poem was published just a few years after the well-known murder of Joseph Standing in 1879 and in the wake of the Contributor’s successful 1880 effort to place an Italian-marble obelisk over his grave. Townsend describes the missionary difficulties, tying them to Christ’s own trials thus:

Freely they give the words of life,
Ever opposed by Satan’s strife;
Ever withstood by Pharisees
Who fight the truth by calumnies
As when it first was given.

But Townsend’s poem isn’t just about missionary martyrdom. He highlights not only the trials of missionary work (such trials in service are generally ignored in the lesson) but also the purpose and benefits of this service. In the last two stanzas, the poet suggests that those who serve must not worry about their difficulties and focus on the reward:

Leaving it all for God above
To mete to all, in hate or love,
The sure reward they’re earning.

And what is that reward?:

O, when the Book of Life is read,
There may the reapers and their sheaves,
Named with the Church that Christ has wed,
Be found upon its sacred leaves
Recorded close together!
Then will the reapers joyful be
Greeting the souls they helped to free.

Perhaps that reward is what we should focus on in our own service in the Kingdom of God.

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