Introducing Joseph Wilford Booth

 

In rural Virginia
In the vicinity of Fredericksburg, Virginia     (Wikimedia Commons public domain photo)

 

Onward and upward:

 

A resident of Alpine, Utah, by the name of Joseph Wilford Booth was called to serve as the eleventh president of the Turkish Mission in August 1903. Elder Booth had previously served as a missionary in the same mission for almost four years, having only been released from his labors in April of the previous year. Already, he was headed back. This time, however, he was accompanied by his wife, Mary Reba, who would become the first “mission mother” in the history of the modern Near East. Her presence was impor­tant because, in the conservative and gender-segregated culture of the region, she could gain access to women in a way that was utterly impossible for the elders. The Booths worked side by side in Turkey and throughout the Near East until, because of political unrest, the Turkish Mission was shut down in 1909 and they and their missionaries were withdrawn.

For more than ten years, Church headquarters in Utah sent no representatives to the Middle East. When Joseph W. Booth returned in 1921, much was changed, including the name of the mission. In recognition of the group among whom most of the Church’s limited proselyting success had occurred, it was now to be called the “Armenian Mission.” Some changes, though, were clearly for the worse. The Haifa Branch had long since disappeared—the victim of emigration to Utah. But other units of the Church were in trouble as well. Where there had been more than a hundred members in the branch at Aintab in 1909, there were now only thirty-five. The First World War, the Turkish massacres of the Armenians, and the revo­lutionary unrest that accompanied the end of the Ottoman Empire had taken their terrible toll. “Aintab, the beautiful city of so many years of my missionary experiences, is now in ruins,” President Booth lamented, “and perhaps two thirds of the Christian popula­tion and a big percent of the Moslems have been slain in this awful struggle the past few years.”[1]

Late in 1921, Elder David O. McKay of the Quorum of the Twelve arrived at Jerusalem, along with his traveling companion Hugh J. Cannon. They were delighted to be there. Jerusalem, Elder McKay exclaimed, was “the most historic place in the world!” One of his assignments from the First Presidency was to leave an apos­tolic blessing on the land. He soon saw how desperately such a blessing was needed. Looking at the silver and gold decorations in the Grotto of the Nativity, the purported place of the birth of Jesus, Elder McKay felt them to be “desecrations.” Worse, with his own eyes he saw examples of the fatal violence that had begun to boil between Jews and Arabs in the so-called City of Peace. His own Arab Christian guide was vehement that the Jews would never be allowed to rule over Palestine. Elder McKay could not allow this to pass without contradiction.

“Michael,” he declared, “standing here on the street of David, this 2nd of November, 1921, I want to tell you something to remem­ber. No matter how much the Mohammedans and the Greek Chris­tians oppose the Jews’ coming back to Palestine, the Jews are coming and will possess this land.”

“Never,” Michael cried out, bitterly. “The streets will flow with blood first!”

“The streets may and undoubtedly will flow with blood,” replied the apostle, “but that will not prevent the Jews possessing their land. Don’t you believe your Bible?”

Elder McKay’s guide admitted that the Bible did foretell the rebuilding of Jerusalem. “But,” he insisted, “the time hasn’t come yet.””

“Yes,” Elder McKay corrected him, “the time has come.”[2]

 

[1] Cited by Barrett, The Story of the Mormons in the Holy Land, 57.

[2] See Clare Middlemiss, ed., Cherished Experiences from the Writings of President David O. McKay (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 95.

 

Posted from Fredericksburg, Virginia

 

 

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