Revision 8.5.”David O. McKay, Hugh J. Cannon, and Joseph Wilford Booth”

Revision 8.5.”David O. McKay, Hugh J. Cannon, and Joseph Wilford Booth” November 28, 2020

 

The Shrine of the Bab and the Port of Haifa
A view of today’s downtown Haifa and the Baha’i Gardens. (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

 

Carrying on from my last installment, Revision 8.4 A Latter-day Saint Presence in Palestine and the Near East? I continue the story where I left off:

 

The other mission entrusted by the First Presidency to Elders McKay and Cannon was to get in contact, somehow, with President Joseph W. Booth. They needed to reorganize the surviving members of the Church in the region, and without his language skills and his knowledge of the areas and the members, it would be virtually impossible for them to do so. They absolutely had to find him. Yet this was a very difficult proposition. President Booth was always in motion, and they had no idea whatsoever of how to get in touch with him. They contacted the U.S. consul at Aleppo, Syria, but this did not seem to help much. A cable from European Mission head­quarters told them that President Booth was somewhere en route to Aleppo, but this meant that he could still be anywhere. Nonethe­less, after a series of inspired changes in plan, the two representa­tives from Salt Lake City literally ran into President Booth on a train bound for Haifa. Their mission had been a success.

Among the steps upon which the Church leaders agreed was the removal of the entire branch at Aintab to the safer city of Aleppo during the last two months of 1922. For the next five years, Presi­dent Booth would devote himself to caring for the needs of these members, with little or no time left over for proselyting. He still dreamed of a Latter-day Saint colony in the Near East, and perhaps he consoled himself that his work with the Saints at Aleppo was at least a step in that direction. Even that dream, however, was soon to die. In early 1927, Dr. Franklin S. Harris arrived in the Near East on assignment from the First Presidency, with specific instructions to evaluate the feasibility of establishing a Church colony in the Holy Land. His report was not encouraging. He found that only twenty of nearly two hundred members of the Church in Palestine were able to support themselves. Furthermore, those who were produc­tively employed had industrial skills, rather than the agricultural skills that would be necessary to create the kind of settle­ment that had long been envisioned. Dr. Harris could not in good conscience recommend that the project be pursued any further. The dream of an agricultural colony for Latter-day Saints in Palestine was dead.

 

Aleppo's medieval bazaar
In the souk or bazaar — the old marketplace — of Aleppo, Syria
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)

 

In October 1927, Elder James E. Talmage of the Council of the Twelve, who was serving as president of the European Mission at the time, arrived at Aleppo to work for a season with President Booth. Together, they purchased a mission home in Haifa, on the corner of Carmel and Allenby Streets.  Presi­dent Booth was directed that American missionaries should establish themselves in respectable quarters in Haifa rather than living, as they had been, like refugees in the relatively backward city of Aleppo. A new focus for the work was in order. Syria and Turkey had simply failed to produce the number and quality of self-supporting converts that had been expected, and it was felt that a transfer of the missionaries to Haifa would allow for greater emphasis on work within Palestine and among the better-educated European population there.

A brief return trip to Aleppo to check on the condition of the Saints in the branch there was a great disappointment to President Booth. He found them to be, in his view, disobedient, selfish, and unworthy of the blessings they were receiving from the Lord through their knowledge of the restored gospel. In November, he went back again to Aleppo. Along the way, he stopped off in Beirut and Damascus, as well, to see how the few Saints in those cities were doing. One of his tasks while there was to arrange for the shipment of rugs to Utah. The Church, interested in bettering the material situation of its Armenian members, had begun to invest in their oriental carpet manufacturing and to sell the carpets through ZCMI, its department store in Salt Lake City. Though the idea of a Church agricultural settlement had come to nothing, the tradi­tional Latter-day Saint mix of temporal and spiritual things was still very evident in the Near East.

Nonetheless, it could not truly be said that the cause of the Restoration was flourishing in the region. Just prior to his depar­ture from Haifa, President Booth summarized the status of the Church in the Near East in a message that was later published in the Church magazine, the Improvement Era:

Our past and present status may be briefly told by counting up to ten; thus: One lady missionary, two workers in the field today, three cities have served as our headquarters, four elders have died in the field, five nationalities have been baptized, six lan­guages are needed to teach them, seven apostles have been here, eight cities now claim one or more of our members, and nine out of ten are in poverty.[1]

It was not, as it must have seemed to him, much to show for the years of care and labor he had devoted to his stewardship. “Your humble servant,” he wrote to the brethren, “has had the pleasure and honor of seventeen years total in the mission field. The task at times has been a difficult one—almost like trying to tear away old Timpan­ogos with a tooth brush while a man with a team and scraper endeavors to pile it up again.”[2] After nearly eighteen years of mis­sionary service among the peoples of the Near East, he continued to see members who were not living up to the standards they knew to be right, who were still dependent in far too many cases upon for­eign missionaries, not only for their spiritual development but for their financial welfare as well.

President Booth managed to express both his deep sense of iso­lation and his desire for fellow laborers to help him fulfill the mon­umental task that he well knew stretched out before him. “Besides Sister Booth and Elder Snell, the writer, since he left London, Octo­ber 2, 1921, has seen on an average only one face from Zion in 202 days, so you may be sure of a warm welcome if you come to do mis­sionary work.” Elder Talmage had promised him that three pairs of missionaries would be sent from the European Mission to work with him and his wife. By the time he left for his trip to Aleppo, however, they had still not arrived. But a note from Elder Talmage had come, containing the reassuring words, “You may think we have forgotten you, but we have not.” Upon receiving these words of comfort, Joseph W. Booth, still working alone with only his wife as a companion in a faraway land of many languages and exotic cus­toms, exclaimed, “In heaven’s name who would not proselyte for such [a] cause, where the harvest is so great and the laborers are so few?” [3]

President Booth’s mission, however, was finished. He was worn out, exhausted. He died of a heart attack on 5 December 1928, unaware that his release, signed by the First Presidency, was in the mail. The Church, grateful for the services he had rendered, erected a large headstone over his burial place in the sandy and desolate foreigners’ cemetery on the outskirts of Aleppo. Nearly five years later, Elder John A. Widtsoe dedicated his grave.

Joseph Wilford Booth was certainly the greatest missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints yet to serve in the Near East. Yet he has been virtually forgotten. That is why I have chosen to dedicate this book to his memory and to his example of devoted and competent service among the peoples of the eastern Mediterranean.

 

[1] See Joseph W. Booth, “The Armenian Mission,” in Improvement Era 31 (October 1928), 1048-52. The quotation occurs on pp. 1048-49.

[2] Booth, “The Armenian Mission,” 1050.

[3] Both quotations occur at Booth, “The Armenian Mission,” 1052.

 

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IRS roundtable
Interpreter Foundation volunteers gather in our state of the art studio for a scripture roundtable discussion on the weekly Interpreter Radio Show.   (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

 

Barring unforeseen developments, I expect to be on the Interpreter Radio Show with Martin Tanner tomorrow night (Sunday night, 29 November 2020) at 7 PM Utah time for a discussion of the First Vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  The Interpreter Radio Show can be heard every Sunday evening from 7 to 9 PM (MDT), on K-TALK, AM 1640, or you can listen live on the Internet at ktalkmedia.com.

 

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Salt Lake Tribune“Bob Rees & Clifton Jolley: Live free and die. Our suicide pact with COVID-19.”

 

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Three new items appeared today on the website of the Interpreter Foundation:

 

“Placement of the Witnesses Poster and Trailer”

 

“Book of Moses Essays #31: Moses 1 in Its Ancient Context: Heavenly Ascent and Ritual Ascent (Moses 1)”

 

“GivingTuesday is this coming Tuesday, December 1, 2020 and Facebook is matching $7 Million in donations”

 

Posted from Park City, Utah

 

 


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