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Living During a Pandemic

Daily life is not normal right now. We are currently living through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Whether you believe this is all a political hoax, or not, our lives have been impacted in multiple ways. At the start of this situation, I had been reading "My Life's Review", and was reading about Benjamin Franklin Johnson's experience in the Hawaiian islands while serving a mission in 1853 during a smallpox outbreak. In "Benjamin F. Johnson friend to the prophets" it is also relates some of the experiences and observations that he wrote. They are very similar to what we are witnessing today.

Thousands die of smallpox - We minister to them continually

But there were trials before us. As soon as some of the native began to die with smallpox, it struck the people as a panic: and being nearly amphibious in their habits, at the appearance of fever they fled to the sea to plunge into the surf; almost to certain death. This from the first we counseled them not to do, but they would not listen; and before we were aware of it almost the whole native population were sick, dying, or lying dead. Such was the terrible condition of the city that State Prisoners were pardoned on condition they would assist in burying the dead. At first, the health officers took them to hospitals or pest houses, and to escape this, many fled to the mountains and died in some bye place. Accompanying Brother Lewis to the hospital at one time to look after some of our brethren, the stench from the dead and dying so overcame me that I was helped from the room to the open air. And going from house to house among the sick, we found in the yards where perhaps twenty had lived, now not a soul lived, while some of the dead were still unburied. Often in one day we used two-quart bottles of oil in anointing the sick, for we ministered to all who asked us, feeling they were all our Father's covenant children.

The image is of the Smallpox Hospital, drawn by Paul Emmert (ca 1853-1859.)  

I cannot describe the piteous sights we often witnessed. On one occasion, coming to a house where lay upon the mats, a man and boy too swollen to be recognized. As we ministered to the man he seemed to revive and tried to talk, and I felt sure it was one of our brethren. I looked around and saw a coat which I knew belonged to one of our dearest friends, a most devoted member of the Church. All the rest of his family were dead, and he was nearly gone. And so, went most of our dearest and most zealous brethren and friends-our most active help in the ministry-and my heart wept, and my whole soul cried out to the Lord for that poor people, and I was in great affliction, and marveled that the Lord would permit all his most faithful servants to die, so dear to us, and whose help we so much needed. And, I pondered the subject prayerfully until the light of the Lord shone upon my understanding, and I saw multitudes of their race in the spirit world who had lived before them, and there was not one there with the priesthood to teach them the gospel, and the voice of the Spirit said to me-'Sorrow not, for they are now doing that greater work for which they were ordained, and it is all of the Lord.' So, I was comforted, knowing that, through the Spirit of Elijah, the hearts of the children were now being turned to the father in the spirit land. Of the 4000 who died in the vicinity of Honolulu, some 400 had received the gospel, embracing the most efficient and the very best of the native Saints. (MLR 200th anniversary edition 184-185)

During the smallpox outbreak, a quarantine order was in effect which made it difficult to minister to the natives and created problems for the missionaries with the local government. I invite you to read more of Benjamin's account during that time and discover how he became to be known as the "New Orleans fighting man", and why he acted as attorney-at-law AND as a practical physician to defend himself and his brethren who were ministering to the natives afflicted with smallpox.

Benjamin eventually served a little over two years in Hawaii. During this time, many heartbreaking events occurred back at home. His mother and sister died, his child Frances passed, and he learned of other great sorrows. However, in writing to President Brigham Young shortly before his honorable release, Benjamin considered the experiences of the previous two years:

I have ever felt to rejoice in my mission to these lands, and to be thankful for the many mercies and blessings I have enjoyed since leaving the home of the Saints; and humbly trust that the experiences I have gained may never be lost upon myself. I pray that I may ever be humble and that I may live to become a blessing to my fellow man, and to manifest that love which is due to the cause of virtue and truth. (History of Hawaiian Mission, 20 November 1854)

I am forever grateful for the enduring faith my Great-Great Grandfather developed during his lifetime. I love that we can read his accounts and learn how he responded to challenges and joys. As we live through this Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, I pray that we can rely on and increase in our faith of a loving Heavenly Father and His son Jesus Christ. We will experience trials and this pandemic may touch each of our lives whether through illness or financial hardships. How we respond to them is where our true strength will shine through.

Read more about this particular mission found in "My Life's Review" and in "Benjamin F. Johnson friend to the prophets". Stay safe and stay healthy.


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