Friday, June 19, 2015

Old Nauvoo

Nauvoo is a Hebrew word meaning beautiful place, a name given to this gentle bend of the Mississippi by Joseph Smith. Here he gathered his persecuted Saints and built a town that rivaled Chicago in the mid 1800's. The town was prosperous and, by most accounts, beautiful. The temple, facing West across the River, was nearly completed when the Prophet was murdered; further persecution forced The Latter Day Saints to abandon their homes and begin the epic trek West to the Great Salt Lake.

In the last few decades, the Saints came back to rebuild the Temple and do Williamsburg-quality restorations of many of the homes. On these mild June days, it is a serene, green place, neat brick buildings spaced on the four acre lots that formed the city, lush grass and shade trees in the spaces between. On the remaining stone roads, huge tour buses pass horse drawn wagons, herds of young people on trips, and family cars on pilgrimage, but nothing disturbs the sense of tranquility.

The beautiful visitor center is the place to start. There you will meet your first "missionary" ,one of hundreds, young and older who serve here. They interpret the exhibits, show the movies, greet you in each restored building, drive the horse or oxen and form the casts in each of several variety stage shows, musicals and pageants presented daily.

It is worth mentioning that all this -- carriage rides, entertainments, tours of each building -- absolutely FREE. The warm exchanges you will surely have with these folks are free also, but priceless.

This is one of several sculptures in the lush green Women's Garden, commemerating in part the Relief Society, the oldest and largest woman's organization in the world.

Fresh faces of young missionaries who put on Broadway-quality entertainment in venues all over the grounds.

When we found so much to learn here, we extended our time, twice. We attended the "Sunset on the Mississippi" variety show three times! Patty found opportunities to speak with the young performing missionaries as they worked all around the site and predictably began to call them "my kids." We bonded with the older missionaries as they toured us through exhibits and took us on ox carts, and cheered even more enthusiastically when we spotted them in the cast of a theatrical.

Most of the senior missionary staff serve 18 months -- two summers, one winter -- at their own expense, usually half a continent from home. When Patty repeatedly heard reports of 30+ grandchildren left to their own devices , she wondered if this wasn't excessive.
Some missionaries, like this pair of oxen, are on permanent duty .

There are many quiet moments walking among the buildings, watching the river and its bird life . This is a corner of the Joseph Smith Sr. home and cemetery .

The most touching moment of the week was the walk along the Trail of Hope at sunset.

Panels with quotations from diaries of the Saints line this path to the landing where they started the trek West.

Young missionaries narrate some stations as small groups move respectfully, by lamplight, toward the Mississippi.

We were fortunate to be with two young missionary friends, Faith and Tanner, whose character and quiet testimony is the fruit of the of all the suffering and sacrifice of the exodus.

There is still much more to see and learn here. We expect to return, perhaps with friends, perhaps for the large pageants in the full sun of July, but more likely again in this serene green time in June.

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