A few weeks ago, my brother Moses gave a talk about our ancestor, Erastus Snow, who served as an apostle while Brother Brigham was the President of the church. Moses and I both grew up hearing a lot about Erastus but only recently did I learned the name of Artemisia, his wife and our foremother.
In reading more about Artemisia I realized what an impressive and humble leader she was, organizing within her community and writing confident articles for the Women’s Exponent Magazine. Much of her autobiography described enabling the priesthood work her husband did by being a strong, independent spouse and parent. As newlyweds the Snows served together as missionaries in Nauvoo, but for much of her life Artemisia took care of matters at home while Erastus traveled.
For example, Erastus journeyed with Brigham Young and his small group across the plains. Meanwhile, Artemisia remained in Winter Quarters with the children, and in 1848 she drove a team of oxen and cows to Salt Lake City.She had the often thankless task of being yoked in marriage with someone in a high-profile and demanding calling, but I am sure that the Lord has blessed her and will continue to bless her for the labor she humbly gave to the cause.
Many families today don’t look like a traditional nuclear family, often led by single parents, extended family members, adoptive and foster families, and other combinations. Artemisia was the first of four wives, and while plural marriage is an uncomfortable topic for many of us, her account describes a feeling of harmony and family, and demonstrates her ability to take an unusual and perhaps difficult family situation and use it as an opportunity to be a great leader. She wrote, “ I was head of the family. Erastus always called me “Bishop” of his house and affairs. The other wives and I talked things over and we agreed, and managed to get along real well while he was absent.” Her collaboration with her sister wives and the thirty-six children the four of them raised together reminds me of Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge.” The conclusion of her biography reads, “Pioneering has been a hard life but I have met it bravely.” I don’t know how well the pioneering life would have suited me, but I know that I wouldn’t be here without Erastus and Artemisia and I feel a great personal debt to their union and to the sacrifices they made.
In addition to the pioneer women who crossed the plains during the 19th century, Mormon women make history in every part of the world. I wish I could give credit to all of them today, but because I am bound by the limits of mortal time, I’ll just tell you about a few more of these amazing women. One of them is Sister Priscilla Sampson-Davis, whose story is found in an Ensign article by E. Dale LeBaron written in 1990. Brother LeBaron writes,
“In 1979, Priscilla Sampson-Davis and her children joined the Church in Ghana… One Sunday after sacrament meeting, Sister Sampson-Davis saw a vision. It was as if she were at sacrament meeting again, and a person in white apparel stood in front of the stand, beckoning to her. “I came and stood by him. He asked me to turn around and look at the faces of the people to see if they were all enjoying the service. I saw that some of them had bowed their heads. He asked me why some of those people were not joining in the singing. I said, ‘Because they didn’t go to school and they can’t read English. They can’t sing, and that is the reason they bow their heads.’
“Then he said, ‘Wouldn’t you like to help your sisters and brothers who can’t read and who can’t join you in singing praises to Heavenly Father?’”
Even though she couldn’t write the language well, she replied, “I will try.”
The vision ended, and she immediately began to translate “Redeemer of Israel” into Akan (Fante), the language of 85 percent of the Ghanaian people. Sister Sampson-Davis also translated missionary pamphlets and filmstrips, Gospel Principles, Stories of the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Mormon. She bears testimony that the Holy Ghost has been her teacher and guide in these important projects.”
Sister Sampson-Davis had the faith and vision to see beyond her own limitations so that her Ghanaian siblings in the gospel could feel the Spirit in greater abundance. She contributed to a gospel history in Ghana that now sees a thriving community of Latter-Day Saints.
The history of our people has taken place in the past and it is taking place right now as well. My friend Sister Tayjha Tripple has already shaped Mormon history and continues to today. When I entered the MTC, I was assigned to work with Sister Tripple. She told me she was from Alaska and had lived in Haiti as a child, but didn’t elaborate. About halfway through our time in the MTC, we were practicing with a mock investigator, and the Spirit moved Sister Tripple to share the story of her sojourn.
As a young child, Sister Tripple’s parents felt unable to care for her, and moved her to an orphanage. When she was ten, two elders accidentally tracted into the orphanage. They drew a crowd of little investigators, including Sister Tripple. She walked by herself to church every Sunday, and promised her elders that she would serve a mission when she came of age.
As we sat on the stiff, floral MTC couch, Sister Tripple told us that in Haiti, when you turn sixteen, you become ineligible for adoption.When she was fifteen, she started praying harder than ever for a miracle, and she received one when a loving family in the United States began the process of adopting Sister Tripple and her brother. In 2010, she was standing on the playground outside of her school when she felt the ground begin to shake and watched the skyline crumble. A devastating earthquake hit her home country, displacing Sister Tripple and the other children she lived with.
Sister Tripple and her brother were miraculously safe and their adoption was expedited to bring them to their family, who live on a tiny Alaskan island. Their adoption was not church-affiliated and didn’t place people according to religion, so young Sister Tripple was surprised when her family announced they were going to church and took them to her church– the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Our pretend investigator and I were silent and captivated. She said, “To be honest, life wasn’t very good growing up in an orphanage and watching the earthquake wasn’t easy. But now life is good.” Once in high school, Sister Tripple picked up English as a fourth language quickly and learned to love hunting, fishing, and running.
Along with us in the MTC was Sister Tripple’s cousin, Sister MacArthur, who was also adopted from Haiti by a loving family in Idaho. They grew up very close, then served in neighboring missions where they got to see each other occasionally when Sister Tripple brought investigators to the Washington D.C. temple visitor’s center where Sister MacArthur was serving. Sister Tripple served an honorable and very happy mission and when I called her to review the details of her conversion she told me that the other day she saw a bear while going on a run in her Alaskan hometown and that, as usual, the Lord preserved her as she simply kept moving forward. She also told me that she is the nursery leader in her branch, which seems similarly formidable.
I love Artemisia Snow, Priscilla Sampson-Davis, and Sister Tripple. They remind me of the “certain women” Sister Linda K. Burton described in her talk during General Conference in April. Their lives were uncertain in so many ways, but they had a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Jesus Christ that served as an anchor as their worlds changed around them, often because of their own efforts.
While doing research for this talk, I realized how many amazing women make history in our church without ever being recorded. You all know some of these women. They serve in our wards, we meet them as missionaries, and of course, they are our mothers and mother figures. Their stories deserve to be told, and we need to hear them in order to survive. We live in a world that is aching for women like these, and a world full of women who are aching for representation and recognition. Each of you has the power to ask, listen to, and record such stories.
Of all the women who have shaped and who are shaping our history, I have a favorite. She is my mother, of course. She has always given me 100% of what she has and who she is and 100% of what I have and who I am is thanks to her. She makes history every day as an educator, friend, and poet, and she wrote the following lines when my oldest sister Eva went away to college.
“a thousand plateaus
the children of my youth
who took my youth
and gave me my youth
i tucked them as tightly as i could
into tiny handcarts before i left
do not go do not go do not go
i wanted to follow the oldest girl
you should not
but i tucked them in and left
and the five are gone–
changed into a four and one
i am a leaf i am a tree i am a thousand branches”
This poem captures just one facet of what women can do. Women are capable of doing so much, but today is special because we focus on what women carry, and what they give away. I think about Artemisia with her literal wagon, lead by what I hope was an equally-yoked ox and cow and of course I think of my mother carrying me inside and outside of her body. All of us, whether or not we are mothers, follow the example of motherhood when we fulfil our baptismal covenant to carry one another’s burdens, that they may be light. We too can act as a thousand branches, bringing hope, support, and comfort to the people who need it. All of God’s children form a family tree, and rely on one another for life-sustaining nourishment.
Since before the world began, Jesus Christ’s female disciples have organized to change not only the world within our faith, but the world in general. The Lord has asked us to lead efforts that shape the course of history and we are living in a pivotal historical moment right now. From Artemisia Snow to Tayjha Tripple, our history is full of people who needed refuge and who deserved it simply because they are children of God. Our general Relief Society has asked us to be a people with our hearts softened to refugees and immigrants, especially in a world that is increasingly hostile toward foreign and displaced peoples. It is my testimony that the Lord has directed His church through inspired leaders to know what His children need the most at this particular historical moment, just as he always has. We must be a people that embraces diversity in race, religion, and national origin if we are to be a Zionic people. Finally, while this has been a Relief Society-focused effort, I invite the priesthood organizations to join in as well and follow the example of the Lord’s Relief Society.
I know that our Heavenly Parents use people of every gender to accomplish their work, whether that work is pioneering efforts, making the word of God accessible to more people, missionary work, or poetry that changes hearts and lives. All of us are called to accomplishing the work of God in our own homes, and everyone who is alive today has been asked by God to accomplish a divine mission by being a voice of love and belonging to those seeking physical or spiritual refuge. What a glorious thing it is to be part of a church and a human family full of so many amazing women, always under the loving guidance of both a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.