Among the most beloved figures in the Book of Mormon are the four sons of Mosiah, who, after their conversion, take leave of their native land and homes and serve missions among the Lamanites. Where missionaries today serve for just a couple of years or less, the sons of Mosiah served a total of 14 years which I assume (the record doesn’t say exactly) was much longer than anyone expected. Instead, I suspect, they and their friends and family must have wondered if they would even return alive, for, after all, the Lamanites were the enemies of the people of Nephi.
What must have they and their families felt when they left? I think I know something of what they and their friends and family felt — I’ve left myself on a mission, feeling an odd mixture of excitement and apprehension, worry and fear, inspiration and longing for those left behind. I felt something again of these feelings and others when my son left on his mission several years ago. I know that my feelings are far from unique—and are probably repeated more than 25,000 times each year as missionaries leave for the field.
These feelings have been with Church members since soon after the Church was established, and Mormonism’s best-known poet, Eliza R. Snow, wrote about them in 1842, when her brother left Nauvoo on a mission:
To Elder L. Snow
by Eliza R. Snow
- Dearest Brother, wherefore leave us?
- Why forsake thy friends and home?
- Of thy presence, why bereave us,
- And in foreign countries roam?
- Must the dearest ties be broken?
- Must affection’s beauties fade?
- No: O no, but God has spoken
- And his voice must be obey’d.
- Thou art call’d to bear Salvation’s
- Joyful tidings far abroad—
- Thou hast gone to warn the nations,
- In the name of Israel’s God.
- For the spirit of Devotion
- To Messiah’ glorious cause;
- Thou has cross’d the pathless ocean,
- To proclaim redemption’s laws.
- For the gospel proclamation
- Must be sounded far and near;
- That the best of every nation,
- May in Zion’s courts appear.
- Thou art now a standard bearer
- On a distant mountain top;
- And perchance, art made a sharer
- In privation’s bitter cup
- For the Lord designs to prove thee
- If his voice thou wilt obey;
- Therefore from the friends that love thee,
- Thou art parted far away!
- Thou art call’d thyself to sever
- From the land where kindred dwell!
- But it will not be forever—
- Time ere long, will break the spell.
- Here warm friends await thy greeting—
- Noble friends, of Abram’s line—
- Here’s are gentle pulses beating
- In soft unison with thine.
- Here are daily pray’rs ascending
- That th’ appointed time may come,
- When thy foreign mission ending,
- We shall bid thee “welcome home.”
City of Nauvoo, April, 21st, 1842.
Times and Seasons, May 2, 1842.
Its really too bad that this poem hasn’t been adopted for when missionaries are about to leave. I think it fits very well. I can even imagine it, perhaps, set to music and sung in airports and other sendoffs.
There is a role for this kind of a song. When I left on my mission, unaware of the above poem, most American missionaries seemed to have adopted the popular John Denver song “Leaving On A Jet Plane,” (perhaps motivated as much as anything by its suggestion of a girlfriend or boyfriend left behind). To be honest, I’ll be somewhat surprised if missionaries today don’t have some common song or poem to express the moment.
But, in my view, Eliza R. Snow’s poem above is better because its more specific to the situation (and, IMO, its better poetry than John Denver’s song).
At the least, this poem gives us all a way of understanding what the Sons of Mosiah, their friends and family felt as they left.