Question: What can we learn from Elder John Taylor’s Christmas at Sea?
In 1839 Joseph Smith received a revelation that called all of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to go to England to preach the gospel. Nine of the Twelve responded, one of them being Elder John Taylor. Their heroic story is one of determination and faith to accomplish their mission under adverse circumstances.
This mission call came at a difficult time for the Saints, who were in turmoil and poverty after being driven from Missouri by mobs. With little time to settle their families, the Apostles nevertheless responded immediately to their calls. John Taylor left his wife, Leonara, and three small children, all of them quite ill, in a small, dilapidated, abandoned military barracks with only one window. He also left them with little to sustain them for two years, but he had determination and faith that the Lord would take care of his dear family in his absence.
The missionaries traveled without purse or scrip, which meant that although they had a small bit of luggage, they had no money and depended on the kind donations of strangers for food, lodging, and transportation. This was the way the Savior had sent out His disciples to do missionary work almost two thousand years before.
It took Elder Taylor four months to make his way to New York City, where he arrived on Dec 13, two weeks before Christmas. He and his traveling companion, Theodore Turley, were essentially penniless but were filled with the Spirit and with optimism about the future. While in New York they stayed with Elder Parley P. Pratt, who was temporarily in the city to arrange for some publishing for the Church. Elder Taylor didn’t say anything about his lack of funds. Instead, whenever anyone asked about his financial situation, he would reply, “I have plenty of money!” So Elder Pratt, who needed additional money to publish his missionary tracts asked Elder Taylor if he could contribute several hundred dollars to fund the publication. Elder Taylor replied, “You are welcome to all I have.” He put his hand in his pocket, pulled out a one-cent coin, and gave it to Elder Pratt. Surprised, Elder Pratt reminded Elder Taylor that he had claimed to have plenty of money. Elder Taylor said it was true. He explained that he had clothes on his back, was provided with excellent food in Elder Pratt’s home, and “with all these things and a penny over, as I owe nothing, is not that plenty?”
Elder Wilford Woodruff also had recently arrived in New York. Unlike Elder Taylor, he had secured the $15 necessary to buy a ticket to sail for England on the ship Oxford, which was due to leave in a few days. Elder Woodruff insisted that Elder Taylor sail with him. Elder Taylor responded, “Well, Brother Woodruff, if you think it best for me to go, I will accompany you.” Sure enough despite lacking funds, his faith was rewarded, and it was not long before unsolicited funds came that enabled him to purchase steerage tickets (lowest-class) for Elder Turley and himself.
On Dec. 20, 1839, they sailed out of New York bound for England. The 22-day passage was difficult. The Apostles soon discovered that the ship was overbooked and that sometime 5 people were expected to sleep in one berth. The weather was so stormy and rough that the passengers were continually tossed around in the bunks. Almost everyone got seasick.
Five days into the voyage found the missionaries celebrating Christmas somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean – or perhaps not celebrating would be more accurate. The weather was “fairly rough.” Because Elder Taylor recorded that he stayed in his bunk ill for almost the first two weeks of the voyage, we can only imagine that he did not celebrate Christmas in any way. However, the outcome of their whole-hearted missionary efforts was an amazing 6,000 converts coming into the Church who immigrated to America and helped build up Zion at a critical time. No doubt Elder Taylor and the other Apostles felt their Christmas at sea and all their other troubles a small sacrifice for the amazing blessings that came from it!
“Christmas with the Prophets,” by Laura Willes, p. 26-28.
“Men with a mission”by J.B Allen, p. 54-105
“Truth Will Previal” by Boxham, Moss, & Porter, p. 104-113