“Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor; Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
So wrote Emma Lazarus in 1883. Her words are found inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty; a Welcome, beckoning to all nations and people, to come to America.
For hundreds of years the citizens of every nation, tongue, and people have entered this continent with the hope of a new opportunity, a new future. They came, without knowing, or even realizing that America was theirs; established by prophecy, and by covenant with our Heavenly Father as a Land of Promise. The prophet Nephi was shown in vision the arrival of these multitudes to this land:
“…I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise… And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance…I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord, and the power of the Lord was with them.” (1 Nephi 13: 14-16)
A few of these travelers were wealthy, established people seeking new opportunities to add to the wealth they had already accumulated. Many more came with their families, looking for a new start, where they could have the homes and freedoms they had long desired. But the vast majority was indeed, the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. They were the wretched refuse of distant teeming shores. From 1618 to 1775, America was the recipient of people fleeing religious tyranny, racial bigotry, political abuse, disease, and poverty. In 1718, the British government specifically ordered that American colonies were to receive the thousands of criminals and miscreants who inhabited English Jails. By 1775, over 50,000 people from English prisons had been transported to America. These thousands, literally “many multitudes” spoken of by the prophet, came for themselves, their wives, their children, and their families. They came with friends, associates, and even whole congregations and communities. They came with the dream to capture a new future, where they could have a voice, where their labors meant something, and where their children could rise beyond the squalor of their own conditions.
But little did they know, they also came for their past… those who came before… their ancestors. The promises applied to them as well!
Recently I was studying early Virginia history, looking for information about the ancestors of one of my clients. In a volume called Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, by H.R. McIlwaine (editor), we find the account of the death of Thomas Savage, a servant to William Gany and his wife Ann. Thomas was indentured as a servant to a Merchant in England. He was shipped to America in 1623, at the age of 15 or 16, and was employed by the Ganys, on their estate in Elizabeth City, Virginia. One day while working on the shore of the river, Thomas walked out in the low tide, where his feet became stuck in the mud, and he couldn’t go forward or back. Fellow workers couldn’t get to him without becoming stuck themselves, and the decision was made to return to the master’s home to find rope or other implements that might be extended to him to pull him to safety. Mr. Gany and others ran to the river bed with equipment only to find that the tide had come in, and there was no sign of Thomas. The next day when the tide was again out, his body was found and recovered. He apparently had lost his balance and fallen back into the mud, and was unable to rise before the water flowed back up around him.
This was a tragic event, but as I contemplated the situation, I imagined how much more tragic it might be if Thomas Savage didn’t have the blessings this Land of Promise offered him.
Here in this new land the Gospel of Jesus Christ was restored to the Earth in 1830; and a new covenant with the Lord was established. Ancient covenants between God and Man had promised communication, Priesthood Authority, and Eternal Life. These had never ended, but had been forgotten by men because of disobedience and apostasy from the doctrines and revelations of the Lord’s prophets. The New Covenant renewed these promises: Communication – knowledge and instruction from the Father to all people; Priesthood Authority – the authority of to act in his name and will; and Eternal Life – the opportunity to return to live with God, continuing to grow, learn, and become like our Father in Heaven. And in the way of a covenant, Man promised: Devotion – physically as well as emotionally to God; Obedience – to commandments and instruction from the Lord; and Service – to people everywhere, teaching, helping, and loving them.
Part of our promise of service, is that we will seek out our ancestors, and their families; those who came to life before, to prepare the way for us. We know that all men and women live after this life, and are able to continue growing, learning, developing, and becoming like our Father. Still, eternal principles are required and must be followed. Each person, living and dead, individually must be willing to accept, and agree with this covenant, by accepting Baptism. And each person must receive Priesthood authority, in order to progress in our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom. To accomplish these requirements, each person, living and dead, must accept Baptism, and the men receive Ordination to the Priesthood. Men and women must then be sealed to one another, and to their families, so the blessings of Priesthood authority can be extended to all. It is a beautiful arrangement that teaches us that no one person can attain exaltation by himself, but only with the help and in company with others.
Thomas Savage was indeed one of the tired, poor, huddled masses that Emma Lazarus wrote of. He was a young man, in servitude because he had no living family. Hundreds of children like him were taken from alms houses and asylums and sent to America to clear England of unwanted rabble. Thomas died without a wife and children of his own; he had no one to remember him and pass on his story. His temple work has not been done. Who will perform the ordinances that he needs? Who will turn their heart and remember him? The promises of the covenant apply to him as well.
These ordinances are earthly ordinances only, and in order for those, like Thomas Savage who have died without family, to receive these ordinances, the living must identify them, and complete this work on their behalf. We have been instructed that our primary responsibility is to seek out our direct ancestors. This is our primary responsibility, but not our only responsibility. We are to seek out our families wherever they may be. Our covenant with the Lord is dependant upon completing this great work. The Church has made great advances in gathering and submitting names of people through name extraction programs, but we cannot expect to receive Heavenly Father’s blessings if we don’t accomplish our part of the promise.
Like the story of the Good Samaritan, we cannot pass by on the far side of the road with the excuse that it is not our own ancestor. We must be as the Samaritan, and reach out to the tired and poor, tempest-tossed individuals that we find in our research. We must learn to recognize them as our brothers and sisters. By doing so, we will become like our Father in Heaven, and return to live with him.
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