How Connecting with Church History Has Strengthened My Testimony and Blessed My Life

Last month, we commemorated the anniversary of the Latter-day Saint pioneers' arrival in the Great Salt Lake Valley. I am grateful for each and every sacrifice they made to help pave the way for me to be where I am today, that I might have the opportunity to prepare to meet God.

When I think about the early pioneers in Church history, my first thoughts are that I have no heritage in Church history and my knowledge of Church history is fairly limited. My husband, Tom, and I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1974, so Church history for us is a mere 42 years, which doesn’t seem like very deep roots. But then as I pondered this, I realized the Church was restored only 186 years ago. So even though I have no ancestors who were there in the beginning, I have actually been a part of this great organization for almost one-quarter of its existence. 

With both Tom and I being first-generation converts to the Church, we had no family role models to show us how to accept and partake of all that the Church offers. Even though we were both raised in good families, it required quite a lifestyle change for us when we joined the Church. Thus, we have looked to other members to be examples and teachers for us. We have had to rely heavily on the teachings of the Spirit and the teachings of the prophets and other Church leaders to help us grow and develop a sure testimony of Jesus Christ.

How blessed I feel for the love that has been extended to us in each of the wards we have lived in over the years. Way back in 1974, we had many wonderful members who helped shepherd us and guide us that we might remain strong and committed after our baptism. In that first ward, we were taught to have a desire to go to the temple; and we did that after we had been members for just over one year. Next month, we will be in Utah and will have dinner with a couple from that ward who were sealed on that same day in 1975 in the Mesa Arizona temple. We have not seen this couple in probably 30 years or more, but have maintained some contact over the years. We even became friends on Facebook. Isn’t the technology we have today marvelous?

As we have taken the opportunity to visit Church history sites over the years, we have been privileged to stand on very holy ground and to feel the spirits of those who passed before us. One of the first sites we ever knew was just a marker along Interstate 25, south of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It marked the passing of the Mormon Battalion many years ago. During our time in Santa Fe, we had the privilege of seeing a Mormon Battalion reenactment when that monument was reinstalled in its current location. Many of those men on that long march became the leaders of the early church. Some of their descendants are current leaders today.

We were blessed with the opportunity to go to the Sacred Grove and to see other historical sites in that area in the 1990s and then revisited them again this past summer. The opportunity to see the Hill Cumorah pageant was a special highlight of our 4 years living in the Washington DC area. This past summer, we attended the Palmyra temple and then ventured over to Sharon, Vermont, and saw the Prophet Joseph Smith’s birthplace. The calling of this Prophet in our dispensation and the restoration of all things pertaining to the Gospel of Jesus Christ have enabled each and every one of us to be partakers of that Gospel through the restored priesthood. 

I have special fondness for some of the paintings of the Restoration. The artist Tom Lovell was a client of mine and a personal friend of ours. Before we knew him in Santa Fe, he had been commissioned by the Church to do three paintings of the restoration: The Angel Moroni Appears to Joseph Smith, Mormon Abridging the Plates, and Moroni Burying the Plates. I did not know he had done those paintings, but one month Mormon Abridging the Plates was featured on the back cover of The Ensign and I noticed it had his signature. I wondered if there could be two Tom Lovells, but the signature was definitely his. I put the magazine in my desk and waited for the next time he would come to my office so I could ask him about it. I knew he was not a member of the Church. He recounted the story of how the commission had come about and told of his meetings with the Brethren as he was introduced to the stories that he would be depicting. I am grateful that the Brethren who commissioned those paintings could give a non-member such glorious descriptions that he captured the strength and nobility of their beings for us to enjoy. The strength and character of Moroni as he buried the plates particularly astound me. The originals of those paintings are on display at locations in Palmyra. Those particular paintings are near and dear to me not only because I knew the artist, but because they enable me to envision those great Nephite people who came to this land so that sacred records could be preserved to come forth in the latter days. Those records, now known as the Book of Mormon, give us so much knowledge that has been lost to the rest of the world. 

We were privileged to serve a mission in the rebuilt Nauvoo Temple and spent 18 months walking the streets where the saints walked those many years ago. We felt their spirits in the homes, through the pageants, and in the temple. That, too, built my testimony of the love the Savior had for them, as they endured so much persecution and hardship. It made me feel the love the Savior has for me in these times of relative ease. It strengthens my faith that even as our world grows ever crazier, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will be by our sides and whatever we are called upon to pass through will be “but a small moment.” (Doctrine & Covenants 121:7)

We have been at Far West and Winter Quarters and heard the stories of the saints along the Trail of Hope. We have been to Kirtland. We have been to Carthage. What faith! What dedication! What courage those early saints had. I hope to be worthy and to be able to exercise my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as we may be called upon to do in these latter days. 

We have even been able to go to Israel and walk the streets of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and to see and feel the presence of our Lord and Savior in the sacred Garden of Gethsemane. It was there that I came to realize that even though Christ took upon himself all the sins and pains and sufferings of the entire human family, that he did it one by one for each of us. It is as if He took my name through the temple of Gethsemane. He took your name through as well. If everyone else had been perfect on this earth, and if I were to be the only sinner, He would still have made the Atonement for me.

While I did not have direct ancestors serving in the formative stages of the Restored Church, I do now have ancestors for whom I have been able to do temple work so that they can partake of those same ordinances.

I pray that we may each study the attributes of Christ and determine how we may more closely emulate them.  Let us study the mind and will of the Lord as they have been made known to Prophets and more closely follow all the commandments.  With us all standing together as the family of God, I pray that we may go forth in that great faith and be a support to one another.

Pat Baca is a 1st generation Latter-day Saint and lives with her husband, Tom, in College Station, Texas. She is a retired CPA. She and Tom are the parents of one daughter and one son, and they have five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Together, Tom and Pat have served two full-time missions for the Church: an employment mission in Managua, Nicaragua; and a temple mission in Nauvoo, Illinois.

No comments