One of the best parts about living in a small town is the community events. I especially love the LDS church history events.
This Saturday, February 3, 2024, there’s a special annual event called the Nauvoo Exodus Commemoration.
Finding A Safe Haven
Living here now, when the population is around 1,000, it’s difficult for me to imagine that in the 1840s, Nauvoo was home to over 10,000 residents. Most of them were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Prophet Joseph Smith had called Church members from around the world to gather in Nauvoo, which had initially been a (mostly) empty soggy town. The Saints transformed it into a bustling melting pot, rivaling even Chicago.
It must have been wonderful for a time. They were building a temple. They founded the Relief Society. They had their own militia and a university. After so much religious persecution and strife (including the infamous Extermination Order from Missouri), the early Church members had finally found refuge in a beautiful city overlooking the Mississippi River.
It did not last.
Politics & Gossip
Joseph Smith fought to find restitution for the religious persecution the Latter-day Saints had suffered. When he found none, he decided to run for President of the United States. On top of that, in Nauvoo there were whispers of something unsavory: polygamy.
Gossip turned the town red. The Nauvoo Expositor printed one edition and one edition only. Its sole and primary purpose: the defamation of Joseph Smith. As the Mayor of Nauvoo, Smith ordered the printing press of the Expositor to be destroyed, labeling it a “public nuisance.”
Not much later, Joseph Smith was murdered in cold blood in Carthage Jail.
The Saints stayed in Nauvoo to finish the temple, but then they were forced, under threat of violence, to leave the city—their city. They had built everything with their own hands, and now they were forced, yet again, to flee for their safety.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded upon the backs of refugees seeking religious asylum.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded upon the backs of refugees seeking religious asylum. At the time, they never found it in the United States. They trekked westward to what was then still a part of Mexico.
There, in a barren and empty desert, they built a new home for themselves and continued to fight with the US government for decades for the right to practice their religion.
Two Heroes Living Worlds Apart
My own ancestors lived in Nauvoo. One of them was named Dinah. She was from England. Her family traveled to Nauvoo on a ship called “Hope” that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. She was only 6 years old at the time. When her family was forced to leave Nauvoo, she was 12 years old.
Every year we choose a name of an ancestor who we want to honor in the Nauvoo Exodus Commemoration. We walk down the very same street the pioneer refugees walked on when they fled Nauvoo.
I love my ancestors. I appreciate everything they did to ensure I could freely practice my religion today in the United States without fear of persecution or violence.
But this year, I will not only be walking to honor my ancestor Dinah Clayton. I will also be walking for another Dina. What a strange coincidence that these two girls share a name and they both became refugees at the same age.
I don’t know a lot about Dina’s life. I only know that her home was recently destroyed. And by “home,” I don’t just mean a house. Her true home: She lost her parents, her brother, and her sister. Dina survived, but she was injured and later her leg was amputated.
I know about Dina because UNICEF posted a picture of her on Instagram. I had to stop scrolling because I was completely arrested by the look in her eyes. I have never seen such a look on anyone’s face. Her eyes were filled with what can only be called defiant hope.
Her eyes were filled with what can only be called defiant hope.
Dina said, “I feel injustice; when I grow up, I will become a lawyer so that I can enjoy my rights and the rights of all children.”
I felt so inspired by the look on Dina Abu Mohsen’s face. I thought she was a hero. If she could still have hope for a better world, after enduring so much, then why shouldn’t I?
Dina’s defiant hope did not save her. The next day, she was killed by a tank shell landing on the hospital where she was recovering.
Unlike Dina from Gaza, my ancestor Dinah survived. She went on to lead a life full of hardship. She trekked west. She got married. She had nine children (five died in childhood). She and her family helped settle Bear Lake, Idaho.
When I think of the stories of these two young girls, Dinah and Dina, my heart aches because of their suffering, but I am also profoundly impressed by their bravery. In the face of oppression and tragedy, neither of them gave up hope. To me, they are both heroes.
Finding Refuge in Jesus Christ
History is a living and breathing thing and we’re all interconnected. Dinah Clayton’s story happened 178 years ago. Dina Abu Mohsen’s story happened 43 days ago.
Some of us may be lucky enough to never become refugees fleeing for our lives for safety, but yet we are all refugees in one way or another. Some of us seek refuge from addiction. Some of us seek refuge from sickness. Some of us seek refuge from an endless list of maladies or hardships.
There is one thing, though, that we all have in common. We all need God’s love. We all require the saving and atoning grace of Jesus Christ. We all find refuge in Their endless and abounding love.
Not only did Jesus Christ save us from sin, but He also saved us from death. The Savior Jesus Christ has overcome every sin, every death and every tragedy of this world through his infinite Atonement. We do not need to mourn ceaselessly. There is a path that leads to light and joy.
This life is only the beginning. God has provided an Eternal Plan for each and every one of us. The only thing we need to do is reach out our hands in faith and love and partake.
This February, as Latter-day Saints honor the heritage of the Church members who came before them, I hope we can all remember that this life is fleeting. Let’s use our time here to shower this Earth in love, kindness, goodness, laughter, and happiness. In times of darkness, let’s stand up for truth and righteousness. Let’s accept the invitation to repent of our sins with faith in Jesus Christ.
Let’s never forget that in the eyes of our Savior, we are all refugees.
- 40 Ways to Help Refugees in Your Community
- UNICEF, For Every Child
- Lifting Hands International
- Refuge from the Storm by Elder Kearon
Picture of Dina from Gaza
You Might also Like…
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. “Amid Israeli Attacks Targeting Three Hospitals, Child Amputee Receiving Treatment, Dina Abu Mohsen, 12, Was Killed; Egregious Violations That Warrant Accountability.” Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, 23 Dec. 2023, www.mezan.org/en/post/46341/Amid-Israeli-attacks-targeting-three-hospitals. Accessed 1 Feb. 2024.
CNN, Alex Hardie. “Children and Families Are “Not Safe in Hospitals” in Gaza, UNICEF Says.” CNN, 20 Dec. 2023, edition.cnn.com/middleeast/live-news/israel-hamas-war-gaza-news-12-20-23/h_4b04ca14d547dfa8ae2042c1622c87bd. Accessed 31 Jan. 2024.
“Departure from Nauvoo.” Www.churchofjesuschrist.org, www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/departure-from-nauvoo?lang=eng.
“Joseph Smith’s 1844 Campaign for United States President.” Www.churchofjesuschrist.org, www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/joseph-smiths-1844-campaign-for-united-states-president?lang=eng.
“Nauvoo Expositor.” Www.churchofjesuschrist.org, www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/nauvoo-expositor?lang=eng.
“Nauvoo: City Beautiful.” History.churchofjesuschrist.org, history.churchofjesuschrist.org/content/trek/nauvoo-city-beautiful?lang=eng.
“The Path to Utah Statehood | American Experience | PBS.” Www.pbs.org, www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/mormons-utah/.