This is a friendly little article written by one of my favorite people, Assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson, while he was serving as a missionary in Scandinavia. We owe him so much in regard to the preservation of 19th and early 20th century Latter-day Saint history.
It should be a delightful little thing to read – a heart-warming topic, a toast to good feelings, a sweet photograph that rises far above the stiff, posed group shots that constitute most of our missionary photographic record of 1910.
So why does it irritate me so badly, to the point where I want to throw the volume of the Improvement Era in which it appears through the nearest plate glass window?
Hospitality to Missionaries
By Andrew Jenson, President of the Scandinavian Mission
The Scandinavian people, from times immemorial, have sustained a very high reputation for hospitality to strangers, a trait of character undoubtedly inherited from their Israelitish forefathers; for it is a well established fact that the inhabitants of the land of Canaan were especially hospitable to the strangers within their gates in ancient days. The elders who labored in the Scandinavian mission at an early day could travel almost without purse or scrip (like the disciples of Christ in Palestine), among the peasantry of the country. This has been modified somewhat of late years, owing, perhaps, to the fact that so many American, English and German tourists have traveled so extensively in these lands, and spoiled the people in these respects by their extreme liberality in offering payment for every service. Especially is this true on the western coast of Norway.
And yet, our elders are even now treated with much kindness and hospitality. The accompanying picture shows a group of elders (six in number) being entertained by a family of Saints in Aalborg, Denmark. At the head of the table sit the host and hostess. Standing by them is their pretty little daughter who is waiting at the table. The three brethren at the left are Elders James A. Johnsen, Isaac A. Jensen and Andrew Jenson. On the opposite side of the table are Elders Hans Mikkelsen, Charles H. Sorensen and James Jensen. The host, Brother Madsen, is a new convert, who for years before he joined the Church was kind and hospitable to the missionaries. When elders are far away from their wives, children, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, and other true and devoted friends, in the dear land of the West where the Saints of God dwell, they fully appreciate any kindness and hospitality extended to them. For, as a rule, their friends are few, and their enemies many.
In many places in these northern countries we have a class of middle-aged and elderly sisters whom we affectionately call “missionary mothers.” They exercise good will and charity towards the missionary, assist him in many little ways, thus making it easier for him to stand the temporary loss of friends at home. the elder therefore feels from the bottom of his heart to say, “God bless our missionary mothers.”
Notice all the names in the article? Good historian and documentarian that he is, Pres. Jenson even gives us the middle initials of his missionaries. We should be able to identify them easily enough, regardless of the similarity of their Scandinavian names to so many other church members.
But what is missing?
It’s the names of the members of the host family. The article is about the local people who treat our elders so well, and yet those local people are not even dignified with the recording of their names. Oh, well, yes, their surname is “Madsen” which is a start, and despite the hundreds of Madsens who might have been church members in Denmark during this generation, I do have the clue that Brother Madsen was a recent convert in 1910, so perhaps I could pick him out of the membership records by looking for a baptismal date in 1909 or 1910. But why isn’t he named in full? Why aren’t his wife and their “pretty little daughter” mentioned by name?
This is not an isolated incident. In fact, it’s the rule – the unwritten order of things? – in church writings for the first 150 years of our existence as a people: The only ones who really matter, evidently, are those who are sent from headquarters as church leaders or missionaries. Local members, regardless of their contribution, regardless of the purpose for the writing, are seldom named, except in lists of ordinances. Over and over and over in our manuscript materials, the history is written as though the Church exists only when and where elders from Zion are present: When the missionaries are pulled out of an area because of war (or for even more mundane reasons, such as the reorganization of a mission to focus on urban rather than rural tracting), history is written as though the Church closed down in that area at that point, and nothing more is recorded/searched for/published until missionaries are again sent into the area.
What of the branches established and left behind? What of the members who carried on and who were faithful without the assistance of “elders from Zion”? What of the local members who welcomed and served and doted on the missionaries when they were there?
Thankfully, the last generation of historians is as interested in social matters as in organizational history, and we’re seeing more and more attempts to understand and preserve the stories of Latter-day Saints who hadn’t yet – if ever – “come to Zion.”
I’ll get back to you when I uncover the names of Brother and Sister Madsen and their pretty little daughter. Because now it has become a point of honor. They need to be known, and remembered.
End of rant.