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An unlikely missionary's experiences

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 15 2010 6:00 a.m. MST

I was thumbing through Eliza R. Snow's biography of her brother Lorenzo for a quote about Brigham City when I hit upon a 15-page missionary report filed in 1875 in Brigham City by Eli H. Pierce.

His report seems to come out of nowhere in the book. In fact, the only reason I can see for including it was because Eliza Snow was a big fan of interesting people and clever writing. It's as if she didn't want the thing to get lost in the dustbin of history.

I'm glad she stuck it in her book.

Elder Pierce was one of a kind.

He begins by wondering why in the world he was ever called on a mission. "I had become almost an inveterate smoker," he writes, "and bought cigars by wholesale, a thousand at a time … (I) frequently visited saloons (and) was not proficient at billiards, but squandered considerable money in acquiring what little knowledge I possessed of the game."

What's more, he says, "A phrenologist once said to me: 'You are too level-headed to ever make a sanctimonious church member.'"

But while one of his employees was attending stake conference, he heard Eli's named called from the pulpit to serve a mission. The man ran to the office to tell Eli of the news. He was stunned.

"At the very moment this intelligence was being flashed over the wires," he says, "I was sitting lazily thrown back in an office rocking chair, my feet on the desk, reading a novel and simultaneously sucking an old Dutch pipe, of massive proportions, just to vary the monotony of cigar smoking."

But, he says, he "threw the novel in the waste basket, the pipe in a corner" and began to get himself ready to go. It wasn't easy.

"Some of my companions ridiculed me for entertaining sentimental thoughts," he explains, "some mocked and derided, whilst others predicted that I would tire of working for glory before I had been out six months, and seek my level by uniting with some comedy troupe or minstrel show."

But, he says, "I was rebaptised, confirmed, set apart, ordained a Seventy and started on my mission."

And it was a mission for the books, filled with miracles, manifestations.

He saw the great Edwin Booth perform "Hamlet" in New York City. He baptized in the Susquehanna River.

He visited the Prophet's widow and slept in the room where the Prophet Joseph had slept.

"We interviewed Mrs. Emma Smith Bideman," he writes, "and sought to draw her out. She was not at all communicative, but enough was elicited to know that she felt keenly the one false and fatal step of her life — that of leaving the Church."

At the end of his report he tallies up the fruits of his labors. Along with 108 baptisms, he says, he blessed 37 children, organized five branches, traveled 9,870 miles, held 249 meetings and performed a marriage.

Total cost of his mission: $1,320.

But, as the TV commercial puts it, the experiences were priceless.

"And now," he concludes, "after years have passed, I repeat, in words of soberness and in all sincerity, that the happiest period of my life, as well as the most profitable, was spent in the Master's service."

Would that the world had a few more people like Eli Pierce in it.

And would that a few more people were like Eliza R. Snow, willing to commit things to paper — even if they come out of left field — just so the wind won't blow them away.

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