Much has been written about Pres. Wilford Woodruff’s missionary activities. I re-read this preparing for a talk this weekend on missionary work. This is still borderline unbelievable. This comes from his biography written by Mathew Cowley “We then took the old military road leading from Little Rock to Memphis, Tennessee. This road lay through swamps, and was covered with mud and water most of the way for one hundred and seventy miles. We walked forty miles in a day, through mud and water knee-deep. On the 24th of March, after traveling some ten miles through mud, I was made lame with a sharp pain in my knee, and sat down on a log. My companion, who was anxious to get to his home in Kirtland, left me sitting in an alligator swamp. I did not see him again for two years. I knelt down in the mud and prayed, and the Lord healed me and I went on my way rejoicing.” Really, just down and pray after abandonment by your senior companion? How great of him, then he walks to Memphis and records;
“On the 27th of March I arrived at Memphis, weary and hungry. I went to the best tavern in the place, kept by Mr. Josiah Jackson. I told him I was a stranger and had no money, and asked him if he would keep me over night. He inquired what my business was, and I told him I was a preacher of the gospel. He laughed and said that I did not look much like a preacher. I did not blame him, as most of the preachers he ever had been acquainted with rode on fine horses or in fine carriages, dressed in broadcloth, had large salaries, and would likely see this whole world sink to perdition before they would wade through one hundred and seventy miles of mud to save the people. The landlord wanted a little fun, so said he would keep me if I would preach. He wanted to see if I could preach. I must confess that by this time I became a little mischievous, and pleaded with him not to set me preaching. The more I pleaded to be excused the more determined Mr. Jackson was that I should preach. He took my valise, and the landlady got me a good supper. I sat down in a large hall to eat. Before I got through, the room began to be filled by some of the rich and fashionable people of Memphis, dressed in their broadcloth and silk, while my appearance was such as you can imagine, after traveling through the mud as I had done. When I had finished eating, the table was carried out of the room over the heads of the people. I was placed in the corner of the room, with a stand having a Bible, hymn book, and candle on it, hemmed in by a dozen men, with the landlord in the center. There were present some five hundreds persons, who had come together, not to hear a gospel sermon, but to have some fun. I read a hymn, and asked them to sing. Not a soul would sing a word. I told them I had not the gift of singing; but with the help of the Lord, I would both pray and preach. I knelt down to pray, and the men around me dropped on their knees. I prayed to the Lord to give me His spirit and to show me the hearts of the people. I promised the Lord, in my prayer, that I would deliver to that congregation whatever He would give to me. I arose and spoke one hour and a half, and it was one of the best sermons of my life. The lives of the congregation were open to the vision of my mind, and I told them of their wicked deeds and the reward they would obtain. The men who surrounded me dropped their heads. Three minutes after I closed, I was the only person in the room.
The Lord needs willing people to open their mouths, people who will try much more than he needs people who are good at something. No where is this more true than in missionary work, successful missionaries are those who start talking, and testifying in spite of looking run ragged, or being made fun of. In the Alligator swamp young Wilford earned the right to preach to this group in Memphis, and strengthened his courage to do so.