In relating the following incident, which took place in Sawdust, Tennessee, shortly after entering the missionary field, I realize the dark pessimistic side of the situation may tend to overshadow the really important thing – the joy and thanksgiving that comes to the soul when one realizes that God watches over and opens the way for us when we are in His service and trust to His care. Traveling without purse or scrip as I did the entire time of my missionary work, I found it necessary to place my trust in my Heavenly Father’ and when I did so in faith and humility, the Lord provided for my needs.
When I first entered the missionary field, I was assigned to work in Murray County, Tennessee, with W. T. Ogden. Brother Ogden, a young man about twenty-one years of age, had been in the field about sixteen months when I arrived and was assigned to work with him. He was a very faithful and energetic elder. President Kimball specifically told us to canvass Columbia City, the County Seat of Murray County, before going into the country districts. Columbia City had a population of about ten thousand people and was one of the most beautiful cities that I saw in Tennessee.
It was about thirty-five miles from Columbia City that Elders Gibbs and Barry were cruelly massacred. While they were holding a Sunday morning meeting, a vicious mob walked in and shot them down in cold-blooded murder. We were the first two elders sent into Murray or Hickman Counties after the killing. While my companion and I met a great deal of opposition, it was really remarkable how the Lord opened a way for us to obtain food and lodging every day.
After completing our canvass of Columbia City, Brother Ogden and I began canvassing the outlying country districts. In a few days we reached Sawdust, a small town of about one hundred families. It derived its name from the fact that there were several sawmills in its vicinity. Although there was some farming land surrounding the town, most of the men were employed in the sawmills.
We were received kindly by the people and obtained permission to hold a meeting in their schoolhouse. We felt that we were very successful in our canvass and extended it into the surrounding country. For two days we canvassed and invtied the people to attend our meeting.
On the afternoon of the day we were to hold our meeting, we were about five miles from Sawdust. We walked back, however, and upon arriving called at the postoffice. On our previous visit the postmaster had been very kind to us; but on this occasion, he seemed very cold and indifferent toward us.
Finally the postmaster said, “Gentleman, I have a very unpleasant mission to perform. At the time you were here making your canvass our local minister was in Texas. He returned the day you left; and upon learning of your being here and of the success you met with, he called on the trustees and got them to rescind their permission for you to hold your meeting in our schoolhouse.”
“Not only that, but he saddled his horse and called on every family in this neighborhood and got every housewife to promise him that they would not give you food or lodging. He also visited the men who were working the poll tax and spent the noon hour with them.
“He told us all about the wickedness of the Mormon people in Utah and what your object is in coming out here. You are nothing but wolves in sheep’s clothing and are out here to induce our women and girls to leave their homes and go to Utah, where they will be made wives and slaves of Mormon men.”
When the postmaster had finished his harangue, my companion asked him whre this minister lived.
“See that little house sitting back from the road,” replied the postmaster, pointing to a house about a quarter of a mile away. “That is where he lives.”
“Come on, Brother Hickenlooper,” said my companion, “and we’ll find out what is the matter with this minister.”
We started out toward his house as fast as we could walk, for it was getting late. On entering the Minister’s gate, he came rushing out of his house and began motioning for us to get off his place. I stopped and was ready to turn back; but my companion continued on, so I followed.
“Get off my place! Get off my place!” continued the minister, yelling and swinging his arms and at the same time running toward us. Upon reaching us, he was white with rage. My companion asked him what the matter was.
“Get off my place, you fiends! I’dont want to have anything to do with you. I would rather have a man with smallpox or leprosy on my place than you devils. Get off!”
We could see that it would do no good to try to talk with the man, so we left without further conversation.
By this time it was getting dark and was starting in to rain. The situation looked very serious to me, for I recalled that the postmaster had said there were no families for miles around that the minister had not visited. We started out to seek a place, however, but passed house after house, neither of us feeling that there was any use of asking for entertainment. By the time we reached the outskirts of the little town, it was thundering and lightning and raining very hard. My companion stopped and speaking slowly said:
“Elder Hickenlooper, the proper thing for us to do is to lay this matter before the Lord.”
We then knelt down, and my companion offered a most wonderful prayer. In it he outlined how we had been called by the Lord’s servants to perform His work, and in the performance of our duties how we had been caught in the storm. He plead with the Lord to direct us where to go to obtain food and the night’s lodging. Upon arising to our feet, my companion turned to me.
“Have you any impressions on where to go?” he asked.
“None,” I replied. “If you have any, let’s follow them.”
“See that road,” said my companion pointing just opposite to where we had knelt, to a little road which neither of us had noticed before. “That is the one for us to follow.”
Branching off from the main one, the smaller road lead up and over a hill. Following it we soon came to the brow of the hill where we could see not very far away a house with lights bright and cheerful gleaming through its windows.
“There is where we stay to-night.” said my companion, pointing to the lighted house.
Upon approaching closer we could make out the outlines of a large white house, and the lights from insdie peircing through the rain and the darkness warmed and cheered our hearts. Upon reaching the house my companion knocked at the door, and a gentleman answered. My companion started to explain who we were.
“Oh, you needn’t spend you r time telling me; I know who you are,” said the gentleman. “Tellme, though, who sent you here?”
“No one,” replied my companion. “This is the first place we have called to-night.”
“Oh, yes,” said the other in a doubtful and questioning attitude. “That will do to tell someone who doesn’t know better.”
My companion tried again to assure him that this was the first place we had called at that night.
“Is this the first house you have called at?” he asked, turning to me. I assured him that it was. “Well, wait a minutes,” he said as he turned and went into the house. After what seemed ten or fifteen minutes, he returned and said, “Com in, Gentlemen.”
On entering the house, we found a blazing backlog fire in an open fireplace. We stood before it and dried our clothing as best we could. Our host excused himself and went into the kitchen. After a short time he returned and began again to question us.
“Gentlemen, now that you are comfortable, I want you to tell me the truth. Who sent you here?”
Again my companion assured him that this was the first house we had inquired at. “Just what makes you think that someone sent us here,” he inquired, “and why are you so anxious to know.”
“Well,” replied our host, “the other day a bunch of us men were working a poll tax on the road and the local minister spent the noon hour with us. During that time he told the most outrageous stories about the wickedness of your people that had ever been thought of. And then before he left, he obtained the promise of every man there except myself that they would not take you men into their homes and give you entertainment. I would not give him my promise to not take you in; and I told him that while I had never been to Salt Lake City, I had been in Ogden, Utah. I stopped there while making a business trip to Washington and Oregon. As far as I could see, the Mormons whom I met while in Ogden were as fine a people as I had ever met; and for that reason I would not give the minister my promise.
“He also called on my wife and obtained her promise to not take you in. I had quite a hard time convincing her that it would be all right to take you in. She is now in the kitchen preparing something for you to eat.”
It wasn’t very long before his good wife invited us to sit down to a very nice meal which we did justice to.
It fell to my lot that night on retiring to offer thanks, and in the deepest humility of my heart I praised my Father in Heaven for His guiding care and protection over us.
As I look back over this experience now, I feel that my companion and I should have told our host of our prayer during the evening when he was questioning us as to who sent us to his house and impressed upon him the fact that it was the Lord. Without a doubt I know that God directed us to this one man in all that vicinity who would open his heart to us and take us into his home. Although he was called a “sinner” by his neighbors because he wouldn’t confess Christ nor join any of their denominations, he was to me more of a Christian than they. Many times I have been met by such men as he who would say, “I am a sinner, but come in. I have never turned any man away from my door.” With the thunder and the lightning and the rain beating down on us and knowing the feeling of the people toward us, our anxiety was indeed great. And then, to have the Lord open up a way for our care and protection gave me a feeling of the utmost joy and thanksgiving.
Such experiences as the above in which God made manifest His care and power in my behalf were to me a source of great joy and happiness; in fact, as I look back over those two years, I can say that they were the happiest years of my life.
– C. A. Hickenlooper
March 22, 1933