Sarah Jane Weaver: How Elder Rasband knows the pioneer legacy of faith in central Utah continues today

On Oct. 27, 2018 , Elder Ronald A. Rasband received an assignment to meet with Church leaders in Manti, Utah.

Since 1967, local Latter-day Saints had hosted in the “Mormon Miracle Pageant” on the grassy hill below the Manti Utah Temple. The pageant reenacted stories of the Restoration, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and the journey of faithful pioneers to the Sanpete Valley.

It drew tens of thousands to the area annually and had fortified the testimonies of generations of participants.

Standing in the historic Manti Tabernacle last week, Elder Rasband’s thoughts returned to that historic 2018 meeting, attended by local stake presidents and members of the pageant committee — including its president.  

“We sat right here,” said Elder Rasband, pointing to the wooden pews in front of him.

He recalled telling the group he had come on assignment from the First Presidency. He hesitated a brief second before communicating that the Church planned to discontinue the Manti pageant in two years.

A few heads went down when they heard the news. There was no question that the congregation was disappointed. But then the heads came back up.

“Their response is one I will always remember,” Elder Rasband said. “The president of the pageant stood, and said, ‘Elder Rasband, you take back to President [Russell M.] Nelson and all of your Brethren that Manti has prophet-believing, God-fearing, Christ-centered people. If this is the direction that has come, this is exactly what we’ll do.’ ”

The council decided they would not wait to implement the direction. The upcoming pageant would be the final pageant.

Children from around San Pete county, Utah come to the Manti Utah Temple grounds early on June 21 to
Children from around Sanpete County, Utah come to the Manti Utah Temple grounds early on June 21 to clean up any leftover trash from the Mormon Miracle Pageant. | Savannah Hopkinson

The Manti Pageant ended after 52 seasons, in 2019.

The legacy of faith and obedience has been part of Manti from its earliest days.

History records that Hans Hansen of Manti was plowing his fields in 1877 when he was notified that his oxen were wanted on Temple Hill — the site Brigham Young had dedicated for a temple in the Sanpete Valley.

With tangible faith, he left his fields and drove the oxen to the site. For the next two years, he and other pioneering Latter-day Saints dug and scraped — eventually using 875 pounds of gun powder to dislodge 4,600 tons of earth from the site.

In total they spent more than 11 years on the site — cutting stone by drilling holes and filling them with water that would eventually freeze and crack the rock. While one man worked at the temple, his neighbor would run two farms. Later they would trade places.

The 74,792-square-foot temple cost $991,991.81. Members of the local Sanpete Stake raised $274,815.05 of that.

President Wilford Woodruff, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, dedicated the temple on May 21, 1888, asking the Lord to remember their sacrifices. “Show favor unto all who have helped to forward this work by good wishes, good words or good deeds,” he prayed.

On May 1, President Russell M. Nelson spoke of this “stalwart part of the Lord’s vineyard” while announcing plans to preserve the “pioneer craftsmanship, artwork and character” of the Manti Utah Temple and to construct a second temple in the area in Ephraim, Utah. The Ephraim temple is the 70th temple announced by President Nelson in the last three and half years.

Elder Rasband — whose own ancestors settled the area — said the “divine announcement” brought two words to his mind, “joy and rejoicing.” He said the Manti temple preservation efforts and construction of a new temple for Ephraim came by revelation to President Nelson and reflect the “mind, will and direction of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

After the event Elder Rasband walked through the Ephraim cemetery thinking about half his lineage who came from Denmark and settled in the Sanpete Valley “at great personal peril.” He also ate lunch with young adults who are part of the Snow College institute council. The college is in Ephraim.

It was in every way a day marked by a desire to preserve the pioneer legacy of faith that runs deep in the area. It was also a day of looking forward and glimpsing how that faith will continue to define future generations. “This is a day of rejoicing and joy on both sides of the veil,” he said.

Elder Ronald A. Rasband, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks at the Manti Tabernacle in Manti on Saturday, May 1, 2021. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
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