A company of marching missionaries singing "Called to Serve," as part of the Mormon Battalion mustering-in ceremony re-enactment in Council Bluffs, Iowa, last July, symbolically foreshadowed dramatic progress in the Nebraska Omaha Mission.
The re-enactment was part of the sesquicentennial celebration of the Grand Encampment of Brigham Young's Camp of Israel and the enlistment of the Mormon Battalion. President Gordon B. Hinckley attended the two-day celebration and dedicated the reconstructed Kanesville Tabernacle.For the re-enactment, five companies representing the original battalion members passed in review. A sixth company, including missionaries in the Nebraska Omaha Mission, also marched. The re-enactment was witnessed by a crowd of some 9,500.
"The missionaries headed up what we called the
M company,' " recalled Mission Pres. Jack Bangerter in a telephone interview. "Company M' was not part of the original battalion, but it was in the re-enactment.
"As we marched along, about 100 of us, we sang the song
Called to Serve.' [Hymns, No. 249.] The theme of the whole [Mormon Pioneer] trail just seemed to come alive as we sang. We were applauded just about all the way through. As the missionaries gaveeyes right' to the reviewing stand, there was a feeling that was almost electric. It was just an incredible event in the missionaries' lives."
Previous to the celebration, success in the mission had been "mediocre," Pres. Bangerter said. "We were not accepted generally in some areas, and people were lukewarm in others."
But from the day of the Grand Encampment celebration, progress has been steady, he said. "Our baptisms increased; we were able to get into doors that had previously been closed to us. The people seemed to accept us. They asked us questions. The enthusiasm and the zeal of the whole missionary program seems to be coming along, and that Grand Encampment seemed to be the trigger of it."
His assessment is borne out in the baptismal rate, which has roughly doubled over the months previous to the celebration.
"In [September] we baptized 75 people, more than in any other month in the history of the mission," Pres. Bangerter noted. "Previously, we had struggled around in the 40s; all of a sudden we have about doubled the baptisms."
While the number may not be considered dramatic in some areas, for the Nebraska Omaha Mission, it is significant, he said. "We're doing better than we've ever done before, in numbers as well as obedience, as well as in the spirit in our mission and among the members of the branches and wards. The members are excited about it; there's a great amount of missionary zeal. Everybody's thinking missionary work and getting around to doing it.
"We hope we can keep it up. That's our challenge now."
Help, he said, will come from the construction of the Church's Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters in Omaha, scheduled to open next year. Highway signs directing visitors to the center have already been placed by the states of Iowa and Nebraska and the city of Omaha.
Interest in the missionaries' message has spun off from activities in connection with the wagon trains that trekked from Nauvoo to Council Bluffs last summer.
"As they came into our mission, which stretches about 80 miles into Iowa, we would have missionaries at every stop," Pres. Bangerter related. "We had two couples assigned, family history missionaries, to set up portable computers and help people trace their lineage. We had some talented young people go along who did fiddle playing and harmonica playing. They'd play and sing right by the family history computers."
A residual effect, Pres. Bangerter said, has been increased interest in family history. "We've been invited to various towns to come in and set up and talk about the family history program of the Church."
Missionaries have been invited to come to summer and fall outings in towns from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to McCook, Neb., some 300 miles away, he said. "We go in with our family history missionaries, and we take some missionaries along and do our singing and fiddle playing and provide our music at those outings. People gather around and want to know more about the Church and family history. The influence is spreading west."
Pres. Bangerter said missionaries and local Church members are excited about plans next year to continue the wagon train re-enactment from Council Bluffs and Winter Quarters west toward Salt Lake City. "There is a tremendous amount of activity already throughout the stakes here in Nebraska and Iowa."
The boundaries of the mission extend from Greenfield, Iowa, on the east to Ogallala, Neb., on the west, a distance of about 400 miles.