Learn about Elder Neil L. Andersen’s reflections on Joseph Smith after visiting Church historic sites in Eastern United States

As Elder Neil L. Andersen traveled to Latter-day Saint historic sites in the Eastern United States Aug. 27-29, he thought about the Prophet Joseph Smith and the life the early leader “lived in crescendo.”

While the Prophet Joseph had powerful and personal moments with the Father, the Son and other heavenly tutors, he also lost children, had friends leave him and dealt with physical and financial challenges. He experienced “extreme euphoria and extreme sadness,” said Elder Andersen.

Elder Andersen and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, visited Kirtland, Ohio; Palmyra, New York; and Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania — meeting with community leaders, addressing missionaries and examining the Church history sites that are now part of Elder Andersen’s assignment as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Along the way, they reflected on the life and mission of Joseph Smith and other early Latter-day Saints.

Palmyra, New York

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, pose in the Sacred Grove, during their tour of Church historic sites in the Eastern United States, Aug. 27-29, 2021.
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, pose in the Sacred Grove, during their tour of Church historic sites in the Eastern United States, Aug. 27-29, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Two centuries ago, Joseph Smith knelt in a grove of trees near Palmyra and saw the Father and Son. He received the Book of Mormon on Hill Cumorah, and the sacred text would later be published in Palmyra. In 2020, President Russell M. Nelson introduced a new proclamation to the world, “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” in the Sacred Grove.

For years the site has been a popular destination for Latter-day Saints — especially in summer months during the Hill Cumorah pageant. With the completion of the pageant in 2019, the Church is now engaging in a long-term project to both rehabilitate and preserve the sacred historic site.

“Cumorah is in the middle of transition,” said Elder Andersen, as natural trails are replacing paved roads, and thousands of trees are being planted.

Read more: How the Church plans to rehabilitate the Hill Cumorah historic site

Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during a sacrament meeting held with missionaries inside the historical Joseph and Emma Smith home at the Priesthood Restoration Site in Oakland Township (Susquehanna), Pennsylvania, on Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021.
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during a sacrament meeting held with missionaries inside the historical Joseph and Emma Smith home at the Priesthood Restoration Site in Oakland Township (Susquehanna), Pennsylvania, on Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Emma Smith was raised in Susquehanna County, where Joseph translated much of the Book of Mormon and John the Baptist appeared to Joseph and Oliver Cowdery to restore the Aaronic Priesthood to the earth. Joseph and Oliver also baptized each other in the Susquehanna River.

During their recent visit, Elder and Sister Andersen participated in a sacrament meeting with missionaries in the replica of Joseph and Emma Smith’s home. “It was very meaningful to be there,” said Elder Andersen.

Kirtland, Ohio

From left, Sister Marilyn and Elder Gary Walton, Elder Neil L. Andersen and Sister Kathy Anderson in front of the Kirtland Temple, during the Andersens' tour of Church historic sites in the Eastern United States, Aug. 27-29, 2021.
From left, Sister Marilyn and Elder Gary Walton, Elder Neil L. Andersen and Sister Kathy Anderson in front of the Kirtland Temple, during the Andersens’ tour of Church historic sites in the Eastern United States, Aug. 27-29, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Joseph Smith received dozens of revelations in Kirtland — the headquarters of the Church during the 1830s and the site of the Church’s first latter-day temple, built by Saints “in the depth of poverty.” In the days following the temple’s dedication, the Lord appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Moses, Elijah and Elias also appeared and delivered divine keys essential to gathering Israel and sealing God’s family together.

The era was also marked by personal hardship, economic difficulty, apostasy and persecution.

Standing at the Church’s historic Johnson Farm in Hiram, Ohio — Elder Andersen contemplated the vision Joseph received on the site. Recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 76, Joseph and Sidney Rigdon saw God the Father and Jesus Christ and learned of the kingdoms of glory. It was also here where he was pulled from his home and tarred and feathered and where he buried his adopted son.

The Lord’s work

After walking these historic sites, Elder Andersen said there is great value in knowing that Joseph Smith was divinely tutored. “These things happened and they happened in these places. Standing on the same ground and remembering what happened here builds our faith.

From left, Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen; New York and Pennsylvania Historic Sites President Terry J. Spallino; and Sister Linda J. Spallino pose in front of the historical Joseph and Emma Smith home at the Priesthood Restoration Site in Oakland Township (Susquehanna), Pennsylvania, on Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021.
From left, Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen; New York and Pennsylvania Historic Sites President Terry J. Spallino; and Sister Linda J. Spallino pose in front of the historical Joseph and Emma Smith home at the Priesthood Restoration Site in Oakland Township (Susquehanna), Pennsylvania, on Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“These are the paths Joseph walked,” he said. “There is power in bringing the revelations to reality.”

Thinking of the efforts of so many to purchase and restore the historic sites, Elder Andersen added, “I was deeply moved by how the Lord has normal people take on great projects.”

Elder and Sister Andersen met with Brother Karl and Sister Joyce Anderson in Kirtland. In the 1970s and 1980s, Brother and Sister Anderson took steps to help preserve historic Kirtland, work all the Church can now appreciate.

The sites stand as a literal testimony that the “work of the Lord is not thwarted,” said Elder Andersen.

Over and over again in the early Church, critics thought the Church could not move forward.

“Many times people thought it was the end of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it never was. Even though there was enormous difficulty, the Church moved forward. There was always another chapter. The Lord always provided the means. The kingdom of God had a destiny to fulfill just as it does today. Joseph’s words ring in our ears: ‘No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing.’”

From left, Elder Karl and Sister Joyce Anderson pose with Elder Neil L. Andersen and Sister Kathy Andersen in Kirtland, Ohio.
From left, Elder Karl and Sister Joyce Anderson pose with Elder Neil L. Andersen and Sister Kathy Andersen in Kirtland, Ohio. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints