Episode 34: Church historian Richard Turley and filmmaker Mauli Junior Bonner on the importance of early Black pioneers

This June marks 43 years since President Spencer W. Kimball announced the 1978 revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy male members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Historian Richard E. Turley and creative Mauli Junior Bonner join this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about Black history as an important part of Church history. 

Mauli Junior Bonner is a Grammy award-winning musician, songwriter, and now a first-time film writer, director and producer. His film, “His Name is Green Flake,” explores the life and faith of an enslaved pioneer named Green Flake. Bonner’s deep respect and connection with early African American pioneers inspired him to learn and share their stories. Today we talk about the inspirational early Black members of the Church and the lessons they can teach us.

Transcription

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question: “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast, and this is what I know now.”

This June marks 43 years since President Spencer W. Kimball announced the 1978 revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy male members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Historian Rick Turley and creative Mauli Bonner join this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about Black history as an important part of Church history. 

Rick received a bachelor’s degree in English and a law degree from BYU. He led the Church’s family history and Church history efforts for decades, a job that took him across the globe. Before his retirement, Rick served as both assistant Church historian and as managing director of the Church’s Public Affairs Department.

Mauli Junior Bonner is a Grammy Award-winning musician, songwriter, and now first-time film writer, director and producer. His film, “His Name is Green Flake,” explores the life, faith and true story of an enslaved pioneer. While performing with his family during the Church’s “Be One” celebration in 2018, Mauli’s deep respect and connection with early African American pioneers inspired him to learn and share their stories. 

I’m delighted to welcome Rick and Mauli to this podcast as we talk about Church history and Black history, and the inspirational early members of the Church and the lessons they can teach all of us. Welcome, Rick and Mauli, to the Church News podcast.

2:13  

Mauli Junior Bonner: Thank you. 

Richard E. Turley Jr.: Thank you, Sarah, and welcome, Mauli. Many Latter-day Saints, of course, know about the June 1978 revelation on the priesthood and the tremendous impact that had on the ongoing history of the Church, but relatively few know about the early African American experience in the Church. And you, of course, are an artist, but you encountered that kind of history. Tell us how you encountered that.

2:39

Mauli Junior Bonner: Well, I didn’t know I was going to be given the history when I was given it. It was the “Be One” celebration. My family, the Bonner family, we sing together, and we were asked to sing at the “Be One” celebration that was commemorating the 40th anniversary of the priesthood ban being lifted. And it was an incredible experience. Incredible. During that broadcast, while I’m backstage, I was learning about early Black history in the Church through that celebration, and it was incredible and inspiring. So it was then — and I had heard some things from my mother because she converted the same year I was born, and she spoke of Joseph Smith and how he ran for president on an anti-slavery platform — and learning this new history at the “Be One” celebration changed me, Rick, it made me want to dive in and learn so much more.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: Mauli, you and I were both at the “Be One” event: You as a performer, I as a member of the audience. Some of our audience today will not have heard of that event. Can you just tell us briefly what it was? 

3:51

Mauli Junior Bonner: Yes, it was a wonderful and inspired event. The “Be One” celebration was commemorating that priesthood ban being lifted, and it was a celebration of music and history. It was beautiful, and that’s where I began learning so much about the early Black history in the Church.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: It was an event held in the Conference Center and sponsored by the First Presidency, was it not?

4:14  

Mauli Junior Bonner: Yeah. And it was the most special moment for me — and there’s so many moments during that — but it was being able to sing, and see out in the audience and see tears in our leadership’s eyes and mouths open, and they were basking in the Spirit that I was basking in, and it was just such a beautiful, beautiful event. I think that is probably one of the greatest moments of my life.

The Bonner family sing during “Be One” in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 1, 2018. The event celebrates the 40th anniversary of the 1978 revelation on the priesthood.
The Bonner family sing during “Be One” in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 1, 2018. The event celebrates the 40th anniversary of the 1978 revelation on the priesthood. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Richard E. Turley Jr.: I think many Latter-day Saints don’t realize that that first generation of Church members, the generation of Joseph Smith, included both free and enslaved African Americans. How did it make you feel when you recognized that there weren’t only free African Americans, but also enslaved persons in that first generation?

5:03

Mauli Junior Bonner: So, you would think that learning that would make me say, “Wait, what? In the Church, there were slaves? I’m done. I’m out.” It just makes sense that that would rock my testimony, and it did the opposite. And I didn’t understand it, I didn’t understand why. Why was this strengthening my testimony to learn of these enslaved pioneers who were a part of the early Church and going through those same struggles, including their enslavement? It strengthened me, it made me want to learn more about them, and why they stayed and what their experience was like. So it did not shake me at all, it rooted me.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: Often, when we use the term you just used, “pioneers in the Church,” people don’t stop to realize that we have pioneers all over the globe. Usually that term “pioneers” is reserved for those who crossed the plains in 1847, or who arrived in the Great Basin before 1869. I think relatively few Latter-day Saints recognize that that original pioneer company that crossed the plains and arrived in the valley in July of 1847 included three African Americans. When did you first learn about that?

6:15

Mauli Junior Bonner: So about a month after the “Be One” celebrations — this is 2018 in July — after the celebration, I just dove in. I called historians up — Amy Thiriot, she was so generous with her time in giving me books and sending me where to look for journals, and then she passed me to Paul Reeve, who also would answer questions, and I would have a laundry list of questions, and they would just go through them all. It was during that time that I learned about the many enslaved pioneers. I learned a little bit about Green Flake during the “Be One” celebration, and that was the key that was what opened the door. It was during that next month that I really learned about a large group of people — my people.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: So for those in our audience who have never heard of Green Flake, can you give us just a short biography of him?

7:05

Mauli Junior Bonner: Sure. Green Flake was an enslaved African American who joined the Church at a young age, and at the age of 19, he was sent to be a part of this Vanguard group that Brigham Young put together, this group that would lay down the land to ensure that the thousands to follow can make that pioneer trek. When Brigham Young became ill, he sent that Vanguard group on ahead, a couple days ahead, and Green Flake was leading in that group and trailblazing. 

When they arrived here into the Great Basin, if you can just imagine — if you think your ward had difficulty in 2020 with what was going on in our world, now imagine being in a ward where you have some members who have sold everything and brought their slave labor into Utah, and others who speak out against it. Imagine that. So that is now the new Utah that is supposed to find a way. Fortunately, Green Flake, through Brigham Young, his enslavement was made real, him and Martha through Brigham Young. In 1852, Utah became a slave territory. And so those Saints who came in with their slave labor were able to keep those other LDS members enslaved. Green Flake, right before it became that slave territory, Brigham Young orchestrated his freedom. He was asked to be sent to go do work for his enslavers back in California, and Brigham Young interjected there. I think that’s probably why this connection is so important that I felt between (those) two, because we can Google all we want about comments said from Brigham Young, but what we don’t get to know are some of these nuances. Someone asked me, “So what? Are those redeeming qualities?” And I said, “Maybe, maybe, but we can’t tell the whole story unless we tell the whole story.”

Richard E. Turley Jr.: At some point, you decided to make a film and you had to choose characters for the film. Tell us about that process.

9:15

Mauli Junior Bonner: Yes. So when I was quote unquote “making the film,” I didn’t know I was making a film. I was just reading. I was just engulfed in this incredible history, and my reading turned to writing because I’m a songwriter first, and so the soundtrack was written before any scenes were written. So, as I was reading and learning, songs came to me and I would write the songs, and I thought that most of what I was doing was all centered around Elijah Abel. He’s the more popular name. If you know a little bit about Black history, then odds are you’ve heard about Elijah Abel, one of the early Black priesthood holders. And as time was going on, something changed. I felt this name that I just kind of glanced over, “Green Flake,” because there’s not much on him, jumped out to my spirit, and Brigham Young. I wasn’t learning about Brigham Young, and I wasn’t learning about Green Flake, I was really reading about Elijah Abel. But those two men kept filling my spirit and my mind and my heart to where it was distracting. And so I was like, “Okay, fine. What’s going on with Green Flake and Brigham Young?” And this is after I had written so many songs and 100 pages of scenes, not because I was writing a movie, just because I was writing. And so all of a sudden, that just switched to these two men, and when I switched to them, that’s when I learned their relationship. In the early trek and post-trek arriving in the Great Basin, like you spoke of, I didn’t know at the time that Brigham Young was such a key part in Green Flake attaining his freedom. I had written most of the movie before I found that out. And so it was so interesting as I’m unraveling these stories, the biggest pieces came near the very end.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: So, Mauli, the proceeds of this film are going to go to the construction of a monument. Tell us about that monument.

11:25

Mauli Junior Bonner: Yes, so the money that the viewers spend to see the film goes towards building a monument to honor enslaved and free Black pioneers in the Church, and also honor their contribution — Green Flake and others. We’re right now developing what that looks like.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: I’m a historian by profession, I’ve spent most of my career as a historian writing books. 

Mauli Junior Bonner: Now I’m scared.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: At the same time, one of my degrees is in English, and so I spent much of my educational period getting at truth through fiction. I’ve had the experience of being a historical consultant on numerous films over the decades, and I know that film is often a combination of history and art, and that both of those disciplines are working to get at truth, though through different approaches. Many films that are based on historical subjects include some historical component, and then a lot of interpretation, a lot of license in order to get at that artistic truth. Tell us how you balance those factors in making this film.

Green Flake
Green Flake Credit: Church History Pioneer Database

12:35

Mauli Junior Bonner: Well, I knew that, like I told you, I’m new to this history, I’m just learning. So some of you who may be listening to this are just now learning some of these key factors: early Black pioneers, enslaved African American pioneers. So, because I’m so new to this, and I’m not a historian, that this film was not going to be a history lesson, but it was going to be a lesson about our history. We were going to learn about these individuals that we never thought were a part of some of the faith-building stories that we know of. So (I took) creative licenses throughout because in large part, there’s just so little that you can find on some of these enslaved pioneers, and so you create the stories and the characters and bring them together. So my hope is that when people see this film, they get the same feeling that I got, which was that there were human beings that endured something that I’ll never understand fully or experience, and I can draw strength from them. After the film is over, my hope is that people will want to learn more, and then they tap into the “Rick Turley” side and get all of the facts and can just dive in to add to those faith-building stories that they already have.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: In our correspondence back and forth, you have pointed out that there have been enslaved individuals in the scriptures who have endured the challenges that they have faced, and as a consequence of that, provide inspiration for all of us. Do you want to talk a little bit about that for a moment?

14:11

Mauli Junior Bonner: Yes, I do. I mean, if I’m being honest, Rick, I was asked the question: “So why is this important to white people?” And my response was: When we think of Joseph of Egypt; and the Jews of Israel; and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; Daniel in the lion’s den; they, too, shared portions of their life enslaved, like Green Flake and others, and we would not dream of removing their enslavement from their story. We draw strength from that. Not because they’re the same complexion, culture, race, right? It’s because they’re faith-building stories. Here, now we have new individuals who are so close to home, who also endured some things that we’ll never understand, and I know that my testimony was so strengthened by that. As I work in my Church callings, and now that the bishopric is focused on the youth, the youth have so many questions. They’re so full of faith and vigor and passion. What I don’t want is for that to be misplaced because of something they read on Google, an argument they had at school — I want them to be able to hear and feel of these stories the same way I did, so that they can be strengthened in this. So that’s a large reason why I made the film.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: I was blessed, with you present, to see an early debut of the film. And I remember that when the film ended, and you got up and spoke about it, you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium, because it was such a strong sense of that meaning that you’re trying to communicate through combining history and art. The film itself brings people together, perhaps in ways that don’t have a historical basis, but are very, very powerful. Can you talk about some of the enslaved individuals who are portrayed in the film?

16:07

Mauli Junior Bonner: Yes. Well, Green Flake for one, and we also get to know Biddy Mason who came on that pioneer trek and we also know of Hark Lay and Oscar Crosby. And those two were in that Vanguard group that you spoke of, that advanced group. Jacob and Henry, who were also enslaved members who were sent to help lay down the trek and to just trek. Like I said, when I was writing, I wasn’t writing a film, I was just writing. And so we have so many characters that come into the film and get to know them. And I didn’t know until near the end, when I was like, “Okay, now wait,” because it was a couple hundred pages of something. And I said, “I think this is a film.” And then right away, it was like, “Oh, it’s a film. Okay, we’ll shoot it in two months,” because I didn’t know how things go.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: Tell us how you came about getting the actors to portray these important historical figures.

17:08

Mauli Junior Bonner: I just started calling folks. I called Alex Boyé first, and I was like, “Alex, I wrote this film screenplay. And we’re gonna shoot it in a couple months in December. Will you have a read?” He’s like, “Oh, yeah, sure. Sure.” And he read it, and I did the same thing with Casey Elliott, Dallyn Bayles and Leah Rose. 

So I’m in music, and so these actors also are in music, and my family. And Alex got back to me: “Man, this is incredible, man! I’ll be able to do this right now.” You know, I sound like Sebastian when I do him, but it’s not Sebastian from “The Little Mermaid,” it’s Alex Boyé, and he’s just so excited. It was not just Alex — it trickled down. It was Casey Elliott, Dallyn Bayles, they’re like, “I’m in! When and where?” And that’s just more confirmation that this was the right thing and something that was needed now and that people wanted.

Alex Boyé sings during the commemoration of the revelation on the priesthood being available to all worthy men in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City June 8, 2008.
Alex Boyé sings during the commemoration of the revelation on the priesthood being available to all worthy men in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City June 8, 2008. Credit: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News, Deseret News

Richard E. Turley Jr.: When you see something occur in the way you’ve described, just organically all of the pieces coming together, particularly when you’re dealing with something that relates to the Church and its early history, it does have that feeling that this is the right thing to do. Tell us about your spiritual impressions as you made this film, as you began your songwriting. And it sounds like it was a line upon line, precept upon precept kind of development. Is that correct?

18:31

Mauli Junior Bonner: Yes. Yes, absolutely. This was a faith-building journey for me, because it was a space — and this is not the only reason why, but — this is a space that I didn’t know. I’m not a filmmaker. Somehow, I made this film. And I knew it had to be done. That’s all that I knew. And so each thing I was doing was my first time doing it, each step I took was my first step in that direction. And so as I’m taking that step, not knowing if there’s going to be a ground underneath me, it would just appear. And so my walk turned into running, because as the Lord trusted that I would step, I trusted that the Lord would open the door. So even though I see the closed door in front of me and I’m running full speed, as I approached it, it would swing wide open, and consistently over and over. Three weeks before we’re about to film, I had no location, no crew, no anything. I’m just flying on the plane with my mom. And I don’t get to see my mother often, so I just want to talk to my mom and somebody on the plane and he’s a nervous flier. He wants to talk to me and I’m like, “Oh, goodness, please, guy. I just want to spend time with my mom.” And he just constantly talking, and I’m almost turning my back to him. “Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yeah, OK. OK.” At the end of the flight, he says “Well, anyway, I loved hearing about your film. You should come shoot it here in Fort Buenaventura in Ogden.” Now, I’m like, “OK, I’m not calling that guy or whatever else.” I thought I had a place where I was going to shoot. 

Everything fell through that I thought I was going to do. And then I remembered that guy in the plane. And I was like, “Gosh, did I give him my number?” I checked my email, and I emailed him. And he said, “Hey, well, when are you coming in? I’ll show you the place.” I flew in the next day. He showed me the place and it was everything. It was the land that Brigham Young walked on. It gave everything that the film needed — every cabin, every scene was there. And, that’s just one of the small miracles along the way.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: As you went from this process from the beginning to the point where the film was completed, who did you see as the audience?

20:40

Mauli Junior Bonner: Well, this is what I want, and what I want doesn’t matter. It’s whatever the Lord wants. That’s what needs (to) and (what) will happen, right? My personal desire is that Church history, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our rich history can be a part of American history. And so those outside of the Church need to know about this, because my favorite films are period dramas about religion. And this religion needs to be a part of the American stories that are told. That is the first part. And the other part is that Black history; in particular, African American History is a part of the stories that we tell within the Church, about our history. So it was a two-fold mission. And so I wanted to go outside-in — I wanted to go outside first, and I did. I threw it to film festivals just not knowing how it would be received.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: What was the reaction?

21:40

Mauli Junior Bonner: I thought that maybe they didn’t see the film and didn’t know that we’re talking about Church members here. But it won Best Film in LA out of all these films, multi-million dollar films, and we were a shoestring budget. Best Film in LA, Best Film in London, Istanbul, Rome, Venice, Tampa, it was winning so many awards. And that told me that the story of our Church needs to be told outside of our Church, and it needs all of our stories to be a part of it.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: You’ve also shown it to people inside the Church. What’s their reaction been?

22:18

Mauli Junior Bonner: Same thing — I wasn’t sure, and the reaction was my same reaction at the “Be One” celebration. It was, “you’re full of the Spirit and love. You’re open, and you want to learn more.” And many felt like, “Gosh, what? Why haven’t I known?” Well, now you have an opportunity to learn more. Now, we can learn more, not because things weren’t shown to me (or) things were hidden from me. I just never thought to look. I never thought to search. And so this film is going to open up a whole door of stories that we need today, especially in today’s age.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: Many people travel to Temple Square, to downtown Salt Lake, and they see the Cyrus Dallin monument to the early pioneers. There, you have a sculpture of an explorer, you have a sculpture of a native person, and then you have Brigham Young and a listing of all of the members of that original pioneer company, including Green Flake and Hark Lay and Oscar Crosby, but very few people focus in on that. Is it your hope that the film will help bring focus to these people who have been there all along, but have been largely neglected, as though their voices have not been heard?

23:38 

Mauli Junior Bonner: Yes. I know that’s going to happen. And I know that we all want that. Everyone — from the top to the new babies coming into this earth — we all want that, and I think it’s somehow something that we missed. We didn’t realize how important and how needed that visual representation needs to be. So when people come and see, because they come, they need to know about all of our history, and that it needs to come from us, not from those who don’t want to learn about us or don’t care about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It needs to come from those of us within the faith.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: Years ago, I had a very interesting experience. It was in the 1990s, and I was invited by the Church Educational System leaders to make a presentation to their zone administrators from around the world. I laid out a couple of tables. I put on them some of the early treasures of the Church, what I call the “root and trunk treasures”: Those would be the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, early editions of the scriptures and so forth. And then I also brought out the first treasures for what you might call the branches that go off of the trunk; the earliest letters or documents or scriptures from a particular part of the world. And after making a historical presentation, I invited the audience to come up, because I wanted to see whether they went, first of all, to the root and trunk portions, or whether they went to where their particular tree branched off from the trunk. What do you think the result was?

25:15

Mauli Junior Bonner: My guess is the branch.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: Yes, the majority of the people there went directly to their branch. To me, what it spoke was the importance of needing relevance as a Black member of the Church. What relevance do you hope that other Black members of the Church — which today might number as much as a million if you include Africa, Brazil and so forth — what do you hope they take away from this film?

Performers talk about early Black Church members during the “Be One” in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 1, 2018. The event celebrates the 40th anniversary of the 1978 revelation on the priesthood.
Performers talk about early Black Church members during the “Be One” in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 1, 2018. The event celebrates the 40th anniversary of the 1978 revelation on the priesthood. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Deseret News

25:41

Mauli Junior Bonner: That they are seen, that their people were a part of the Restoration — and not just a part of, but loved. That early Church members were willing to be run out of town, murdered on their behalf, so that they, too, could be equal in this faith. That is the foundation of this restored gospel, and I want them to have pride and ownership of it. 

And the visual representation is so important. I don’t know of anyone, any Church, any person, who speaks out against racism like our leadership does. They lead out, and I want their words to be validated by the visual representation of our history. When I’m asked, “Why do you stay? Why do you stay, knowing this history?” I stay in America, and the history is rough for my people. My great-grandfather was enslaved, and I stay. But we need to make sure that we also have a place to tell the Black history, so that when we do learn it, we’re learning it from us, celebrating these people who were a part of the Restoration.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: As one of those who created the “Saints” project, (the) four-volume history of the Church, I know that that series includes Black members, including enslaved members. What else do you hope is done in the Church to tell this early history and to remember these important pioneers who sacrificed so much for their faith?

27:33

Mauli Junior Bonner: That’s a fantastic question. I think the education is so important. People need to have the tools to learn and to teach. Otherwise, we fill in the blanks. 

I had a conversation with a couple of missionaries, wonderful missionaries. I love my missionaries, anytime I can ride with them, I ride with them. We were talking about Black history and I said, “Well, what do you think? What do you guys say when you’re talking to Black members? What do you say?” They said, “Well, maybe it was for the protection of the Black members.” And I had to say, “Enslavement?” They hadn’t even thought that far. They’re just trying to fill in the blanks, and we need to not individually try to fill in the blanks in this history, so that we don’t have missionaries, teachers who are just called to be teachers, seminary teachers, who are having to find a way to explain it. They should have the tools to know how to talk about it, how to lead forward as we address these sensitive parts of our history. So it’s the educational part, it’s the history part that we need.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: In order to get that education, in order to write those histories, people, of course, have to be aware of these important figures. And I believe that your film will help make many people aware of it. Thank you very much for creating it.

28:43

Mauli Junior Bonner: Well, it’s such a blessing, such a blessing. And I appreciate you, as a historian, being able to connect to the humanity in it, because I know that when we did that private screening, I was asking historians to take your hat off, and I think it was glued to everybody’s head. So I just asked them to just turn it to the side a little bit, you know?

Richard E. Turley Jr.: Yes, historians who want to see it as purely history, of course, are not going to see that — they’re going to see a combination of history and art. And as one who appreciates both of those vehicles for getting at truth, I enjoyed the film very much, and I encourage people to watch it.

29:15

Mauli Junior Bonner: Thank you so much for that.

Richard E. Turley Jr.: Thanks for being here today.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Thank you so much for joining us today. We have a tradition at the Church News podcast where we always give our guests the last word, and today, I’d love to give both of you the last word. We have all of our guests answer the same question: “What do I know now?” And so, Rick, can you start and tell us what you know now after studying the history of the Church for so many years, and share your testimony? And then, Mauli, we’d love for you to do the same, and tell us how learning about the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has strengthened your testimony.

29:55

Richard E. Turley Jr.: When I was born in the mid-20th century, the Church was principally an American Church, and more particularly, a Utah Church — most of its members were clustered in the Great Basin. I never saw an African American Church member in my early years. It took until I was later in life until I did that. When I became a historian, I very quickly encountered very important African American early members: Elijah Abel, Green Flake and others. And I began to see at that point of fulfillment of what I had read, but not seen, in the scriptures: that God’s children include all people — Black and white, bond and free, male and female — and that He treats them the same. And that as I was growing up and saw the priesthood ban and had friends who were African American, it was difficult for me to see the ban and yet see this scriptural expression of God treating all the same. And so, like so many of us who are old enough to remember when the ban was lifted, I remember how we rejoiced at that moment and how tears flowed, and we recognized that finally, our Black brothers and sisters around the world would have all of the blessings of the gospel. As with the revelation that Peter received in Acts, in which the gospel was opened up to all the world; now, suddenly, we could see that same gospel taken throughout the earth without any type of restriction. 

All of us at times struggle with challenges of various types, but when we work our way through those challenges and express our faith despite those challenges, I really think that’s where our faith is tested. Faith isn’t tested when we’re sitting in the pew in sacrament meeting, feeling the Spirit along with everyone else. Faith is tested when we are in the crucible; when we’re experiencing the fiery furnace of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; when we’re experiencing crossing the plains like Green Flake as an enslaved Church member, who’s doing work on behalf of enslavers; to go through experiences that are extraordinarily difficult and then maintain your faith is really the expression of that faith. And so I would like to just include my testimony that I believe that God is concerned about all of His children globally and knows the challenges that we’re facing, and we all face them of different types, but that He is determined, through the process of testing, to refine us. And ultimately, at some point, He removes from us the challenges that we face, He wipes away the tears and He comforts us with welcoming arms, preparing us for that final day when He can say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

32:47

Mauli Junior Bonner: Thank you for that. I think for me, what I know now, what I didn’t know before and what I know now is that you don’t have to know what to do to do what needs to be done — you just have to begin the work, and the Lord will reveal the path if we just start walking, start moving in the direction we need to go in. 

When I think of that beautiful temple that’s being renovated right now — and knowing that there were enslaved members and other free African American pioneers contributing to building that temple, knowing that it was about reuniting families was a big part of that work (and) that was the one thing that they had no control over. For them to contribute to that and not be able to realize their families being reunited in their lifetime, to not see the outcome, but to have faith that the Lord’s will be done — that strengthens me so much. That should strengthen everyone. We will never understand fully what kind of faith that takes. 

And I do know now that this work that I’m doing, it’s going to happen with or without me. The Lord’s work will be done. I’m doing all I can to stay a part of it as long as I can, as far as I can go. But there are many children He is using; many, many children He is using for this work, this monument. Had I known in the beginning that this was about a monument, I never would have made a film. I would have raised money and built the monument somewhere. I never would have made the film to tell the stories. So I know that for me, I didn’t realize I needed an anchor, a temporal anchor outside of the restored gospel, something visually something here on earth that I can anchor to when things are hard. And this monument, this story of Green Flake strengthened my testimony. So when I am weak, I have other people that I can lean on. I know that now, and that is something that I will never lose.

35:23

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor, Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you’ve learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast, and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.