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Script by Gay Slade
This is better for senior Primary. Have a leader read the Dan (or Danielle) Rather part and assign older children who can read well to the other parts. After the news conference has ended, have the children write a head line and a lead sentence or two about what happened.
a name tag for each character)
DR=Dan or Danielle Rather
Joseph Smith, Senior
Peter Whitmer, Jr.
DR: Hello, welcome to our news conference today. Thank you to Stanford for hosting us. I'm Danielle Rather, recently back from Bosnia, because of this incredible story happening today, right here in Palo Alto, CA. As many of you know, the Book of Mormon has been around for about 168 years in English. At the time it was published there were testimonies about it from 11 different witnesses printed in the book. Now we have here, today, all 11 of those witnesses to tell us again their marvelous story. As members of the working press, you had better take good notes, and remember what they say, because you know when this news conference is over you will have to go back to your papers and write the article to tell the world about this incredible happening.
DR: (walking into audience) Our witnesses are naturally a bit shy. They have all been dead at least 100 years, so we look a bit strange to them. Ah, here's one. (Place name tag on child.) Mr. Oliver Cowdery, won't you please come up to the front. (Finding 2 other children and giving them nametags.) And here are Mr. David Whitmer and Mr. Martin Harris. Thank you for joining us today, gentlemen. Let's speak first to Brother Harris. Tell us a little about your experiences with Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
Martin Harris: Many of you are aware that I knew Joseph Smith as a young man. I was impressed with him, and hired him to work for me on my farm. He trusted me with his story about the angel Moroni and the gold plates. I was very much impressed and gave him $50 to help with the work. I also became his scribe as he translated the first 116 pages. Unfortunately, due to my own pride and disobedience as I showed these pages to my wife and others, the pages were lost. Joseph and I were both devastated. I received a severe rebuke from the Lord, and I was no longer used as scribe. However, I remained friendly to Joseph, and when I heard that the work was finished in late June 1829, I walked the 25 miles from my home to the Whitmers, where Joseph was living to congratulate him. While there, and after another day of prayer and repentance I was permitted to be one of the three special witnesses. Some say that I left the church later, but it is probably more true to say that the church left me. I remained in Kirtland after most of the saints left in 1838. I became the custodian of the Kirtland Temple. In 1869 a missionary returning from Europe stopped by to see me. He was a friend of my wife and children who had gone on to Utah. He asked me if I still stood by my testimony printed in the Book of Mormon. I said, "Just as surely as the sun is shining on us and gives us light, ...just as surely as the breath of life sustains us, so surely do I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, so surely do I know that the Book of Mormon was divinely translated. I saw the plates; I saw the angel; I heard the voice of God. I might as well doubt my own existence as to doubt the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon." This missionary made arrangements for me to come by railroad to Utah, where I lived with my son until my death in 1875 in Cache Valley.
DR: Mr. Harris, that is truly a fascinating story. Now, Mr. Cowdery, do you have anything to add?
Oliver Cowdery: Well, I took over as main scribe for Joseph after Martin left. Sister Emma Smith, Joseph's wife, also assisting. I prepared the manuscript for printing. Just a few days after the translation work was complete, Joseph, Martin Harris, David Whitmer and I went into the woods near the Whitmer house to pray. Joseph was desirous that we other three should also be allowed to see the plates and join him in having a physical knowledge of them. However, we were not receiving answers to our supplications. Brother Harris stated that he was the problem, due to his sins in losing the first 116 translated pages, so he left our group and went elsewhere. After his departure, a marvelous vision was unfolded to us. My testimony of that vision is printed in the beginning of the Book of Mormon. In later years I did have contentions with the prophet Joseph, and I was excommunicated in 1838. For the next 10 years I practiced law in Ohio and Wisconsin. During one trial the opposing attorney tried to discredit me before the jury by stating that I was a Mormon. Instead of denying my affiliation--after all, I had been excommunicated--I bore strong testimony. I told that courtroom, "I saw the angel and heard his voice--how can I deny it? It happened in the daytime when the sun was shining bright in the firmament; not in the night when I was asleep. That glorious messenger from heaven, dressed in white, standing above the ground, in a glory I have never seen anything to compare with--the sun insignificant in comparison--and this personage told us if we denied that testimony there is no forgiveness in this life nor in the world to come. Now how can I deny it--I dare not; I will not!" In 1848 I returned to the church and asked to be rebaptized. I was accepted, and was preparing to join the saints in Utah when I died of consumption in 1850.
DR: Your story seems to agree with that of Mr. Harris. Now, let's turn to our third witness, Mr. David Whitmer. How do you feel about all this after so many years? Can you add any insights for our reporters?
David Whitmer: I became acquainted with the prophet Joseph Smith through Oliver Cowdery. Persecutions became great in Palmyra, so Oliver wrote and asked if Joseph and Emma could come to my father's farm to work. They came, but they did not carry the plates with them, as that would have been too dangerous. The plates were hidden in my father's barn by an old man that none of us knew. While the translation was going on, my mother had a great deal of extra work caring for Joseph, Emma, Oliver, etc. One day as she was outside, this old man came into the barn and showed her the plates as a reward for her labors. After the translation was finished, I was able to participate in the vision with Joseph and Oliver. I, too, left the church and was excommunicated in 1838, however, I would bear testimony of that vision whenever I had a chance all of my life. I never denied that the angel had come to us and shown us not only the plates, but also the sword of Laban, the Liahona, the Urim and Thummim and the Brass Plates of Laban. I got the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon from Oliver before he died. I never would give it back to the church, but passed it down to my nephew, John Whitmer. It protected us. There was a huge cyclone that came through town. All our house was destroyed, except the room containing the trunk where that manuscript was. We had to camp out for a time after that, until the house was rebuilt. There was a rainstorm and flood. The trunk was water damaged, and most of its content became wet and mildewed, but the Book of Mormon manuscript was as clean and dry as the day it was written. I published again my testimony in a newspaper in 1881. I told it again on my deathbed in 1888. I will never deny it.
DR: So there you have it--three men who stick by their story after 168 years. Before we let these three gentlemen sit down, are there any questions from the audience? (Child assigned to be Bryant Gumbel raises his hand.) Yes, Bryant Gumbel, how nice to have you with us. You are first.
Bryant Gumbel: Danielle, it's good to be here. My question is to Mr. Cowdery. In reading your testimony, I come up with 5 main points. Could you tell me if I have analyzed it correctly?
1. The testimony is for all nations and
2. You saw and handled the plates.
3. You know they were translated by the power of God.
4. You heard His voice.
5. An angel appeared to show these things to you.
Are those correct statements??
Oliver Cowdery: Yes, that is essentially correct, although in summarizing it I think you leave out some of the power of the testimony. It isn't a very long statement. We would prefer if you could quote it in its entirety.
DR: Thank you. Any other questions? No? All right. We'll thank these three witnesses for their statements and let them sit down. Now, we also have eight other special guests. (Start walking through the class putting on name tags.) These gentlemen didn't have quite the vision of the previous three, but still had an incredible experience. We'd like them to come forward and share some of it with us. You know who you are. Please come up.
DR: Hmm, there seem to be a lot of you. Let's see how we can organize this. Four of you are named Whitmer--are you related? Let's have you stand together.
Christian Whitmer: Yes, Ms. Rather. We are related. I am Christian Whitmer, and these are three of my brothers--Jacob, Peter Jr. and John. My fourth brother, David was one of the 3 witnesses that spoke previously. Actually, Hiram Page should join our group, too, as he is my brother-in-law, married to my sister Catherine.
DR: Thank you, sir, for clarifying that. Now those three that are left all seem to be named Smith. Have we another family group?
Joseph Smith, Senior: Ah, yes, Ms. Rather. I am Joseph Smith, senior. And these are my two sons Hyrum and Samuel. I am, of course, the father of the prophet, Joseph Smith junior.
DR: Now that we have that all organized, Mr. Smith senior, would you please tell us about the experience that the eight of you had.
J. Smith, Sr.: On the day after the three witnesses had their marvelous vision, in June 1829, Joseph gathered us together at the home of Peter Whitmer, Senior. Joseph and Emma had been living there while they finished the translation of the Book of Mormon. We had the blessing of actually seeing the plates, holding them, turning their gold pages and seeing the curious characters engraved on them. It was an experience I will never forget, nor deny. I shared it with many people until my death in 1840.
Hyrum Smith: The plates were like nothing I have seen before or since on this earth. Of course, I was martyred with my brother, the prophet, in defense of my testimony of the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the gospel.
Samuel Smith: I was the third person baptized into the church after Joseph and Oliver. They heard me praying in the woods on the way back from their baptisms and returned to the Susquehanna River then and there to baptize me. It was a blessing in my life to participate in the restoration of the gospel, and particularly to see the plates and know that Joseph had translated them by the power of God. I was riding to Carthage to visit my brothers in jail when I was met on the road by the mob leaving the jail. I was on a fast horse and reached the sad scene just after its conclusion. It was my duty to take the bodies back to Nauvoo. I became ill and died just two weeks later, strong in my testimony.
DR: It sounds as if the Smith family has a strong commitment to the gospel and to this testimony printed in the Book of Mormon. Now, let's hear from the Whitmers.
Jacob Whitmer: I am the second son in the Whitmer family. We all became acquainted with Joseph Smith through our brother David, when he brought Joseph to live in our father's home to finish the translation of the Book of Mormon. As the plates were in our home, we were naturally curious to see them. When the translation work was finished, we had that privilege.
Peter Whitmer, Jr.: Yes, it was an amazing sight--those plates of gold. None of us had ever seen anything of that glory. It would have been worth a great deal of money to the world, but we knew that the real worth was in the words of the Lord to us that came from those plates. My brother, Christian, died in 1835, and I in 1836, but we both testified of the truthfulness of our testimonies and the reality of those plates throughout the persecutions we faced with the saints in Missouri.
John Whitmer: Unfortunately, along with my brothers David and Jacob and Hiram Page I left the church in 1838. The persecutions were too great for my weak soul. My pride and lack of humility hindered my growth in the gospel. However, none of us ever denied that we had seen and held the plates--not even in the face of enemies of the church after we had left the church.
Hiram Page: Yes, I too, left the church, but throughout my life I rejoiced that I had been privileged to see the plates and be one of the eight special witnesses. I was always true to that experience and would bear my testimony of it whenever the opportunity arose.
DR: This is a fascinating story. Are there any questions from the audience? Yes, Ms. Jane Pauley? To whom would you like to address your question?
Jane Pauley: I guess I'll ask it of Mr. Smith, senior. Let me get this straight. You eight did not have the same vision as the previous three. Did you see an angel and hear the voice of the Lord?
Joseph Smith, senior: No, Ms. Pauley. That is part of the vision of the three witnesses. We just saw the plates as shown to us by my son, Joseph. However the Holy Ghost bore strong witness to each of us in our hearts that Joseph had made a correct translation of these plates through the power of the Lord. We also knew that the plates were very old, and not recently created by Joseph.
DR: I see we have Mr. Peter Jennings with us today. It's nice to see you here. Do you have a question?
Peter Jennings: Yes, Ms. Rather. I would like to ask it of the Whitmers who left the church--John as spokesman, I guess. I don't quiteunderstand how you left Joseph Smith's organization, and still supported this wild story of gold plates from old Indians.
John Whitmer: Actually, I think that fact that we left the church organization makes our testimonies stand even stronger. It was an extremely difficult time. We were living in Missouri and were severely persecuted. The saints in Kirtland had business reverses and the church was bankrupt. It was a strain on our families and our endurance. We simply didn't have the strength to withstand the buffetings of Satan, and left the church, to our detriment, and the detriment of our families. However, we each knew what we had seen. It was a physical experience to handle the plates, and a spiritual experience to know that they were preserved and translated by the power of God. We could not deny that.
DR: Any other questions? No? Well, thank you for your cooperation today. You may be seated. In summary, we have three witnesses who saw a vision of an angel who showed them the plates along with other artifacts from the box on the Hill Cumorah. They heard the voice of the Lord. Then we have eight witnesses who were shown just the plates by Joseph Smith. All in all, an amazing story, but one which has proven to have world-wide impact over the past 168 years. Thank you for coming. Good Day.