I was born on January 3, 1935 at Ava, Missouri to Arthur and Katherine Smith. I was the last of five children, one boy and four bossy girls. We lived on a dairy farm in the Ozark Mountains and milked 20-25 Jersey cows by hand twice each day. My father, the last of nine children, was born on February 8, 1880 to Alexander Hale and Elizabeth Smith. My grandfather, Alexander, was the third surviving son of Joseph and Emma Smith. I am the great-grandson of Joseph Smith, the Palmyra Seer and translator of the Book of Mormon.
I was raised in the Church of Christ, Temple Lot, being baptized by my father in 1953.
The Church of Christ, Temple Lot, is one of seven remaining parts of the
original church that my great-grandfather restored. It is called
the Temple Lot Church because it owns the property on which Joseph Smith
and others laid the cornerstones in August 1831 for the Temple that the
Lord commanded to built in Zion.
My father and family had been members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,
another part of the original church. They left that church and joined the Church of Christ after 1925 when the Reorganized Church adopted a policy called Supreme Directional Control,
a provision that placed the final decisions in all church matters within
the presidency of that church. We believed that policy violated
the scripturally mandated separation of powers that the Lord originally
placed in His church.
Before 1925, membership in the Temple Lot
Church had declined to about 200-300 members. This decline was due to
opposition to the commandments and revelations given by Joseph Smith,
Jr., that had grown in the that church since the late 1880s and 1890s. This spirit brought doubt and confusion about the purpose and work of the Restoration into the Temple Lot Church.
By the early 1930s the exodus from the RLDS Church,
which Supreme Directional Control caused, increased the Church of Christ membership to around 3000 members. I believe that the Lord drew sufficient priesthood and members out of the Reorganized Church to stabilize and maintain the Temple Lot
Church's organization and allow them to protect the Temple Lot properties. Unfortunately, it did not eliminate the spirit of doubt and confusion. Since then,
that spirit has gained strength and influence in the church. Some younger members are ignoring the Inspired Version and Joseph's revelations.
A movement to cast aside the Doctrine and Covenants and Inspired Translation began in the 1970s. Some still use these books, but they are fading away. For instance, in the 1980s a resolution was proposed to accept only the 1611 version of the King James Bible. At the 1995 General Conference a resolution was proposed to place a disclaimer in the Book of Commandments stating,
"These revelations and commandments are not binding upon the Church, but are of a historical value only."
I was aware of developments in the RLDS Church and knew about attempts there to put the Book of Mormon on the shelf,
so to speak. Some of its leaders considered the Book of Mormon as
only historical in nature. I considered this trend "their problem" and not mine. According to my training, their priesthood was not valid. I saw their troubles as the result. That was before I recognized that the spirit that troubled the RLDS Church was the same spirit causing doubt and confusion in
mine. This realization plagued my mind at the 1995 conference. I began to consider and pray about the matter. That was all I knew to do.
Throughout the summer of 1996 I was working away from home and staying in a room during the week. One June night as I was sleeping, I was awakened with a dream. I remember that as I awoke I still had this picture in my vision. I was preaching to Restoration people,
people who had separated from the RLDS during its struggle with the
spirit of doubt and confusion and were worshiping in independent
branches. My message was crystal clear: "Lay your differences on a shelf. Come together and build up the Kingdom of God." I sat up in bed, very excited, and heard myself say,
"That's it. That is the answer."
For several days afterwards the contents of that dream rested on my mind. I felt led to contact David Bowerman,
an leader of a quasi-conference of many elders in the Restoration
Movement. As I thought about it, the leading became stronger. I believed that the Spirit had given me the answer to how those who had withdrawn from the RLDS Church could unite into one body. But, I did not know David Bowerman.
I knew Richard Price, the operator of a
publishing house for many people in the Restoration Movement. I made up my mind to share my dream with him. Richard Price was out of town on the weekend that I was able to go to Independence. I decided to do what I had been led to do in the first place. I called David and went to his home. We talked about my experience.
Brother Bowerman felt that this message should be delivered to the saints. In my normal flippant and careless manner, I replied: "Get me a pulpit and I'll present it." Little did I know what was to transpire. In a few days Brother Bowerman called and said I was scheduled to speak at the Waldo Church on Sunday afternoon, August 25, 1996.
My wife and I arrived just a little after 2:00 PM, about a half hour before I was to speak. The parking lot was full, and so were the side streets. We finally found a place, parked, and entered the building. As I was brought through the side door of the auditorium, I looked out on a sea of faces—1100 people. I had never addressed that many people before and knew this Ozark hillbilly was in over his head. From that door to where they sat me down I sought the divine aid of my heavenly Father. As I rose behind the pulpit, I had a little trouble with the first two words, but from then on I was in the hands of the Spirit of the Lord. Amen.
My wife and I returned home after the service in the Waldo auditorium. I was filled with joy and highly elated over what had transpired, not for what I had done, but rather that the Lord had used me. I did not feel I was worthy. Later that week I had a vision. That vision is best understood by knowing about an earlier event in my life.
I married a strict Southern Baptist lady from Tennessee in 1957, a really good woman. Her name is Mary Sue. We agreed that she would not interfere with my work and worship in my church. We had been married a little over a month when we attended the General Conference
of the Temple Lot Church. Having decided to take a quick trip to her parent's home in Tennessee, we came down from the upper room of the church into the dining area and told my parents that we would be gone for a few days. As we left the dining room, one of our Apostles, Brother T. J. Jordon, stopped me in the entrance hall. He placed his right hand on my left shoulder and said, "Brother Joe, the day will come when you will be instrumental in bringing together God's people." I responded, "OK" and went out. My wife was not familiar with the Restoration movement and its history. She turned and asked me what that exchange meant. I told her to forget it—that it was just an old man's pipe dream, adding that nothing would come of it. We both forgot it.
Now back to my vision. Following the Waldo service I went back to work at Joplin, Missouri. It happened on the afternoon of the following Thursday, August 29, 1996. As I was driving back to the room where I stayed, the vision opened. I saw before me in front of my windshield that old Apostle Jordon. I watched him place his hand on my shoulder and repeat the message he had given me many years before:
"Brother Joe, the day will come when you will be instrumental in bringing together God's people." My eyes filled with tears as it was brought back to my memory the events of that day in 1957, which I had so carelessly cast aside. The Spirit was so strong that I had to pull off the road and stop.
I began working with Restoration Branches that expressed a willingness to worship together. That effort became known as the Unity Movement,
but it did not take root in the Independence area, the heart of the
Restoration Branch Movement. We held reunions, retreats and other common worship events. My new job as an apartment manager gave me time to travel throughout the country.
Things changed in 2005. New owners bought the apartments that I manage. They did not give me the freedom to travel. Several branches that participated in the Unity Movement joined in the formation of
the Joint Conference of Restoration Branches. With these branches
occupied elsewhere, the Restoration Churches (organizations of
independent RLDS branches) that were participating in the movement
unable to sustain its activities, and my own circumstances changed, the
Unity Movement ended. I attended one JCRB conference, but felt some did not appreciate my presence. Although I withdrew, the gnawing feeling that I should be about my assignment continued to hound me. Time was growing short. I could only pray.
While living in Idaho about the year 1984, I had a dream that I did not fully understand then. We were living high in the foothills of Idaho's central mountains, about 40 miles north of Boise and about 3 miles up from the main highway. A river ran beside the main highway and our road crossed the bridge over that river. We could not see the bridge from our house, but we could look
from our living room window and see the range of mountains to our south.
In my dream, I awoke to the sound of gunfire and cannon. I could hear fighting and the screams of wounded and dying people. After getting out of bed, I crossed the hall into the living room and looked out on the mountains. Explosions and gunfire flashed before my eyes. I left the house and went down the road but a short distance
before coming to the bridge. After crossing the bridge, I began encouraging people to cross over the bridge, for I assured them there was safety on the hill on my side of the river. Many began to cross, walk up the hill and sit down. Soon I became worried, afraid that too many were crossing and that some would not be able to find any space to rest on the small hill. Something moved my body away from the bridge. I looked back and saw that the hill was much larger than I thought. I also saw others encouraging people to cross the bridge.
A time of tribulation is near, very near. There is safety. It is at the appointed place. But sitting in my house in Springfield, MO, I wondered how I could warn the people.
How could I help prepare the saints?
After several years praying to the Lord and asking Him to open that way, two elders came to my home. They offered to provide me the means to travel among the saints—all the saints, regardless of their church affiliation—and bear my message. I accepted. With these testimonies before me I cannot question the work to which I am called.
Joseph F. Smith