The following notice was published in the Nauvoo Neighbor in Jan 1844.
This announcement, probably meant to benefit German immigrants living in the sixth ward, warmed my heart and made me think of a church functioning as a Christian community. I wanted to imagine myself stumbling out across the ice of the Mississippi to gather wood for my destitute coreligionists.
But then I read on, placing the notice in immediate context.
The warning, apparently from the pen of editor John Taylor, reports that taking wagons across the river, what Bishop Carn has asked, is dangerous, as the February ice is growing thin. Suddenly a great act of service becomes a risk of broken limbs and frostbitten toes.
This image pushed me to revisit decisions I have made in my life. A few years ago, I was involved in projects for healthcare reform in the Former Soviet Union. After those projects came to a close, I gave serious thought to working with Paul Farmer’s group in Russia, even meeting with Paul and others to discuss options. The problem? They are treating prisoners with drug-resistant tuberculosis in resource-poor areas. One of Paul’s closest friends died several years ago after being infected on a similar project in Peru, and many of the people serving are at risk for acquiring the infection. I had nightmares about widowing my wife and orphaning my children, so I backed out. I remembered a friend from college, a public health epidemiologist, who told me that Mormons would never amount to much because they always chose their families over the world. The choice still haunts me sometimes, feels like a betrayal of a spiritual calling. My wife and I have started to talk about doing dangerous service when our children are around thirty, when we have become expendable again, but this is far from clear.
So, of all the tangents that Carn vs. Taylor could inspire (Did Taylor tell him beforehand about the warning? Did anyone come? Did anyone fall into the icy river? Did Carn and Taylor have harsh words?), my question is: when do family obligations become a cover for fear or selfishness? What sacrifices for outsiders can fairly be made when we are in a family?