Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sophie's Journey

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 29, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


A few weeks ago I self-published my first book. It is titled An Arkie’s Faith and includes over twenty-five articles from this column. After learning the process of self-publishing, I started thinking again about a project that I have been considering for some time. A few years ago my wife started doing some genealogy research. Early on in her research, she ran across the incredible story of her great-great-grandmother, Sophie. The story is compelling and fascinating. It needs to be told.

Sophie and her children emigrated from Denmark in 1856. She traveled from Denmark to England where she sailed from Liverpool to New York City. From New York, she traveled by train to Iowa City, Iowa where she became a part of the Willie Handcart Company.


In 1856, the Willie Handcart Company made the thousand-mile journey from Iowa City to Salt Lake City on foot, pulling handcarts. Although Sophie and her children arrived safely in Salt Lake City, over sixty members of the Willie Handcart Company died on the trail.

As these pioneers pulled handcarts across the plains and over the Rocky Mountains, they faced starvation, hypothermia, frozen limbs, and death. Jens Nielsen, who traveled with Sophie in the Willie Handcart Company wrote, “No person can describe it, nor could it be comprehended or understood by any human living in this life, but those who were called to pass through it.”


I have started researching Sophie’s story and am in the process of writing a book about her experience. As I was researching the early part of Sophie’s story while she was still living in Denmark, I came across information that sent a chill up my spine when I read it. I knew that Sophie was a widow when she made her amazing journey. I was trying to learn more about her husband, and their life together before he died.

I discovered that during the summer of 1853, a cholera epidemic struck Gentofte, the area of Denmark where Sophie and her husband Peter lived. Peter became ill and died on August 8, 1853, leaving Sophie a widow at age twenty-nine with four small children. At the time of Peter's death, Sophie was not aware that she carried her and Peter's last child. Baby Otto was born eight months and eighteen days after Peter died.


Baby Otto was my wife’s great-grandfather. He was conceived just a short while before his father died. That is how close my wife, who is my best friend and soulmate, came to never having a chance to be born.

I’m thankful that all those years ago baby Otto was conceived. I’m sad that he grew up never knowing his father, but I’m thankful that he was born and that as a toddler, he survived the long journey from Denmark to Salt Lake City. I imagine God telling Otto; “I am your Creator. You were in my care even before you were born.” Isaiah 44:2 (CEV)

Otto’s birth was no mistake or accident, and your life isn’t either. Your parents may not have planned you, or your birth may have been part of a carefully thought out plan. But God planned for you. He was not at all surprised by your birth. In fact, he expected it. God says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart for my holy purpose.” Jeremiah 1:5 (NOG)


Before you were conceived by your parents, you were created in the mind of God. It is not by chance or coincidence that you are alive right now. You are alive because God wanted to create you! Not only did God want to create you, but He also had a plan for your life. In Psalms 139:16 (NIV) we read, “your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Knowing that God knew us, and formed us, and gave us life, helps us to make sense of our world. We are all looking for a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. Not only did God know us before we were born, He knows everything about our present situation. He knows everything about you. The Bible says that “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Matthew 10:30 (NKJV) God cares about your personal journey because he cares about you. No one has ever loved you more or ever will.

Gentle Reader, God wants you to know how much He loves you. He created a plan for your life before you were even born. That is how special you are to God! What a wonderful thought, to know that the God of the universe knew us intimately and set us apart for His purposes even before we were born! Not only did God have a plan for you before you were born, but He also promises to help you fulfill that plan. Won’t you join me in claiming the promise found in Psalms 138:8 (ESV); “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.”
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Albert and Sophie Smith


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