Mormon Missionary Diaries
About the Collection
by Jeffrey S. Hardy
Nephi Jensen was born on 16 February 1876 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Soren Jensen and Christine Rasmussen, both immigrants from Denmark. At the age of eight he was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a youth Nephi excelled in his studies in the public schools and subsequently took classes at the L. D. S. College in Salt Lake City from 1895 to 1896, aspiring at that time to become a railroad engineer.
In early 1898 Nephi received a call to serve as a missionary for the Church in the Southern States Mission. Nephi left home on 17 February 1898, and after arriving at mission headquarters in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he was assigned to the Florida Conference. Nephi was blessed with considerable success there, participating in twenty-three convert baptisms. Not everyone was receptive to his message, however, including one gentleman who exclaimed: “Who is King James? I reckon King James and Jos. Smith went in together and made a bible!”1 After more than two years in Florida, Nephi was released from his mission and returned to Utah, arriving in Salt Lake City on 3 July 1900.
A miraculous occurrence took place as Nephi was traveling home. After missing a connecting train in Georgia he arranged to take a different train the next morning. Just before departure, however, he found out that his baggage had been misplaced, and wondered if he should wait for the next train and locate his luggage in the meantime. As he pondered this question, he heard a voice saying, “Take this train,” so he immediately boarded.2 The following day he learned that the second train had wrecked and nearly all of its passengers were killed. As his luggage, including his journals, were found scattered in the mud among the wreckage of this second train, he was presumed dead and his family was thus notified. Interestingly, a man found a few missionary tracts that had been in Nephi’s luggage and subsequently joined the Church. Thus Nephi’s life was miraculously spared, and a convert was made in the process; as Nephi himself proclaimed: “So we see that the Lord moves in a mysterious way.”3
After his mission Nephi began working as a schoolteacher in Arizona and here he met his future wife, Margaret Fife Smith. They were married on 9 April 1902 and the following year their son Paul was born. After the wedding the Jensens moved to Utah where Nephi continued to work as a teacher. During the summer of 1906 he studied at the University of Utah, and that same year he passed the Utah State bar exam. In 1908 Nephi studied at the College of Law at Chattanooga, receiving his law degree in 1908. During this time he also served as secretary for the Southern States Mission. He then returned to Salt Lake City and worked as an assistant attorney for Salt Lake County from 1911 until 1913, whereupon he became a successful lawyer in the office of Marks & Jensen. A contemporary remarked that “an excellent presence, an earnest, dignified manner, marked strength of character, a thorough grasp of the law and the ability to accurately apply its principles are factors in his effectiveness as an advocate.”4
An unexpected change in the Jensen’s lives came on 22 April 1919 when Nephi received a call to serve as mission president of the Canadian Mission, which had just been created out of the Eastern States and Northern States missions. Nephi established the mission headquarters in Toronto, Canada, and began reorganizing the missionary efforts in that country.
Nephi continued his legal practice in Salt Lake City until 1928 when he became a county judge for Salt Lake County. After five years as a judge Nephi retired. Throughout his life Nephi devoted much time to study of theology and published several tracts, pamphlets, and larger works divulging his views, as well as four study manuals that were used in the priesthood quorums of the Church. He also composed a collection of “playful bits of philosophy” under the title “Fits of Wits,” which contains such original gems as ‘Monday’s deed is the best vindication of Sunday’s creed,’ and ‘Hurry and worry our joy doth bury.’5 Nephi Jensen died on 2 September 1955 in Salt Lake City.
1 Nephi Jensen, “Journal, 1899-1900,” 10 December 1899. MSS SC 688, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
2 Jensen, “How the life of Nephi Jensen was save through his heeding a warning.” MSS SC 688, LTPSC.
4 Noble Warrum, Utah Since Statehood: Historical and Biographical, vol. 2 (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1919), 751.
5 Jensen, Fits of Wits ([Salt Lake City]: Nephi Jensen, 1934), 3, 10, 24.
Jensen, Nephi. Fits of Wits. [Salt Lake City]: Nephi Jensen, 1934.
________. “Journals, 1898-1900, 1907.” MSS SC 688, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
Jenson, Andrew. Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Vol. 4. Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson Historical Co., 1901-1934.
Simmons, Ralph B. Utah’s Distinguished Personalities: A Biographical Directory of Eminent Contemporaneous Men and Women Who Are the Faithful Builders and Defenders of the State. Salt Lake City: Personality Publishing Company, 1933.
Warrum, Noble. Utah Since Statehood: Historical and Biographical. Vol. 2. Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1919.