I woke up this morning with this story on my mind, so I wrote about it. Now I’m sharing it because I hope it might be beneficial to someone.
Before we get to the story, we’ll need a bit of context. And because I’m summarizing many chapters of a fairly complex narrative, I’ve simplified much of it.
In this story, there are 2 general groups of people: The Lamanites and the Nephites.
Over a period of many generations, the Lamanites taught their children to hate the Nephites, so the Lamanites felt justified murdering and plundering the Nephites whenever they had the chance. And while the Nephites would often defend themselves, at this time, they did not go on the offensive against the Lamanites. Many Nephites also regarded the Lamanites as enemies, and some didn’t think there were any good Lamanites (see Alma 26:23-26). But, a Nephite named Ammon had compassion on those who he believed should have been (and were!) his brothers and sisters, so he went with a few of his friends to teach the Lamanites about God and Jesus Christ.
One somewhat large group of Lamanites listened to the messages of Ammon and his friends. This group had a change of heart and felt deep sorrow for the many murders they had committed. So they dug a huge pit, buried their swords and weapons of war, and made a covenant with God that they would never again shed blood. Then, to distinguish themselves, both from others and from their own past, this group took upon them the name of Anti-Nephi-Lehies.
The Anti-Nephi-Lehies began to be persecuted by the Lamanites and by another group, called the Amalekites, who are described as apostate Nephites. The Amalekites, because of their hatred, incited the rest of the Lamanites to become angry with, to attack, and to destroy the Anti-Nephi-Lehies.
In the following excerpt from from Alma 27, The Anti-Nephi-Lehies seem to me to be a group of refugees. They are about to be destroyed by the Lamanites, but they’re hesitant to ask the Nephites for protection because know that they had once done many wrongs to the Nephites:
“Now when Ammon and his brethren saw this work of destruction among those whom they so dearly beloved, and among those who had so dearly beloved them . . . they were moved with compassion, and they said unto the king [of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies]:
“Let us gather together this people of the Lord, and let us go down to the land of Zarahemla to our brethren the Nephites, and flee out of the hands of our enemies, that we be not destroyed.
“But the king said unto them: Behold, the Nephites will destroy us, because of the many murders and sins we have committed against them.
“And Ammon said: I will go and inquire of the Lord, and if he say unto us, go down unto our brethren, will ye go?
“And the king said unto him: Yea, if the Lord saith unto us go, we will go down unto our brethren, and we will be their slaves until we repair unto them the many murders and sins which we have committed against them.
“But Ammon said unto him: It is against the law of our brethren, which was established by my father, that there should be any slaves among them; therefore let us go down and rely upon the mercies of our brethren.
“But the king said unto him: Inquire of the Lord, and if he saith unto us go, we will go; otherwise we will perish in the land.
“And it came to pass that Ammon went and inquired of the Lord, and the Lord said unto him:
“Get this people out of this land, that they perish not; for Satan has great hold on the hearts of the Amalekites, who do stir up the Lamanites to anger against their brethren to slay them; therefore get thee out of this land; and blessed are this people in this generation, for I will preserve them.
“And now it came to pass that Ammon went and told the king all the words which the Lord had said unto him.
“And they gathered together all their people, yea, all the people of the Lord, and did gather together all their flocks and herds, and departed out of the land, and came into the wilderness which divided the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla, and came over near the borders of the land.
“And it came to pass that Ammon said unto them: Behold, I and my brethren will go forth into the land of Zarahemla, and ye shall remain here until we return; and we will try the hearts of our brethren, whether they will that ye shall come into their land.
. . .
“And now it came to pass that Alma conducted his brethren back to the land of Zarahemla; even to his own house. And they went and told the chief judge all the things that had happened unto them in the land of Nephi, among their brethren, the Lamanites.
“And it came to pass that the chief judge sent a proclamation throughout all the land, desiring the voice of the people concerning the admitting their brethren, who were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.
“And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: Behold, we will give up the land of Jershon, which is on the east by the sea, which joins the land Bountiful, which is on the south of the land Bountiful; and this land Jershon is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance.
“And behold, we will set our armies between the land Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren in the land Jershon; and this we do for our brethren, on account of their fear to take up arms against their brethren lest they should commit sin; and this their great fear came because of their sore repentance which they had, on account of their many murders and their awful wickedness.
“And now behold, this will we do unto our brethren, that they may inherit the land Jershon; and we will guard them from their enemies with our armies, on condition that they will give us a portion of their substance to assist us that we may maintain our armies.
“Now, it came to pass that when Ammon had heard this, he returned to the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, and also Alma with him, into the wilderness, where they had pitched their tents, and made known unto them all these things. . . .
“And it came to pass that it did cause great joy among them. And they went down into the land of Jershon, and took possession of the land of Jershon; and they were called by the Nephites the people of Ammon; therefore they were distinguished by that name ever after.
“And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end.
“And they did look upon shedding the blood of their brethren with the greatest abhorrence; and they never could be prevailed upon to take up arms against their brethren; and they never did look upon death with any degree of terror, for their hope and views of Christ and the resurrection; therefore, death was swallowed up to them by the victory of Christ over it.
. . .
“And thus they were a zealous and beloved people, a highly favored people of the Lord.
(Note that the words “zeal” and “zealousness” in these passages refer to great energy and enthusiasm. They are in no way associated with fanaticism or extremism.)
I find this story inspiring because while neither party was perfect, it seems to me that the Nephites treated the Anti-Nephi-Lehies as they would have liked to have been treated if they had been in a similar situation–like fellow human beings. The Nephites, though they may not have liked everything about the other party, when they learned of the plight of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, were still persuaded to help the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies, on the other hand, were hesitant to ask the Nephites for assistance–they knew they had been and would continue to be a burden to people who had done nothing to them. But they still asked. And they received the help they needed.
I wonder if we could even say that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies gave the Nephites an opportunity to help them–an opportunity that many of the Nephites perhaps needed. What I mean is I wonder if the Nephites needed to learn something about both the Anti-Nephi-Lehies and also also about themselves. They, at least the ones who saw the Lamanites as evil, needed to learn that the Lamanites weren’t evil–they were just mistaken. Not only that, but the Nephites who had seen the Lamanites as evil were also mistaken. Both parties were to some degree mistaken because of the stories they had been telling themselves about the other party over many generations. Though there were extremes on both sides, there were also normal people–human beings–on both sides, people who were just trying to do the best they could with what they had. People who, when they received greater light and knowledge than they then had, chose willingly, even enthusiastically, to embrace it.