Written by Kaitlyn Bancroft. Visit the site here.
When the fire started, Sylvia del Carmen Pino Carrasco didn’t hesitate.
“I remembered my neighbor who’s bedridden and I ran toward his house,” the Chile native said.
With limited options, Carrasco and her husband did the only thing they could think to do: wrapped their neighbor in a blanket and put him in a wheelbarrow. Then they pushed him down the street until a truck picked him up. As soon as the truck drove away, Carrasco said their entire community was engulfed in flames.
“Thanks to God, we were all saved and none of us were burned,” Carrasco said.
Carrasco and her neighbors, villagers in the mountains outside of Concepción, Chile, were victims of the Jan. and Feb. 2017 forest fires that swept through hundreds of thousands of acres, destroyed homes, pastures, and livestock, and killed at least eleven people, according to Public Radio International. In the months following the loss of their homes, Carrasco and the other villagers rebuilt their lives with whatever they could find – Carrasco was living in a small hut with a leaky wood-and-plastic roof when BYU students met her in May 2017.
Despite the tragedy, “I thank God that we were able to save a person,” Carrasco said.
That attitude is exactly what BYU students came nearly 6,000 miles to find.
Thanks to a generous grant from a BYU donor, students in BYU’s School of Communications have created the “Unto Me” project, which highlights groups at BYU honoring the hymn “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief,” written by James Montgomery in 1826.
The title “Unto Me” comes from a line in the hymn’s seventh and final verse, when the narrator realizes the stranger he’s been serving throughout each verse is the Savior. Christ tells the narrator that “These deeds shall thy memorial be; Fear not, thou didst them unto me.” This line, then, represents the goal of the “Unto Me” project: to show how BYU students are doing good unto strangers, and thereby doing good works unto the Savior.
The project is also intended to recognize the good works of people everywhere. The BYU Ballroom Dance Company was performing for victims of the fire at the time students with “Unto Me” met Carrasco, and they felt her story captures – both literally and figuratively – the principle of serving one’s neighbor.
The “Unto Me” project is broken into seven parts, one for each verse. BYU Communications students will pick a different verse each year, then focus on a group at BYU addressing the themes of that verse (with the exception of the first verse, which represents exploration of the hymn’s background and history).
Click through each verse to read about past or upcoming installments of the “Unto Me” project.
Verse 1 – ‘A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief’
For the first verse, students flew to Sheffield, England in Aug. 2017 to visit the place hymn-writer James Montgomery called home for much of his life. Born Nov. 4, 1771, in Irvine, Scotland, the young Montgomery initially rejected his parents’ strict, religious upbringing and ran away to be a poet, according to lecturer Adam Smith.
Smith, who teaches literature at York St. John University, has written a forthcoming essay on Montgomery titled “Nightmares and cityscapes: Contradictory visions of the city in James Montgomery’s York Prison Poetry.” He’s also spoken on Montgomery at several conferences and other events.
According to hymnary.org, Montgomery took over The Sheffield Register newspaper in 1794, renaming it The Sheffield Iris, which he would edit for the next 31 years. During his first two years there, however, he was imprisoned twice, first for reprinting a controversial song about the fall of the French Bastille, and then for reporting on a riot in Sheffield.
Smith said Montgomery’s time in prison changed him.
“When he came out of jail, he (did) very much embrace religion, specifically the Bible again, and he (did) use Christ as his role model, and it’s there in all of his philosophy,” Smith said.
According to an article by Jeffrey Walker, Montgomery wrote “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” in Dec. 1826, though he titled it “The Stranger and His Friend.” Smith said Montgomery was traveling through England while writing the poem, where he was influenced by “this overflow of emotion” from the clouds, moors and other natural scenery he was experiencing.
“So he (was) tremendously afraid, anxious, worried, concerned, and the seas (were) stormy,” Smith said.
According to Walker’s article, Montgomery published the poem in several collections of his poetry under the title “The Stranger.” By the 1840s, it was being reprinted in Christian publications in America, including in newspapers in Nauvoo, and it was first printed in the Latter-day Saint hymnal in 1840.
British minister and musician George Coles set the poem to music in 1835, and though it’s not the melody Latter-day saints are familiar with, the two compositions are related. Ebenezer Beesley re-composed it in 1886 to match how John Taylor sung the hymn right before the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, and this is the tune Latter-day Saints now recognize.
According to hymnary.org, Montgomery was involved with his newspaper, poetry, the Bible Society and other pursuits throughout the remainder of his life. He died on April 30, 1854, in Sheffield.
Today, Montgomery’s presence is still felt in Sheffield through statues, streets bearing his name and other reminders of the poet. However, the Reverend Keith Farrow, canon missioner at Sheffield Cathedral, said Montgomery had a significant impact on the entire Christian world.
“All around the world, people sing Montgomery’s hymn,” Farrow said. “His influence was incredible in the city, and we thank God for James Montgomery.”
For additional information on the hymn, read this article from BYU music professor Michael Hicks.
Note: Each “Unto Me” installment will include videos, articles and other media. The next segment will be published in 2018.