Latter-day Saint Life

Elder and Sister Gong’s tender experience dedicating family graves that went unmarked for 150+ years

Screenshot 2024-01-29 at 2.53.05 PM.png
Elder Gerrit W. Gong and Sister Susan L. Gong visiting a gravesite in Ireland where Sister Gong’s ancestors are buried.
Screenshot from YouTube

How grateful we are for certain assurance that precious family relationships can be perpetuated beyond the grave and families can be united eternally.

Our family felt those assurances and covenant blessings as we retraced the steps and dedicated the graves of Thomas and Mary Franks Cunningham. Available records indicate Thomas Cunningham was born in Ireland, in County Galway. In the mid-nineteenth century, Ireland’s potato blight decimated Ireland’s staple food. “The Great Hunger” sent millions in search of survival, Thomas Cunningham among them. Thomas moved to Loughborough, England, where he lived near the canal lined with bulrushes. The area is still called the Rushes. In 1851, he and his future wife, Mary Franks, were neighbors, living only minutes apart by walking. In 1853, they were married at St. Mary’s Church when the original altar was at the front. Illiterate, they each signed their marriage document with an “X.” Their first child, John, died as a toddler and is likely buried in the St. Mary’s Church cemetery.

Thomas and Mary Franks Cunningham had a daughter, whom they named Mary Ann. Baptized at age eleven, Mary Ann crossed the plains with the early Church pioneers. She is one of Sister Gong’s great-grandmothers. For more than 150 years, the bodies of Thomas and Mary Cunningham lay in unmarked paupers’ graves in the Loughborough Cemetery.

With the help of FamilySearch missionaries, our family was able, for the first time, to locate Thomas’s and Mary’s graves and to mark them with a granite headstone. As their graves were dedicated and consecrated, we prayed for the Lord to hallow and protect where Thomas and Mary are buried awaiting the Resurrection.

As we stood in a family circle that day in Loughborough, Jesus Christ’s overcoming death and His promise of deliverance and redemption were very real for us. In the eyes of the world, we may be considered of little notice or worth—illiterate, buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave after suffering tuberculosis and dying in a workhouse. But we are not unvalued or unknown or forgotten in the heart of the Lamb of God. He redeems and delivers even the least of us.

We can be united by covenant in Jesus Christ and belong together as families eternally. …

► You may also like: How to ‘sneak’ family history into what we are already doing

Liberating the Captives

Another dimension of Jesus Christ as Deliverer and Redeemer comes from His comforting mission to liberate the captives.

I remember the steel doors closing behind me as I entered the state penitentiary to meet the inmates. I was surprised to find the inmates wearing white jumpsuits. I instinctively thought of other groups dressed in white. Indeed, Jesus Christ comes to deliver the penitent from prison. He helps us change our hearts, countenances, and character.

Dressed in penitent, spiritual-prison white, as it were, we can each come to Jesus Christ ready to dress in temple white, prepared for eternal ordinances.

On another occasion, I visited prison inmates at Christmastime. A skilled pianist, one inmate offered to play Christmas songs. The group asked to sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Silent Night,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Everyone, it seems, feels nostalgic at Christmas. We spoke of the babe at Bethlehem, the Lamb of God whose way, truth, and life can liberate the captives.

Though all sin, all can have hope in Jesus Christ. His deliverance and redemption come in time and eternity. Perfectly, He measures and discerns our heart and character.

As in this life, so in the next life. Temple ordinances, including baptism, do not of themselves change us or those in the spirit world. But these divine ordinances enable sanctifying covenants with the Lord. With the faithful use of our agency and the enabling power of the Atonement of the Lamb of God, we can find peace, even with our most troubled pasts, and hope, even in our most uncertain futures. The Lamb of God delivers and redeems. In all things, He invites and brings us to Him and God, our Eternal Father, through relationships that last in time and eternity—through covenant belonging.

► You may also like: Elder Gong walked unannounced into our ward council, and he’ll never know the good he did

The Shepherd and the Lamb: Our Covenant Hope in Christ

To help readers better understand these two roles of our Savior, Elder Gerrit W. Gong examines the unique blessings that Jesus Christ offers. As our Good Shepherd, He calls and gathers His sheep to Him. He ministers to the one and strengthens us as we reach out to each other. As the Lamb of God, He restores that which was lost and should be found. He forgives and brings reconciliation. He delivers and redeems. He makes covenant belonging possible. Available at Deseret Book and

Stay in the loop!
Enter your email to receive updates on our LDS Living content