Eleven years ago this month, you could find me on a bus with more than 100 other recently graduated high schoolers stopping at dozens of LDS Church History sites across the country for three straight weeks.
Heritage Tours isn't the typical graduation trip the world thinks of. In addition to riding a bus for hours on end, we studied the scriptures and gospel readings to go along with each site. We were challenged to give away pass along cards every chance we got and even a Book of Mormon if the opportunity presented itself.
It was a great experience, one that I will never forget and one that really helped build and strengthen the foundation of my testimony. It came at a crucial time just a few months before I left on my mission, and it helped me feel of the truthfulness of the gospel first hand.
Here are three less popular LDS Church history sites, but ones where I had experiences that helped shape my testimony greatly.
The Church was formally organized here (picture above) on April 6, 1830. As I walked through the tiny log cabin, I was struck by the immense reach, growth, and power of the Church today. It was amazing to see first hand how small that home is, and it was humbling to think that more than 15 million members belong to the Church today. The experience I had there strengthened my testimony that this is Christ's church and His work, not man's.
The Prophet Joseph Smith was living here when he was dragged from his bed, tarred, and feathered. The next morning he was standing on the step pictured above, preaching the good word. Seeing this place first hand gave me chills. I had heard this story of Joseph Smith many times before and it's one of my favorites, but seeing the actual place where this happened and visualizing the events helped the Spirit testify to me of Joseph Smith's calling as the Prophet of the Restoration.
One of my favorite moments of the entire tour happened here. All of the boys on the tour sang "We'll Bring The World His Truth" while standing on the banks of the Susquehanna River where the Priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery by heavenly beings. It was such a special moment to be there with some of my best friends—guys I had grown up with, played sports with, sweat and bled with, laughed until we cried with—and feel the power of the gospel and priesthood and its influence change people. Within the next year, nearly all of us were in the mission field using the priesthood of God and bringing truth to the nations. That moment really strengthened my young testimony.