My 17-year-old daughter, Charlotte, and I were already going to San Diego, California, for a lacrosse tournament when she surprised me with a question: “While we’re there, could we visit that Mormon Battalion place?”
“Sure,” I answered, glad for her interest. Since we were driving, it wouldn’t take much to adjust our itinerary.
A few days later, when the tournament was over, we arrived at the Mormon Battalion Historic Site early in the evening. A sister missionary, a native of Hong Kong, served as the guide for our small group that included two tourists from the Philippines who had walked in from the street, a man interested in history who had traveled from Louisiana to California just to explore the site, one less-active member who lived nearby, and my daughter and me.
As our tour began, right away we were immersed in the experience of the Mormon Battalion. What my daughter called “some really cool tech” allowed us to interact with the characters and learn their stories in a fun way that none of us were expecting. We witnessed over and over again that their actions were based on their faith in Jesus Christ.
We also saw historic artifacts. My daughter even got to put on a pack and pick up equipment identical to what battalion members would have used. We gained new appreciation for the weight they carried for 2,000 miles (3,200 km). At the end of our tour, we were invited to have our photo taken as honorary members of the battalion.
Afterward, various members of our group lingered. Some shared their email addresses or phone numbers so that they could remain in contact with our sister missionary guide, and the couple from the Philippines asked if they could discuss some specific questions they had before leaving. Then our guide visited with us and helped us to locate the nearest meetinghouse so that we could attend church the next day. Our visit was, in every sense, a pleasant experience. To this day my daughter speaks of it as one of the highlights of the trip.
Over the years, visitors’ centers and historic sites have provided many opportunities for our family. While staying with family members, we have toured visitors’ centers at temples in St. George, Utah; Mesa, Arizona; and Idaho Falls, Idaho. On vacation we have been to the Mormon Battalion site and to Cove Fort in southern Utah. We have also visited Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, many times for family home evening.
More than once, a visit has prompted a discussion about temple marriage, how to be a member missionary, or preparing for full-time missionary service. My sons and daughters have gone to centers and sites for youth activities, firesides, and dates. Years ago, while on a business trip, I was able to visit the Smith Family Farm Historic Site in Palmyra, New York, and ponder what I would have done as a teenager witnessing a “war of words and tumult of opinions” (Joseph Smith—History 1:10).
A relative in California reports that the Los Angeles Temple Visitors’ Center has served as a place of guidance for friends and family members, active or less active, who for one reason or another needed to restore or strengthen their faith. And, of course, these special places have regularly provided all of us with a welcoming environment where we can introduce friends, neighbors, business associates, and out-of-town guests to our beliefs without any pressure.
I believe that one reason our family loves to go to visitors’ centers and historic sites is that the sisters and senior couples who serve there are, through their example and kindness, extending the same tender invitation, given in the scriptures, to “come unto Christ” (Jacob 1:7; Omni 1:26; Moroni 10:32; D&C 20:59; see also Matthew 11:28; Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service , 1.)
In fact, this invitation blesses both visitors and missionaries.
“I love it here,” says Sister Marianne Orndal of Manchester, England, who admits she was surprised to receive her call to the Utah Salt Lake City Temple Square Mission. She says that sisters who serve at visitors’ centers are constantly helping and teaching, whether it is to bolster the testimony of a member or to explain Joseph Smith’s life to someone who has never heard his name before.
On a typical day at the Laie Hawaii Temple Visitors’ Center, “there will be 60 to 70 guests here at a time,” says Sister Lana Cavalcante from Fortaleza, Brazil. “We could be greeting a couple from India at the temple exhibit one minute, turn around and teach a Korean man at the Book of Mormon exhibit, then go outside to take a family from New York on a tour of the temple grounds. It’s a privilege to share our testimonies with people from all over the world.”
In addition, sisters at visitors’ centers spend two or three hours daily sharing the gospel online with guests who have expressed an interest to learn more. After going on a tour at a center, missionaries invite guests to continue to learn by meeting with local missionaries. Visitors’ center missionaries then continue to teach interested guests after they leave, via email, social media, mormon.org chat, or other appropriate means.
“We see miracles in the lives of people we meet through the visitors’ center,” says Sister Alexandria Finau of Rancho Cucamonga, California, who serves in the center at the Mesa Arizona Temple. “After they leave the center we continue to help them online by inviting them to read the Book of Mormon, pray, and attend church. We provide support as local missionaries teach them. I personally have made friendships that will last a lifetime—friends who have been baptized, others who are preparing to enter the temple, and some who have decided to come back to church again.”
“When they are being taken care of by members and missionaries where they live, we continue to stay in touch,” says Sister Danielle Van Der Leek of Bloemfontein, South Africa, who serves at the visitors’ center of the Hyde Park Chapel in London, England. “We want them to know we still care.”
Missionaries who serve at visitors’ centers and historic sites are, in fact, busily engaged in the same activities that all full-time missionaries enjoy—they teach, testify, and explain the gospel “to the understanding” of those who visit (see 2 Nephi 31:3). What’s more, they are blessed to serve at a special place that’s been dedicated to the Lord, where the Spirit is constantly present, and where people walk in the front door and ask to know more. That’s not only a great environment for full-time missionaries to share the gospel; it’s an ideal place for us as members to learn how to strengthen our faith and experience the blessings of sharing it with others.