by Jim Santiago – 100 Houston area teenagers had an unforgettable journey to upstate New York this past week as they toured historical sites of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The group of teens traveled more than 1,700 miles by train and bus to visit the birthplace of the Mormon church.
“It was an awesome experience,” says Kevin Serna, a 15 year old youth from one of several congregations. “It was a spiritual time. There was a lot of peace when we visited these sites. And the train ride was a new and exciting experience for me.”
For a vast majority of the youth and the 21 adults who accompanied them, it was the first time they had ever been on a passenger train, traveling through Chicago and then on to Rochester, New York. Hidden in a quiet, secluded valley in this upstate region is the small town of Palmyra. This is where faithful members of the LDS faith believe Joseph Smith was visited by God and Jesus Christ in 1820 after the 14 year old boy questioned which church to join. It is also the place where Joseph is said to have been given gold plates by the angel Moroni in 1827 and then translated by him and later printed in the small town. That translated record is known as the Book of Mormon, a centerpiece of the LDS faith. Today the Book of Mormon is printed in 125 different languages with more than 100 million copies made.
“My favorite part was going to the Sacred Grove. We were all able to gain a testimony of the restoration,” said McKenzie Tate age 14 of Atascocita, Texas.
The “Sacred Grove” is referred to by members of the faith as the place where Joseph was visited by Divinity, some 100 yards from the boys childhood home. The group also visited the small log cabin where the emerging religion had its first meeting on April 6th, 1830. Today there are more than 15 million members of the LDS church with some 85,000 missionaries serving in nearly 150 countries.
It took the group 48 hours each way to travel by train and bus. Many of the teens said they first thought the train ride would be long, boring and really difficult, but later realized it was a great part of the week long journey. “The train ride back into Longview, Texas was strong for me because we were able to recap all we had done and everything we would do when we got back. It was just really amazing experience,” said Trevor Will age 15 of Houston, Texas.
The group returned on Saturday with not only greater insight to the early days of the Mormon church, but the hardships involved to see the church grow into what is considered today, one of the fastest growing Christian religions in the world.