Feature Stories

What I learned about the limitless power of the Spirit during my virtual vacation to Church historic sites

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Editor's note: Our bi-weekly Friday column, “Found in the footnotes,” explores some of the footnotes from remarks given by General Authorities and General Officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I logged into Zoom for a virtual tour of Carthage Jail in late September. Just a month and a half prior, I had published a list of Church historic sites offering virtual tours during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly thereafter, I booked virtual tours at several places for myself. I jokingly named it my “Virtual Vacation.”

When I joined the Zoom room from my computer, I found others who would tour the site with me. The missionaries had us introduce ourselves before the tour. There was a family viewing it together using different devices, other individuals like me, and a pastor from another faith with his wife. My first observation was that even though I had never met these supposed strangers before, I felt a connection to them. The Spirit reminded me at that sacred site that these people were my brothers and sisters, and I felt bonded to them even through muted mics.

What happened next also surprised me—as the missionaries took us through Carthage Jail, I felt a powerful witness of the events that happened there. I had seen pictures of Carthage Jail or videos of the place, but somehow the tragic events that happened there took on an even deeper meaning. And I believe I wasn’t the only one who felt that.

As part of the tour, we watched a clip from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s remarkable address “Safety for the Soul.” I wasn’t physically in the same room as Elder Holland nor was I in Carthage Jail, but his testimony resonated in a new way as I saw Elder Holland hold up the copy of the Book of Mormon that Hyrum Smith had once read aloud from within those hallowed walls.

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Testimony of the Book of Mormon

At the conclusion of the tour, I believe all of us had felt the spirit, including the pastor who had been watching who said he was going to invite his congregation to take the tour as well. The Spirit had not been limited by technology, nor had the Spirit been limited to the people on the tour who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As my virtual vacation continued, I wondered if it would just be Carthage Jail where I would feel that indescribable confirmation from the Spirit, but every location I toured had a special experience associated with it. I still haven’t visited all the sites offering virtual tours, but my journal entries from that week are filled with powerful lessons I learned at Carthage Jail, the Joseph Smith Birthplace, the Grandin Building: Book of Mormon Publication Site, the Priesthood Restoration Site, Historic Kirtland, the Johnson Home, and the Sacred Grove.

► You may also like: These Church historic sites are offering virtual tours

In October 2020 general conference, Elder Gerrit W. Gong showed a picture of himself and his wife Susan at the Smith family log home in Palmyra, New York.

Elder Gong said, “Completed in 1998, the Smith home is reconstructed on its original foundation. The second-story bedroom occupies the same 18- by 30- by 10-foot (5.5 by 9 by 3m) physical space where Moroni, as a glorious messenger from God, came to the young Joseph on the evening of September 21, 1823.”

I have seen the Smith Family Log Home in pictures since I was a youth. I had been on a virtual tour of the significant location and walked down the same path—albeit virtually—that the young boy Joseph walked on his way to the Sacred Grove. From that path, you can now see the Palmyra Temple, which has special clear glass windows in the lobby looking out on the Sacred Grove.

From that experience, I have found what Elder Gong wrote in a footnote to be true—that the Spirit testifies to us about gospel truths: “Being in the specific, physical location of a known historical event can powerfully connect time and place. Still, our testimony of the sacred events surrounding Moroni’s appearance to the young Prophet Joseph is spiritual.”

When I think about the experiences I had during my virtual vacation, I marvel at how the Spirit witnessed the reality of the events that occurred within those walls—even through a computer screen. And as I’ve read about these places over the last couple of weeks in Come, Follow Me, that same Spirit has manifested to me once again the truthfulness of the accounts.

Many members of the Church will never be able to visit the physical sites where the Restoration unfolded. But the Spirit isn’t limited by technology or distance. The opportunity to gain a testimony of these events is spiritual, and the Spirit is available to all.

If you're looking to learn more about the Holy Ghost, can I recommend David Butler's new book, Spirit? This is the first book I finished in 2021 and it taught me so much about the various roles the Spirit plays in our lives. It's now available at DeseretBook.com and Deseret Book stores. 

Spirit: The Gift that Connects You to Heaven

Following David Butler's best sellers Almighty and Redeemer, this engaging new book walks readers through the various roles the Holy Ghost takes in our lives. Spirit helps readers learn what the Holy Ghost can do for them, from comforting them to acting as a witness and a guide or a companion. It also helps readers recognize promptings and know how to use the Spirit's promises and privileges in their lives on a day-to-day basis.

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