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Second Annual Church History Travel Study Program Deepens Faith of BYUH Students

Brigham Young University–Hawaii students have continued the tradition of embarking on the Church History Travel Study Program, an annual, all-expenses-paid journey that takes them to significant historical sites of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the second year, students visited these sacred locations, reflecting the growing legacy of the program initiated in 2023. With over eight central locations across multiple states, the trip remains a life-changing venture for many participants.

Students in front of a statue of Jesus Christ.
Photo by Jared Marcum

As with last year, the new group of students spent their entire spring semester enrolling in Religion 390R, History 333, and English 315 courses tailored to enhance their experiences on the trip. Jared Marcum, associate professor in the Faculty of Religious Education, accompanied the students and reflected on the improvements made from the previous year, emphasizing the consistency in the profound impact on students. “I think we learned a lot from the first trip. The first trip was fabulous. I don't think there's any reason to say that the students had significantly less experience last year than this year, but we did make some improvements this year, and those improvements helped a little bit.”

The group of 20 students and three faculty chaperones commenced their pilgrimage in Harmony, Pennsylvania, then moved along the East Coast to sites such as the Smith Family Farm, the Sacred Grove, and Hill Cumorah in Palmyra, New York. Lon Page II, a senior from Idaho, who participated in the trip, shared how the experience affected him, saying, “For me, the testimony-building wasn’t just about the individual sites, but the trip itself. Following the path of the early saints and having our own ups and downs felt like a trek in itself.”

Students at a historic church site.
Photo by Jared Marcum

The trip also included visits to Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Illinois, where students interacted with history site volunteers and received personalized tours. Page reflected on a pivotal moment in Salt Lake City, sharing, “Standing in the conference center, which is huge, and contrasting it with the small spaces early saints had to live in, was amazing. The growth of the church from those humble beginnings to now is a testament to what President Russell M. Nelson spoke of, that we’ll see ‘greater miracles manifest our day than have ever been made manifest in the history of the world.’”

Susana Dela Cruz, a junior from the Philippines, found the preparation before the tour equally as meaningful as visiting the sites, saying, “As a convert of the Church, I didn’t know everything about church history. The trip and the required courses helped me see the vision of a latter-day church and the sacrifices of the saints,” Dela Cruz explained. “It’s rewarding because the trip itself helps you learn more about church history and become a better disciple of Jesus Christ.”

The experience of witnessing Church history in person was highlighted by Professor Marcum, saying, “Regarding the students' testimonies, there's a certain amount that comes from standing in the place itself, and it deepens the reflection process. Before they went, [students] read The Saints, Volume 1: The Standard of Truth; they learned about the miracles of the restoration, but when they were standing there, they could feel its reality. It made it very real in their mind. Whether it be the visions that happened at the Kirtland Temple, the Sacred Grove, or Joseph Smith's farmhouse. They could feel and say, ‘Oh, Moroni, this is where he was!’ or, ‘This is where the Savior stood. I'm in the very place where he stood.’ That's just a powerful experience.”

Group photo of students on the 2024 Church History Tour
Photo by Jared Marcum

The journey also held deep personal significance for Terry Tsai, a senior from Taiwan, who expressed gratitude for the opportunity. “This trip helped me strengthen my testimony and understand who I am. We weren’t chosen by the system; we were chosen by God,” Tsai said. He adds, “Experiencing the history of Joseph Smith and the early saints firsthand has helped me become a better disciple of Jesus Christ.”

Professor Marcum drew attention to the scriptural foundation of their journey, quoting Doctrine and Covenants section 50, verse 44, which says, “Wherefore, I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall.” He reflected on the enduring relevance of this scripture, saying, “The restoration really testifies that God is in our midst, Jesus Christ is in our midst, that he's guiding us as the good shepherd, that he is the rock upon which we should build. If we build, we shall not fall.”

Emmaline Ferguson, a junior from Fiji, echoed this sentiment, explaining how the trip not only strengthened her testimony but also enhanced her academic and spiritual life: "Spiritually and academically, I've improved a lot. The trip has made me more motivated and grateful for the church and its emphasis on education and spiritual development. Having a travel journal helped us reflect on our experiences and the significance of each site we visited." She also highlighted the unique opportunity for international students to embrace their identities as members of Christ’s Latter-day church, saying, “There were about 13 countries represented. We would never have dreamed of visiting all these places in 11 days. It no longer felt like church history but our history, seeing how the seeds planted by early saints have grown and reached us all these years later."

Students holding Books of Mormon in various languages.
Photo by Jared Marcum

The ripple effect of this journey continues to touch lives across the BYUH. Students share their experiences with family members in their home countries, inspiring faith and understanding as they have felt more connected to the early Latter-day Saints. The annual Church History Travel Study Program at BYU–Hawaii has strengthened testimonies, changed hearts, and solidified students’ faith in Jesus Christ.