The role of visitors centers and historic sites in the Church, said Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Presidency of the Seventy, is not merely about history, but "about the Savior."
Concluding speaker of a weeklong seminar for directors of visitors centers and historic sites, Elder Tingey emphasized the need to "learn and teach doctrine."
"There is little incentive to keep the commandments until we know the doctrine," he said.
As the executive director of the missionary department, Elder Tingey offered to the 10 newly called directors and their wives perspective concerning the role of visitors centers and historic sites.
Elder Tingey referred to a parable given by President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve. The parable is about a man who had a precious pearl that he wanted to display to its best advantage. The man built a beautiful box for the pearl and put it on display. Visitors to the display tended to look more at the box than at the pearl.
"We want missionaries and visitors who come to these sites to see the pearl, which are the doctrines, or the gospel," Elder Tingey said.
He detailed the experiences of Alma with his son, Corianton, and pointed out how "gaining understanding of doctrine" enables missionaries and members "to handle challenges, and do anything required of them in the Church."
Then they can "help others understand the need to acquire forgiveness."
"Life," he continued, "is to qualify for mercy, continually repenting, and improving, and overcoming transgression, and building a reservoir of good works that qualify for the mercy of Jesus Christ who overcame the pains of justice."
During their weeklong seminar, the directors and their spouses broke from their training in the Provo Missionary Training Center to spend one day in Salt Lake City where they met with Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Seventy and other Church officials. They also gained firsthand experience of greeting visitors as they accompanied sister missionaries who serve on Temple Square.
"These sites are made sacred by the doctrines of the gospel that were brought forth in these places," Elder Jensen said. Referring to the Mormon Handcart Visitor's Center near Rawlins, Wyo., where visitors may pull replicas of handcarts and retrace a portion of the path of the Martin Handcart Company, Elder Jensen said, "Lives are changed by those who come to pull handcarts. I cannot cross the Wyoming plains, knowing of the trials that took place there, without being changed.
"Members, who comprise 98 percent of those who visit historical sites and visitors centers, come to remember the significance of the area, to understand, and to be strengthened. These sites offer meaning. Being there increases feelings of testimony. These sites demonstrate God's tender mercies and stand as a witness of the faith and blessings of obedience," he said.