“You have to go to Texas.”

Jessica Brown of Mission Lake ward remembers the exact moment she felt inspired to go to Texas. After days of watching the heart-wrenching news of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, she was loading a box of groceries into her car when a very strong thought came to her. “You have to go to Texas.”

About an hour later, her husband called her and said, “I can't stop thinking about the idea that we need to go help in Texas.” But how could they make it happen? A few weeks went by punctuated with the urgent feeling that Jessica needed to follow this prompting. Finally she decided to start researching how to do it, and everything fell into place. She found affordable plane tickets and a place to stay with the Barr family, formerly of Mission Lake ward, who had relocated to the Houston area last year.

Jessica and her fifteen-year-old daughter Gracie  flew to Houston and reported to the Helping Hands home base with the missionaries to get an assignment. One of the women in charge grew very emotional as she expressed how grateful they all are for the countless visitors from other states willing to help. But Jessica was even more impressed by the other volunteers. She says, “Another couple we worked with was from Utah and had a scheduled ten day vacation that they canceled. Instead they flew to Texas, spending each day working hard in mucky conditions to serve people they didn't know.”


Despite the hours of news reports she had consumed, nothing prepared Jessica for the reality. “It’s hard to comprehend what it’s like actually driving through a neighborhood and seeing the piles of debris lining the streets and smell the stink of furniture, carpets and household belongings soaked in flood waters and full of mold. My heart ached for these people as I witnessed the destruction of their personal belongings. It was especially sad to see piles of ruined photographs, personal papers and books.”

The Browns worked in four houses while they were there. In one, they mucked out a garage, pulling out moldy drywall and sorting through the homeowner’s belongings. Most went into the trash heap in the yard. She didn't have flood insurance and was trying to save as many things as possible by laying them out on tarps in the backyard. Her house already had been stripped of everything on the ground floor including drywall five feet high and all the flooring. It was hot and humid, and rained off and on, making her attempts to salvage items in her backyard almost impossible.


Gracie says, “The very last people we helped were the most grateful. It was an older couple and they were so sweet. It must be so hard to witness your house and almost everything you own be destroyed. Once we were done with their house they hugged me so tightly and wouldn’t let me go. The whole experience was so humbling and I’m so happy I had the chance to help these people. I can't imagine anything better I could have done with my time.”

For Jessica, the most touching part of this experience was the reaction of the homeowners. “They were thankful for their lives and for those serving them. I saw people from all different backgrounds coming together to help one another, neighbors hugging and talking in the streets, churches working together despite different beliefs. The local Lutheran church served a free lunch to all the LDS helping hands workers. While wearing our yellow Helping hands shirts, we were stopped several times with thanks and comments like, ‘Hey, yellow shirts! We’ve had yellow shirts working in our neighborhood all week, thank you!’"


The whole experience has profoundly changed Jessica’s priorities. “I think it is easy for us to get distracted spending a good majority of our life dedicated to acquiring the very things that we saw in those piles of moldy, wet mountains of trash in front of each house. There is nothing inherently wrong about having these things and some are necessary to our daily lives, but I realized that it all can be gone in the blink of an eye. As I ponder on our experience last week the following scripture keeps coming to mind:

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” --Matthew 6:19-21

“I feel like I gained so much more than anything I was able to actually to do help. I now understand more fully the concept of service being its own reward. Many times I heard the missionaries respond when thanked for their service with, “It’s my pleasure!” I realized the truth of this statement. Doing service for others is a pleasure and can bring great us great joy, while giving comfort to those we serve.

“I can’t help thinking of how we can apply the lessons of these types of disasters to our spiritual lives. I have had to ask myself: What is my foundation? When the storms of life come as I know they will, whether literal or figuratively, how will I fare? Have I set my heart on the right treasures?

“I am so grateful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am grateful for the scriptures that can be a lifeline to guide us through the storm. I am grateful for this opportunity to remember what is most important, and for the extraordinary opportunity to have this experience in Texas.”




Julie's Conversion Story

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Julie Monroe, from the Aliso Creek Ward, decided to join the church in June of 2002. She was 22 years old. She had said that growing up, she knew several friends who were LDS, but that she learned the most about the church from her then high school boyfriend Chad, whom she later married. Julie had grown up a Lutheran but said that “it just didn’t feel right”. She stopped attending in high school. Before she had the chance to learn more about Mormons, Julie said she mostly thought “they were really nice people with big families and the fact that they didn’t go out on Sundays was really weird” to her. Regardless, she was interested in learning more. She started attending Institute and then soon after, began taking the discussions. It didn’t take long from there before Julie decided she was ready to be baptized!

“Within the first lesson with the Missionaries I knew I wanted to be baptized,” Julie says. And one month later...she was! What an exciting time for Julie and her life. The Gospel and its principles seemed to come so easy for her and was easy to accept. But most good things in life do come with trials. Julie said that the biggest challenges following her baptism involved her family accepting the decision she had made in joining the church.

“My family was not happy with my decision at first, mostly because they didn’t understand the religion and heard all sorts of crazy stuff about it being a ‘cult’. It took a few years after my husband and I got married in the temple for them to finally realize that this church wasn’t a bad one.”

And life would throw more trials Julie’s way. She was later diagnosed with cancer. But because she had the gospel and Jesus Christ, Julie said that it brought her closer to God in “every single way”. That even though she had a plan for her life, “God had an even better plan.” Julie said that she knew God loved her and “even though having cancer was very scary, I saw that He was there for me in every little detail of my life. People from the ward and friends were working through God and He was letting me know that He was watching over me and taking care of me.” Her testimony of the Spirit and the companionship it brings shows the great strength of Julie’s faith. Facing a scary trial and yet remaining true to the Gospel and trusting in the Lord’s plan for is a sign of Julie’s strong foundation.

Julie leaves us with a bit of advice for any who are interested in learning more about the church: “In the days that are hard or that you feel the world is against you progressing in your journey, just stick with it. Stay close to God. Read your scriptures, say your prayers and it will all work out okay in the end.”

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Meet Your Presidency! Introducing President Kirk D. Hess

This is part of a three part series introducing our stake to the new stake presidency. We begin with our new stake president. 

What is your favorite thing about living in this stake?

This area is beautiful, but what got us here was the idea that we could raise our kids alongside some of the most amazing youth I have met. As the saying goes, “The apple does not fall far from the tree,” and we have some really amazing parents here also. There is a wonderful culture of inclusion here in this stake.


How did you feel when you were called as the stake president?

Presidents Daly, Whitesides, Woffinden . . . these were my heroes while growing up here and to ever think I would occupy a seat where they once sat is profoundly humbling!

What are you most looking forward to in this new calling?

Certainly getting to know our stake family better. Being able to see the hand of the Lord work in people’s lives is so enriching. This is what makes a serving a mission so rich. Seeing people come closer to Christ through consecrated service be it our missionaries or in callings to serve, that selfless service in the kingdom is inspiring.

Favorite scripture:
Right now with this call in mind, I love 2 Timothy 1:7-9:

"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began."

What do you like to do for fun? 

Anything with my wife and kids. We are an outdoors family so you will often find us rock climbing, rappelling down canyons in Utah, trail running, kayaking, mountain biking.

What is your favorite food?

I love lasagna.

Where did you serve your mission?

Auckland, New Zealand

President Hess would like you to know:

I have a testimony of the truthfulness of this gospel. I love the scriptures. They are the words of eternal life! 

A Trip to Door of Faith Orphanage

This orphanage was founded on the beliefs of family, love, and Christ. The buildings and playground are painted in bright colors. Prayer is said before school, at meals, and at bedtime. Cakes are baked on every child's birthday. Dorm parents are placed with each age group. Lynette, one of the owners, cuts and styles everyone's hair. Each child is taught the importance of education, and after school, are supported in college. 

No one thought 24 little children would have enough power ... ...but then it was their turn to sing

The Santa Margarita Stake ( A Christian Church with chapels in Santa Margarita, Lake Forest and Mission Viejo. ) treated a packed audience in it's annual Christmas concert "Sing Noel" on Saturday and Sunday nights l\this past weekend. Please enjoy this stirring rendition of O Holy Night sung by an emsemble choir of over 200 children, teens and adults. Forgive the quality - it's was shot on an iPhone :)