“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.”




Farewell to President Brennan

In March of 2008, Sterling Brennan accepted the call to serve as the president of the Santa Margarita Stake. Nine years later, he has accepted a call to serve as the president of Lansing, Michigan mission. President Brennan himself would emphasize that the important part of both of those callings is “to serve.” This is what he does.

Perhaps the people best qualified to speak to this are the very ones he served as he shepherded our stake through growth, change, and challenges. As stake Relief Society president Cindy Suman notes, “President Brennan has a remarkable way of connecting with everyone - men, women, youth, children, single, married, the elderly, the devout, those with problems, those who feel unnoticed, those who have made mistakes, investigators, long time members, the less active, the capable, those with questions, and the faithful.  His love for Jesus Christ is obvious through his years of tireless service to the members and nonmembers living in our stake boundaries.  I especially appreciate his concern for women – he regularly asks for our opinions and then acts on our suggestions.  He is a man of testimony, a man of vision, and a man of God.”

Stake Young Women president Melanie Christensen agrees with this assessment. “President Brennan loves and cares for the women of this stake. He wants us to be happy, to be fulfilled, and to understand how important women's contributions are to the church. He and the stake presidency regularly counsel with me, Cindy Suman, the stake Relief Society president, and Cindy Duffy, the stake Primary president. They take our temperature on current issues and programs, they seek our input on decisions. They want to know how the stake can help meet our needs.”

Kirk Hess, stake Young Men president, also notes President Brennan’s extraordinary capacity for work and service. “I am absolutely convinced nobody in our stake travels as much as President Brennan. He spends more days on the road than anyone I know. Yet never once did I ever question where his commitments lie. No one can say to him, ‘I have no time to pray, read the scriptures, attend the temple, or share the gospel.’ He is the busiest man on the planet, yet with his priorities in place all the ‘noise’ falls to the wayside. I’m grateful for how President Brennan quietly exemplifies strict obedience to the prophetic priorities of the brethren.” 


Bishop Tony Smith (Lake Forest) agrees. “My favorite thing about serving with President Brennan is the care and importance he applies to each individual he works with.  I remember one night he had an appointment with me and he was a bit late because he just flew in from Cleveland, drove straight to meet with me, and had a perfect excuse to cancel the meeting or at least keep it short.  Instead he met with me in the same calm manner as always, took a bit of extra time to speak about my personal life, and even remembered details about me from past conversations even though he meets with so many people.  He makes everyone he meets with one on one feel like they are close friends.”

Bishop Mitch Owens (Live Oak) shares this sentiment. “My favorite times with President Brennan have been the personal interview times. He has the ability to show his concern and interest in what is pressing for who he is with. His concerns were my concerns; his interest was in the well-being of those who have been called to serve, his focus was on how I was doing, how my family was doing, how our ward family was doing, and what he could do to help me do better. I always left those visits feeling uplifted and energized.”

“President Brennan is unrelenting in reminding me of my duty, but always with love,” says Bishop Jeff Robinson (Aliso Creek). “I always come away from meetings with him both knowing that he loves and appreciates me and wanting to do better.  Missionaries need to be loved, lifted, and motivated to forget about themselves and work hard.  I think he will do that masterfully.”

Bishop Reed Feist (Foothill Ranch) shares this optimism for the kind of mission president Sterling Brennan will become. “He has a great love for missionary work. I have heard him bear solemn testimony on many occasions of The First Vision and the events of the Restoration through the prophet Joseph Smith. These truths are near and dear to his heart. What a blessing it has been to have been led by a servant of the Lord who was called by prophecy and revelation to lead and preside over the Santa Margarita Stake these past many years.”

This is all true, but they also ALL agree on President Brennan’s secret weapon as a mission president. “One very special element he will bring to his new calling as a mission president is his dear wife, Annette,” says Bishop John Bennett (Altisima) with a smile. Bishop Owens is in absolute agreement on this point. “Sister Brennan has always been a great example of how to be supportive; watching her you can see she has great leadership skills and great compassion for those she is called to serve. She will be a delight for the sister missionaries, the elders, and the senior missionaries they will serve side by side with in the mission field.” 

Bishop Owens adds, “I think his legacy will be that those of us within this stake will remember this as a time of well-being as we spent our time in the service of others. We will recognize looking back that we improved ourselves, that we had struggles but we pulled together as a stake family and accomplished much.” This is a sentiment Bishop Bennett echoes. “One of the most important things I have learned from working with President Brennan is just how much his unwavering love of the gospel of Jesus Christ is illustrated in everything he does.  I have not met anyone as busy as he is, yet in every interaction his love of our Heavenly Father, our Savior, his family, and of the gospel shine through as if they are the only thing that matters.”  

Many of us can remember the profound spirit of peace that filled our chapels as we listened to President Brennan speak over the years, but perhaps the best tribute to him is in all the ways he watched over us without us ever knowing, through our bishops and other leaders, through prayer and loving care. President Christensen relates an experience when she witnessed this firsthand. “In 2014 our stake girls camp on Catalina was cancelled due to a big storm.  President Brennan was working in Utah when I called to give him the news.  The decision was made to hold a local girls camp instead, but that meant we only had a few hours to get a program together.  The stake Young Women board met until midnight trying to arrange lodging, food, and activities for over 200 hundred young women and leaders. After the meeting I stepped into the hallway to turn out the light, and there was President Brennan.  Unbeknownst to us, he had been patiently waiting in his office while we met, watching over us even though we had no idea he was there.  I'm not sure when he flew home, but there he was serving us.” 

Perhaps Bishop Robinson says it best. “President Brennan's tender relationship with our Father in Heaven shines through in every conversation.  The Gospel is absolute truth to him.  Both his life and his leadership style are driven by the eternal realities of our premortal existence as children of heavenly parents, our need to be saved by God's Beloved son, and the wonderful opportunity that is ours to build His kingdom in these latter days.”

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.