“Reaching Out in San Diego,” Ensign, Dec. 1998, 70–71
On a January day in 1847 the tattered and travel-weary Mormon Battalion completed their 2,000-mile march to San Diego, California, saw the beautiful Pacific Ocean for the first time, and soon pitched in to help the small community. Now, 151 years later, more than 46,000 members are flourishing in 17 stakes and 116 wards and branches in San Diego County.
But this growth has not changed the spirit of Church members in their outward reach to the community. While members today aren’t digging water wells and building courthouses, they are involved in serving the homeless, helping battered women and displaced children, entertaining the elderly, and becoming involved in community interfaith projects.
In the Chula Vista stake, Coralee Anderson became interested in reaching out to her community and soon was involved in the area’s interfaith council. After being elected president of the organization, she rallied 25 churches and service groups in Chula Vista to feed the homeless two days a week. Each ward in her stake alternates with other churches in preparing and serving almost 500 meals weekly to the homeless. “All together we and other churches make a difference in our communities through cooperation and fellowship,” Coralee says.
Youth of the Church donate time in the “Good Neighbor Program,” wherein teenagers help the elderly with yard work or talk with and entertain the senior citizens.
Relief Society sisters in the El Cajon stake also work side by side with volunteers from other churches. They prepare packages of basic necessities and clothing for battered-women shelters and the Hillcrest Receiving Home, a center that cares for children who are temporarily homeless.
Ross Konold, former director of the San Diego stake Family History Center™, came to San Diego in 1935 and has seen what was then a handful of members increase to more than 46,000 today.
“I remember special occasions when a President of the Church or one of the Apostles would visit us at our building on 10th Avenue,” he says. “What an inspiration it was to our San Diego Saints to have the Brethren come to see us in conferences and special meetings. Heber J. Grant was the first President I saw here, then President George Albert Smith, and then David O. McKay.”
Brother Konold says the pulpit where these Presidents addressed the Saints is still in possession of the San Diego stake.
The diverse population of the San Diego area is reflected in the Church’s membership. Thousands of Spanish-speaking members and Asian immigrants add strength and diversity to the local stakes.
To assist those who have come from Asian countries, Helen Read of the San Diego East stake teaches a weekly literacy class to members of the Asian 22nd Branch. “We use the scriptures to teach students to read and learn English. By using the scriptures, students become better acquainted with the gospel,” she says. Part of the class centers on helping students prepare for receiving United States citizenship.
The crowning jewel for the members in San Diego is the temple. “During the six-week open house in 1993, more than 700,000 persons toured the temple,” says Clyde Romney, former director of public affairs for the area. “Even though there is no visitors’ center on the temple grounds, hundreds of nonmembers come onto the grounds to ask about the stunning edifice,” he continues. Missionaries from the San Diego mission are assigned to meet and answer visitors’ questions.
The temple serves members living in San Diego County; parts of Orange County; and Tijuana, Ensenada, and Mexicali, Mexico. All told, there are about 92,000 members in the temple district.
Not far from the temple is the Mormon Battalion Visitors’ Center, located in Old Town. Thousands of visitors come to the center each year and learn about the contributions of the battalion to San Diego in the 1840s. The pioneering spirit and willingness to help others that was evident in the Mormon Battalion members still exists today in the San Diego Saints as they raise their families in the gospel, go to the temple, and reach out to their communities in unselfish cooperation and service.