“Results of Service Seen in Wake of Wildfires,” Ensign, Mar. 2004, 76–77
Full-time missionaries serving in California have made a lot of new friends after helping out when massive wildfires swept through the state in October and November of last year. The fires, which left more than 3,400 families homeless and killed 20 people, affected communities in the California Arcadia, Carlsbad, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Fernando, and Ventura Missions.
Missionaries around the world give regular service as part of their weekly schedules. But following the devastation late last year, many California missionaries were instructed to put aside their regular schedules and pitch in where they were needed.
Missionaries in the Carlsbad and San Diego missions, for example, could often be found working from 6:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M., hauling ash, sorting clothing at various distribution centers, or generally lending a hand to whoever needed one—and then going out to do their regular teaching in the evenings.
Missionaries in the San Diego mission volunteered long hours with the Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Relief Center. The center served hundreds of thousands of meals, set up shelters, helped find temporary housing, and delivered necessities to residents who had lost their homes.
“Without the missionaries’ help, we would not have been able to do what we have done,” said Major Glen Madsen, commanding officer for the Salvation Army. He said he was impressed by their efforts, along with their integrity, work ethic, and commitment. “Their loving spirit came out, and it changed the complexion of the setting and spilled out to the other volunteers and employees.”
After 20 homes burned in Scripps Ranch, missionaries from the Carlsbad mission sifted through ashes by hand helping the residents look for valuables such as jewelry, coin collections, and heirlooms.
“We couldn’t have been more thankful to have them,” said Julianne North, a member of St. Gregory’s Catholic Church and in charge of organizing the fire relief at St. Gregory’s in the community of Scripps Ranch. “They came from out of the blue. I can’t speak highly enough about them.”
In the community of Loire Valley, Amy Colbert, a resident of two years, returned home to find that 31 of her neighbors’ homes had burned to the ground. Seeing the missionaries working in the area, she asked if they could help her friends with clearing their property. The next morning, 40 missionaries showed up ready to work.
It was all in a day’s work for the missionaries, but to residents of evacuated or otherwise affected communities, they were angels.
“It is amazing to watch them make a difference in so many people’s lives,” said Mrs. Colbert. “It is great to see the love of others given to people they don’t know. It rekindles my belief in kindness. … They are part of our [neighborhood] family now.”
Carlsbad Mission President Stephen M. Studdert said there has been no end to the stories of how missionaries in California have affected others. “A San Diego City engineering official told me they had assessed what was needed to complete a project by week’s end,” President Studdert said. “He said, ‘We’ll need either 195 men or five Mormon missionaries.’ That official is now reading the Book of Mormon.”
The wildfires burned more than 800,000 acres. About 400,000 Latter-day Saints were affected, with 67 families losing their homes. All members and missionaries were reported safe, and no Church buildings were damaged.