A Place in Their Hearts

By Kathleen “Casey” Petersen

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Teens in Southern California waited patiently for four years until they could celebrate the dedication of the Newport Beach California Temple.

Orange County, California, is considered by many to be the ultimate vacation destination. With Disneyland, orange groves, miles of beaches, and waves perfect for bodysurfing, it’s easy to see why. But for the youth who call it home, Orange County now has a destination much dearer to their hearts.

In April 2001, the First Presidency announced that a temple would be built in Newport Beach. Now, more than four years of fasting, praying, and sacrificing later, the Newport Beach California Temple finally became a reality in August 2005. Now the youth have a temple they can call their own, a place where they can regularly go to find peace and take part in sacred ordinances.

Many of the youth were in Primary when construction on the temple began. Children from the 16 stakes in the temple district painted rocks with their favorite scriptures. These rocks went into the temple foundation just beneath the baptistry as a “firm foundation.”

Serving from the Heart

As the temple neared completion, a youth celebration to precede the temple dedication was announced. Could the youth give up jobs, sports, surfing, and sleeping in on Saturday mornings for this? Even though some wondered at first if they could, they answered with a resounding yes! And soon, they knew it was the right choice.

At first Jennifer Stowell of the Garden Grove First Ward thought she wouldn’t be able to take part because of other obligations. But somehow, because of her sincere desire to participate, it all worked out.

“I’m so glad I decided to do it,” said Krista Monteros of the Huntington Beach Sixth Ward. “You realize that this is the temple; this is what the Lord wants. Your mind-set changes.”

In addition to spending evenings and Saturday mornings in rehearsals, the youth also served at the temple open house. Imagine spending five weeks of your summer vacation putting on and taking off slippers, hauling water and cookies, and smiling for 150,000 open-house visitors. That’s exactly what these faithful youth did between July 23 and August 20, 2005. “People would comment on how the young people were always smiling. That’s what they noticed,” recalls Alicia Bremmer of the Garden Grove First Ward.

“I felt really special because they noticed us. It is just cool because people really appreciated it,” Krista agrees. “The visitors were really interested and curious—nonmembers and members alike.”

Celebrating Together

Before the temple dedication, several thousand enthusiastic youth took part in a special celebration titled “A Sacred Place.” Kevin Wheeler of the Westminster Third Ward loved the exhilaration of being surrounded by thousands of other dancers. “It was just a blast. I loved it,” he said. He also made lots of good friends through the experience.

The youth performed three times before the dedication, but the final performance was most special because it was for the prophet. President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke to the youth between their performances, which filled the Arrowhead Pond arena. He said, “How thankful I am for you, for your courage, for your faith, for your determination to stand against the world in this age of so much that beckons you to do the wrong thing.” President James E. Faust was also in attendance.

For Jennifer Stowell, this was the highlight of the whole event. “When President Hinckley and President Faust both came in,” she remembers, “you could feel the Spirit, and that was a testimony-builder right there—just as soon as they entered the room.”

For Jerry Wilson of the Garden Grove First Ward, the experience was a significant turning point. “When President Hinckley spoke to us, it made me make my final decision to serve a mission and start teaching my friends and inviting them to come to the temple and church,” he recalls.

A Personal Connection

Ryan Gleason of the Garden Grove First Ward summed up the feelings of many of the youth. “Any temple is still really special, but visiting this one was just kind of more personal. It’s my temple now.”

The youth feel a personal connection with this temple, and they appreciate that they no longer have to get up early to travel to Los Angeles to perform baptisms for the dead. The temple is extra special to Krista Monteros, whose family was sealed in October 2005. “Going through that process really made me want to strive toward a temple marriage and being sealed to my future family forever,” Krista says.

After receiving his mission call, Kevin Wheeler began attending the temple in preparation for his mission. “The temple is just so amazing. It’s our connection with our Heavenly Father and with heaven,” he said. “Heaven just got a little spot of ground, 17,000 square feet on earth, and it’s our opportunity to go to it. And now that I’m endowed, it’s just so exciting.”

“I feel the Spirit,” Jerry Wilson says. “It’s exciting to ride by the temple on the freeway and see the angel Moroni statue.”

Alicia says going to the temple to perform baptisms helps her find perspective in a troubled world. “There are so many bad things out there, and you go to the temple and forget about all of the bad things. It’s so peaceful. It’s a great place.”

To the youth of Orange County, California, it’s the most special place on earth.

Thousands of youth played, smiled, and danced for joy through three performances before the temple dedication. Their personal connection to this temple is strong. (Photography by Kathleen “Casey” Petersen; temple photos by Welden Andersen.)