The California Anaheim Mission celebrated its 50th anniversary on July 2. The evening began with a celebration through dance. Groups of missionaries in traditional costumes performed Samoan and Mexican dances representing the ethnic diversity found within the mission. The gospel is taught in seven languages in the mission.
Several former mission presidents and their wives, counselors, former and current missionaries as well as some converts from the mission attended the event. The celebration was an evening of remembrance. “Remembering is such an important word to the Lord,” President Steven Taggart, current mission president, said. The idea for the celebration began when President Taggart and his wife, Sister Teri Taggart, realized 2016 marked the 50th anniversary since the mission was opened July 10, 1966.
The mission was originally called the California South Mission when it was split from the California Mission. There were 134 elders and nine sisters in the mission to cover central and southern California and Arizona. A new mission home was constructed near the Anaheim stake center and was dedicated in 1967. By 1969 the California South Mission was divided, creating two additional missions — the California East Mission and the Arizona Mission. The mission was renamed the California Anaheim Mission in 1974. Since then the mission has been further divided and portioned out to help create the San Bernardino, Carlsbad, Arcadia, Long Beach and Irvine missions. Today the California Anaheim Mission is “one of the smallest geographical missions” in North America (Anaheim Mission History) and yet it still has over 1.5 million people living in the area. Seventeen mission presidents have served in the mission over the past 50 years.
President Taggart hoped the anniversary celebration would inspire current missionaries as they look back at the past to see the “great foundation that has been set.” He said, “As we remember our covenants and we remember our past we draw strength to grow into the future.” Four former mission presidents; James McDonald (11th), Gene Moffitt (13th), Randall Harmsen (14th), and Steven Watrous (15th) spoke at the celebration as well as Kim Pugmiren a former counselor to Brad Bowen (16th). Elder Ruben Acosta, Area Seventy, shared his personal story as a convert in the mission.
“The history of the California Anaheim Mission is my own history,” Elder Acosta said. “I was raised in the California Anaheim Mission. That is why I am here,” he said.
As a teenager living in Santa Ana, California, Elder Acosta was introduced to the Church by some friends. The message they shared about Joseph Smith was interesting but not enough. “It wasn’t my time,” Elder Acosta said. It wasn’t until he came to a point in his life when “I wanted to know if God was there and if He knew me,” Elder Acosta said. He asked God in prayer if He was really there and if the Book of Mormon was true. “He answered my prayer in a way I knew both,” Elder Acosta said. When Elder Acosta saw the missionaries a few days later he asked them to teach him. “I was just waiting to get baptized," Elder Acosta said. During that time he took the opportunity to study the Book of Mormon. “I read the Book of Mormon in two weeks,” he said. “I probably didn’t learn much but I felt the power of the Holy Ghost. I learned about Christ, His mission and that He was my Savior.” Elder Acosta told all of the missionaries that “there is a Ruben Acosta somewhere out there that you will find.”
“Just seeing the power of conversion of the Book of Mormon and seeing the missionaries grasp the vision of it” was a significant memory President Watrous shared. His efforts were to “flood the mission with the Book of Mormon by placing it in people’s hearts.” President Pugmire shared that in his time in the Anaheim Mission the focus was “conversion begins with me.”
Speaking of his opportunity to serve in the Anaheim Mission, President McDonald said, "This experience was one of the highlights of our lives.” While serving as president he recognized that much less in life is a random occurrence. “We saw the hand of the Lord in unique ways,” he said.
Several of the presidents recounted miraculous stories that occurred while they served in the mission. President Moffitt reflected on the “great and wonderful spirit” that was present as he worked with the young elders and sisters.
Many of the presidents expressed gratitude for the support of stake presidents, members, and ward mission leaders who assisted with the work. President Harmsen paid “tribute to all the members who have invited missionaries into their homes and given them confidence.” Looking back at all the support from members in the area he said, “It’s a highlight to remember and recall all the wards and all the stakes we loved every one of them we love every member of this mission.”
The closing number for the evening was a new arrangement of the original 1966 mission song performed by those currently serving in the California Anaheim Mission. “This has been a beautiful gathering,” Elder Acosta said.
Displays were made for each of the 17mission presidents and their wives, with information on their dates of service, photos, memorabilia and significant events during their years of service.