YUBA CITY, California — Kayden Ellyson received his mission call, to serve in the Maryland Baltimore Mission, long before many of his friends.
But the future missionary was somewhat dismayed to learn he would be the last of his friends to start his mission, in mid-September.
“I was a little upset because I knew I just have to wait a little longer,” said Ellyson, a member of the Yuba City California Stake and whose family lives in Marysville.
What Ellyson soon learned is that the Lord had another missionary opportunity in mind for him before departing — youth tour guide at the Feather River California Temple.
When he understood this, Ellyson invited everyone he knew. He led 120 youth from the area on tours of the temple, as well as 65 more during the open house, including family, friends, a elderly neighbor woman and his high school principal, many of whom had tender spiritual experiences in the celestial room.
“There are no coincidences. God needed me here to be a tour guide for the open house to take so many friends and family through the temple,” Ellyson said. “I know God needed me to leave on my mission a little later so I could have these experiences at the temple.”
Ellyson’s family and friends were among more than 55,000 who walked through the Feather River California Temple during its open house, which ran from Aug. 19 to Sept. 9, according to Drake and Holly Brown, who served as the temple open house and dedication coordinators.
Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will preside at the Feather River California Temple dedication on Sunday, Oct. 8.
The Feather River temple will be the Church’s 184th dedicated worldwide, with 335 temples total in various stages — dedicated and operating, under renovation, under construction, or announced and in planning and design. The Feather River temple will serve seven stakes and more than 15,000 members.
The construction and public tours of the temple have allowed local Latter-day Saints to share the Church and its message with the community.
“To see their eyes open up and realize that we are really Christians, and this temple is all about Jesus Christ, it has been wonderful to share that with people,” Holly Brown said. “It is not a mystery any more to them.”
Youth guiding temple tours
Prior to the start of public tours, organizers planned a unique event for young men and young women to guide tours for other youth called “Youth First Look.” Workshops, a devotional and lunch were also part of the half-day event in August.
As many as 40 youth — ages 15-18 — were trained to guide a temple tour, and each gave at least two tours as more than 2,200 area youth participated, hundreds more than organizers expected.
“It was an incredible opportunity for the youth to be able to share their faith with their friends,” Holly Brown said.
Witnessing the youth lead out made a deep impression on Irene Caso, a Church spokesperson and also a member of the Young Women general advisory council, who attended the event. It was evident to Caso that the young people had invested time and effort to prepare, then came with faith and enthusiasm to lead large groups.
“What I found was amazing youth, so excited about having a temple that is their temple, in their community, and I was very impressed,” she said. “I don’t think I have ever seen youth taking other youth on tours of the temple. ... It was another testimony to me of how special our youth are and how they understand the importance and sacredness of our temples.”
The Browns found it noteworthy that only two groups were specifically authorized for guided tours: general authorities, stake presidents and spouses, and invited guests; and youth and their peers.
“They took their opportunity, their privilege, with great seriousness,” Drake Brown said. “And they had magical experiences.”
One young man, a high school freshman, was initially afraid to lead a tour. He finally agreed, if he could team up with a partner.
“After that first tour he was beaming. He said, ‘I can do it by myself now,’” Drake Brown said. “After that, he gave a number of tours by himself. His parents later said that it was a life-turning point for him in confidence and spiritual awareness. There are so many experiences like that with these kids.”
‘That is what temples are all about’
Drake Brown remembers seeing Ellyson walking through the temple baptistry one day with an elderly woman hanging on his arm like “they were going to the prom,” he said.
The widowed woman in her 80s was Ellyson’s neighbor, Jane Holland. Ellyson invited her to tour the temple and picked her up in his 1992 orange Ford Bronco, a vehicle her husband had always wished to own.
“She said he [Ellyson] ‘is the only 18-year-old boy in my neighborhood who stops and talks to me on my walks,’” Brown said. “‘Now he is showing me his temple, and it is so fun to be with him and see how he worships.’”
Because Holland has poor eyesight, Ellyson carefully led her around by the arm. He let her hand touch and feel different things such as the carved almond blossom of a chair or stained-glass window as he described the rooms of the temple in great detail. Although she could not see all the colors and beauty of the temple, she said she could still feel it.
“It was a super awesome experience to be able to share the temple in depth with her,” Ellyson said.
Another day Ellyson invited David Vujovich, his high school principal, to take a tour. Ellyson became acquainted with Vujovich while participating in student government meetings and activities. Sometimes they talked about faith. His principal believed in God but didn’t affiliate with a particular religion. When the temple opened for public tours, Vujovich agreed to go with Ellyson.
Near the end of the tour, they paused for a moment of quiet reflection in the celestial room and Ellyson invited Vujovich to share his feelings. The school administrator solemnly replied that he felt the presence of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and his deceased father.
“I was able to share with him that is what temples are all about, strengthening family bonds and connecting with our loved ones in heaven,” Ellyson said.
‘To stay and be a presence’
First of all, Yuba City is a smaller, remote community.
Then, when record-breaking wildfires devastated and consumed parts of the area one month later, many Latter-day Saint families lost their homes and moved out of state.
President Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, visited the fire victims in January 2019.
After visiting Chico and Paradise, speaking to Latter-day Saints from the broader community, and learning of the area’s goodness in the face of trial, President Nelson said, “Now I feel better informed about what was behind the revelation that there should be a temple in Yuba City.”
“I distinctly remember him saying that,” Holly Brown said. “To hear him say that was very meaningful.”
In February 2022, President Nelson spoke to Latter-day Saints in California in a devotional broadcast. He said they live in a vital crossroads — a place where the world gathers and is influenced. “What kind of influence would the Lord want His people in California to have? The answer: You are here to help make life better — for yourselves and for others.”
The Prophet’s message resonated with Drake Brown.
“He basically told us all how important it was for us to have a strong footing here in this state,” Brown said. “It seemed to us like his declaration of encouraging us to stay and be a presence. The temple has given us a chance to use our voices for declaring our faith and the fulfillment of what he asked for on that day.”
‘Beauty for ashes’
Rick and Kathie Turner were among those who lost their home in the fires in 2018.
In addition to celebrating the dedication of the temple, the Turners have rebuilt their home on the same property and expect to move back in later this month.
The Turners’ journey — along with construction of the Feather River temple — reminded Kathie Turner of when the Provo (Utah) Tabernacle burned and was rebuilt into the Provo City Center Temple, with the theme “Beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61:3) emerging once again.
“‘Beauty for ashes’ — that is what it feels like,” she said with emotion in her voice. “The fire affected a broad area, and much of it is now our temple district. To see that temple rise ... we all experienced the ashes, and now we are all experiencing the beauty.”
Feather River California Temple
Address: 1470 Butte House Road, Yuba City, California 95993
Announced: Oct. 7, 2018, by President Russell M. Nelson
Groundbreaking: July 18, 2020, with Elder Paul H. Watkins, an Area Seventy, presiding
Construction start: July 20, 2020
Public open house: Saturday, Aug. 19, through Saturday, Sept. 9, excluding Sundays
Dedication: Sunday, Oct. 8, with Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presiding in the two sessions, at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Property size: 9.24 acres
Building size: 41,665 square feet
Building height: 135 feet, including the statue of the Book of Mormon prophet Moroni