A former travel magazine editor, 29-year-old Midwest native Jess Hoffert is taking a 6-month break from the cubicle life to become immersed in the colorful culture of Southern California.

The halfway point

The halfway point

Exactly three months ago today, I was driving through a rare torrential rainstorm in the California desert to reach my temporary home in Santa Ana. And exactly three months from today, the cats and I will pile into the car and make the trek back to the Midwest.

This morning—sitting outside the church on the first 90-degree day of the year—I’m taking a moment to stop and reflect and all that has happened since my arrival … and all that I hope to accomplish in the next three months. Here are my thoughts in the order that they pop into my brain:

I’ve become a more prayerful person. Before coming here, I didn’t pray regularly. In fact, I rarely prayed at all. But here, I pray every day. It’s because of one person: Elisa Chavez. In addition to my daily prayer for Elisa, I’ve set up phone reminders to pray for others in my life who are in need of a prayer boost. This daily routine has allowed me to center myself in the middle of the day, no matter what’s going on around me. My prayers are rarely spoken out loud, but I always envision the person in my head when I pray for them. If they are in a dark place, I picture them radiating with light. If they are burdened by personal situations, I picture them floating above whatever is bringing them down. I know it sounds kind of silly, but it works for me.

My family has grown significantly. From the moment I arrived in Santa Ana, I was greeted as if I was a longtime member of the Príncipe de Paz church. Over the following three months, I would get to know many of these people on a deeper, more meaningful level. Especially the youth. Through Sunday School classes, choir rehearsals, movie nights and dozens of meals together, many of the kids and I are at a point where we feel comfortable sharing what’s on our hearts. Because of this, I have been given an intimate glimpse into the challenges that many of the youth here face, with family situations, immigration issues and bullying at school. There are moments when I feel a portion of their pain, and moments where I wish I could do more to help them. I already know “goodbye” is going to be extremely difficult, but I’d rather focus on the three months of beautiful moments I have left to share with this dear familia.

My first home is still the Midwest. I think I’ve been having too much fun here to ever get truly homesick, but there are certainly moments when I look forward to seeing familiar faces and places in the Midwest again. I have a new appreciation for Southern California and its abundance of things to do. The weather is ridiculously nice, and the people I’ve met defy any stereotypes of “California cocky” that you may see in films or in small pockets of the state. But it’s not a place I’d want to live for the rest of my life. Traffic can be a nightmare, property values are out of control and consumerism truly consumes the landscape here, with shopping centers everywhere you look. That said, I owe this corner of the world a deep debt of gratitude for allowing me to work on my Spanish (it’s slowly getting more conversational) and fulfilling a childhood dream of living within a short drive of a Disneyland.

Looking ahead: Over the next three months, my plan is to empower others at the church to continue some of the projects I can’t complete in six months. Those include the youth choir, building relationships with area churches and teaching Sunday School. I’ve taught a number of new songs to the kids, and plan to record videos of us doing them together so the next generation of church youth can learn them, too. I’m also going to work on a short documentary film about the church to share with the greater Church of the Brethren denomination. In May, I’ll be attending Brethren Young Adult Conference in Virginia and will begin a search to find the next volunteer who wishes to serve at Príncipe de Paz. The coolest thing is that this role evolves with the person who takes it on. My focus has been on youth ministry and outreach, but the next person can do something completely different. All it takes is a leap of faith.

What a blessing it is to be given the chance to leap, succeed, fail, grow and love. I pray that these next three months will be as fulfilling as the last.

Moved, mad and motivated

Moved, mad and motivated

The importance of treating yourself

The importance of treating yourself