Brothers, sisters, and friends, good morning and aloha. Thank you for taking the time to gather with us today. Your participation in this campus devotional helps us connect as a university ohana and join our faith together as we pray for each other and invite the Holy Ghost to be with us.
My thanks to my son Micah and the other musicians who gathered for rehearsals and took the time to share their talents with us today. The words of that beautiful hymn emphasize our need to gather together in the name of Christ as we have done today. In that prayer, we are reminded of the promise the Savior gave "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." 
Thank you for gathering with us today. I hope and pray that you feel our Savior's love and that you will feel a sense of belonging in this sacred place. Long before European settlers and Latter-day Saint missionaries began coming to Oahu, Native Hawaiians made this part of the island, this ahupua‘a, of Laie, a sacred gathering place and a place of refuge and safety. Since that time, prophets of God have prayed over this community. They have planted a university, a cultural center, and a temple here to help us carry out a prophesied gathering.
This campus has been consecrated by countless kupuna, plantation workers, pioneers, faculty, staff, and students who came before us. They heard the call and felt the spirit to gather here, as the Prophet Jeremiah wrote, “one of a city and two of a country,” to find hope for a better life and world here. For many, if not most of them, life was more challenging here than they expected. But they learned to exercise faith in the Lord and work together to make their families, studies, and this community blossom. Most of them took seeds from their spiritual and academic harvest and have gone on to plant gardens of Zion throughout the world and across the veil.
We have gathered together in His name and in their name. And I pray that you will feel their love, hope, and encouragement as I have. Those who came before you appreciate you and believe in your ability to carry the legacy they passed on to you. You may feel that today or perhaps tomorrow. But hopefully, sometime during your stay with us as members of the BYU–Hawaii ‘Ohana, you will feel that love, that legacy, and your divine purpose in being here. Because if you do, that revelation can help carry you through when classes are stressful, employment is uncertain, and things feel less perfect than you hoped to find when you agreed to gather here.
I’ve been a member of this faculty and a bishop of a YSA ward long enough to know that many of you have found less than you hoped for here. Some of you have shared with me frustration or disappointment at finding that life as a BYUH student or employee was somehow less holy and uplifting than you had hoped. Roommates, classmates, and ward members are less welcoming than you had wished. Some professors, supervisors, or peers may seem less concerned about spiritual things than you expected at a university owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Perhaps you can relate to the experience of sitting alone in the Banyan Dining Hall with no one to join you. Or maybe you've felt neglected and judged by your roommates. Or perhaps you found yourself so overwhelmed and depressed you couldn’t even leave your room for several days until a professor reached out to you and connected you with counseling services. Maybe you went out on a date with a returned missionary who should have honored their covenants, respected you as a child of God, and honored your wishes instead of treating you and your body as something to satisfy their selfish desires.
Perhaps you had hoped that coming to BYU–Hawaii would help you leave behind the trauma of being abused—that somehow being around so many Church members and so close to the temple would allow you to forget the emotional, physical, or sexual harm that you suffered from people who should have known better. Maybe you, or perhaps your parents, hoped that your coming here would help you strengthen your struggling faith in and testimony of our loving Heavenly Parents and of the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ. Hopefully, these blessings will still come to you. But for now, you continue to wait for the promised healing.
If you have not had these experiences, I assure you that someone close to you has. We all have struggles and are in need of the healing power of Jesus Christ. But to receive that healing and strength, we need to gather to Him. The resurrected Savior taught the people in the Land Bountiful,
"And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me." 
To "draw" here means to pull, attract, or gather. Jesus is saying that Heavenly Father has given him the power to gather us to him.
Jesus made a personal invitation to the people regarding their part in that gathering.
"And he said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you. Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.” 
Jesus spoke to those in the crowd who were family members, friends, coworkers, roommates, neighbors, ward members, and acquaintances of those who were suffering—of any in need of physical or spiritual healing. “Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither.” The word “hither” is an old English word meaning “here” or “to this place.” Jesus invites His disciples to bring those who are hurt and suffering to Him for healing.
The Savior promises to ultimately heal us not only of our sins but also of our suffering. Regardless of the type of help and healing someone needs, the Savior is the ultimate source of that healing. We may wonder then why God is so slow in answering our prayers. Or perhaps we may feel puzzled why some people's prayers seem to be answered faster than others. I don't pretend to know all of the designs of God, and I trust in His timing in our lives. But I believe His answer to many of our prayers is to call on someone and invite them to help.
Just as Heavenly Father has entrusted Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost with specific and important responsibilities in this work, we also are enlisted as participants to help each other.
President Spencer W. Kimball taught, "God does notice us, and He watches over us. But it is usually through another person that He meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom. The people of the Church need each other’s strength, support, and leadership in a community of believers..."
“So often, our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving mundane help with mundane tasks, but what glorious consequences can flow from mundane acts and from small but deliberate deeds!” 
Sometimes, our patient waiting through adversity means patiently waiting for others to answer the call to serve. God is allowing us to grow and to learn to rely on each other, to pull together, and to learn to be one. And we cannot find that unity among ourselves if every obstacle in life is cleared from our path by direct miraculous intervention without any efforts by those who surround us.
To provide that support to each other is one of the main reasons we are commanded to gather together as members of the Church. The Book of Mormon prophet Moroni taught,
"And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls. And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus." 
We gather together each week to take the sacrament in our assigned wards. Sacrament meeting is a time to renew our covenants with God as well as our connection to the members of our ward.
In addition to taking the sacrament, Moroni teaches us that the church met together often "to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls." Speaking to each other is one of the main ways we minister to each other. We cannot invite others to worship with us on Sunday if we don't talk with them. Missionaries devote much of their days talking to people on the street, on their doorsteps, on busses, and in homes. The better you get at talking with others, the more effectively you can serve our Heavenly Father's children.
The last few years have not given us enough opportunities to practice these skills in a face-to-face environment. Digital distractions and COVID-related isolation have left us with fewer opportunities to speak to people. Many of us do not have the preparation or confidence we need to succeed in a university environment and in service in the church.
There are many reasons for not getting the conversational practice we need. For a lot of us, there could be language issues. I was at an international conference on Maui recently. Many of the participants came from Germany. I have been trying to learn German for quite some time. In fact, I just passed my 300-day streak in Duolingo, with much of that time devoted to practicing German! But as I sat down to lunch with a colleague to discuss the state of machine learning and mathematics, it came up in the conversation that I was trying to learn German. He graciously offered to let me practice! I learned that I can't carry on a conversation in German! I can read basic sentences. But if I were at a bus stop in Germany asking for directions, I'd be pretty lost. It was embarrassing and an experience that would be uncomfortable to repeat again. I might be tempted to stop talking to other people in this new language. Many of you likely have similar stories.
Running away from the call to talk to and minister to others can be tempting in cases like this. You may feel like Moses did when the Lord called him to be a prophet. "O my Lord," Moses exclaimed. "I am not eloquent ... but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue."  The prophet Enoch had a similar experience. "Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?" 
For those of us who are fluent in the native language of this university, we may struggle to talk to others for different reasons. We may experience social anxiety and terrifying fears of being judged by others. Some get frustrated and the requirements of managing social relationships with people who don't seem to behave rationally. You may have given up on dating and/or meeting new people entirely and decided to dedicate all your attention to your studies, your calling, or some other worthwhile activity.
The Lord's promise to us is the same as he gave to Moses and Enoch. To Moses, he said, "Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say." 
To Enoch, Jesus promised, "Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance."  Talking to others may not come naturally to us. But we can begin with faith and trust that our Savior will magnify our efforts.
Meeting people can be hard. Talking to strangers and facing rejection can be terrifying. Take comfort in knowing that the Lord will help you. Many of the people you think are confident conversationalists have similar struggles. We are all in this together. Trust in the Lord's promise that if we move forward with faith, He will give us the words to speak and teach us what to say. In spiritual things, the Lord commands His servants to "open your mouths, and they shall be filled."  The command to open our mouths means we need to practice speaking.
For those in the EIL program, I want to encourage you to make and keep appointments for conversational practice with your tutors. I also want to remind you that if you're ever going to get fluent in English, you need to take time to have conversations with native speakers. If you spend all of your time hanging out and socializing with people who speak your native language--even if you speak English with them sometimes, your language skills will not grow to the level you need them to.
For all of us, we can start with small and simple things, sustainable things you can begin today. My suggestions for you today are:
- Look up and notice those around you.
- Make eye contact and smile.
- Pray for help.
- Prepare and practice introductions.
- Connect briefly with others.
- Politely end the conversation.
Look Up and Notice Those Around You
My first suggestion is to look up and practice observing other people. When confronted with socially difficult situations or when we don't understand all of what someone is saying, hiding behind our screens is very easy. I know from experience how easy it is to find a social feed, play a game, listen to music, or watch a video to escape from the feelings that you can't converse, or you don't fit in, or that you won't be able to succeed here.
But when you have those feelings, remember Peter when he was drowning after stepping out onto the water to walk toward Jesus. He looked up and called for help. And so can you. Pray for strength and courage. If you can't speak yet, don't panic. But at least look up. Unplug from your phone and try to listen. Watch what others around you are doing. In a classroom setting, you may find it helpful to write down words you recognize but may not understand completely.
In a social setting, learn to observe others. If you're uncomfortable interacting with people you know, try to pay attention to how others do it. How are they standing? How are they using their hands and eye contact? What signals do you think they're sending with their body language to the people they're talking to? Even when you're ready to start talking with people developing the habit of observing body language will help you understand and relate to others.
Make Eye Contact and Smile
My second suggestion is to practice making eye contact with those around you. Take a break from your phone and greet people walking past you with a smile and a hello. You don't need to worry about committing to anything more than being courteous - much like getting an ice cream cone shouldn't mean you're in a relationship for months, saying 'hi' doesn't involve any extra obligations.
Pray for help
The next step is to pray. Pray for help in developing your social and conversational skills. And pray that our Father in Heaven will help you recognize others who may need a friendly greeting. Pray that your mouth will be opened so that you can ultimately speak with and develop relationships with others.
Prepare and practice introductions
Eventually, you are going to have the opportunity to introduce yourself. Before that happens, you should do some preparation homework. What would you say if I walked up to you in class or at church and asked you to tell me about yourself? Take some time today, and write a list of things you could say about yourself. Where are you from? How long have you been at BYU–Hawaii? What is your family like? What do you hope to do in the future? Your list of questions may be different than mine. But think about how you would describe yourself in 30 to 60 seconds. Write this down and practice it aloud in English or whatever language you expect to communicate in. Find a trusted friend or roommate and ask them to help you practice introducing yourself.
Ideally, you can prepare multiple introductions based on the setting. If I were in the classroom, I might say the following: My name is Aaron. I'm majoring in Information Systems and minoring in Applied Mathematics and Theater. I've enjoyed my database classes and plan to graduate in the spring of 2024.
If I were at church, I might use an introduction like this: My name is Aaron Curtis. I've been in the ward for about two years. I'm currently serving as a Sunday School teacher. My parents are both members of the Church. My mother joined the Church as an adult while she and my father were living in Hawaii. I was baptized as a child.
While serving as a missionary, an introduction might sound like this: My name is Elder Curtis. I've been a missionary in Ecuador for a year and a half. I've served in Quininde, Otavalo, and Riobamba. I've had five different companions. I like eating arroz con pollo and maduras.
Whatever you prepare, find a friend/roommate who can help you practice it until it feels natural. Practice giving your complete introduction at once. Also, practice giving your introduction in pieces. Also, practice asking the same questions to others you already know and listening to their responses. The purpose of practicing is to make your answers natural and automatic when you are placed in social situations.
In 1 Peter chapter 3, we read, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." Peter was speaking about being prepared to share our testimonies. But the principle applies to various social settings, including introducing yourself. Always be ready by preparing and practicing to give a reason for the hope that is in you.
Connect briefly with others
As you become comfortable sharing information about yourself, it will be easier to approach others. You can sit next to someone at church or before class and start with a greeting. "Hello, my name is Aaron. What's your name?" It's usually helpful to give someone information about yourself, like your name, before asking for something from them. So lead with your name and perhaps a short version of your introduction: "Hello, I'm Aaron, and I'm new to the ward. What's your name?" Practice making eye contact as you listen to their response. You can use one of the questions you practiced with and give some more information. "I'm from California. Where are you from?" When appropriate, you can ask follow-up questions.
Politely end the conversation
After briefly connecting with someone, it's okay and often recommended to politely end the conversation. Introducing yourself doesn't commit you to a long discussion. Your goal on your first contact is usually to have a brief positive connection with someone. You're trying to get to know them and see if there's potential for future interaction. Then politely but confidently, finish the conversation.
After you've had a chance to introduce yourselves, thank the other person for taking the time to talk. Express appreciation and interest, and make an invitation to follow up. For example, if I were talking to someone at lunch, I might say something like, "It was nice to meet you, John. Thank you for taking the time to talk today. I look forward to seeing you around on campus."
If I were a student talking to someone at class,I might finish the conversation by offering my email or phone number and inviting someone to contact me so we can study or practice together.
As you're trying to make friends and for those who are preparing to serve a mission and those who are applying for jobs, please recognize that many people you introduce yourself to will not be very interested in developing a long-term relationship. This is okay. Most people you meet as a missionary are not currently interested in learning about the church. Most people you date are not going to marry you. Most companies or graduate schools you apply to will likely not be interested in what you are offering. And that's okay. The goal is to meet people, have a positive interchange, and evaluate the opportunity for a future relationship.
I began this devotional message by talking about the importance of gathering spiritually and physically. I spoke about how important it is to recognize that many of those around us are suffering and need healing. We reviewed some scriptures and teachings of latter-day prophets that emphasize the part God has given us in answering the prayers of others and helping them come unto Christ for that relief and healing. That part includes making and keeping covenants together and speaking to each other about our needs and welfare.
Speaking together includes teaching, interviewing, participating in group discussions, and more. But today, we focused on several simple ways to develop our abilities to converse with others more effectively. We talked about looking up and observing others, making eye contact and smiling, praying for help, preparing and practicing introductions, introducing ourselves, expressing appreciation, and politely ending conversations.
I hope this message will help some of you to gain the confidence and skills to more easily and effectively converse with others. Speaking together is a valuable way of connecting with those around us and showing our love by helping them heal their spiritual wounds. I pray that we will take the opportunity to do so in our classrooms, in our wards, in our living units, at work, and in the community. As we connect with each other, even if it's only for brief interactions, the Lord will help us extend His love and to be one.
I know God lives and that we have a part in His work. His living prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, has invited us to take part in the gathering of Israel. That gathering begins with making connections with others, one person at a time. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Matthew 18:20
 3 Nephi 27:14
 3 Nephi 17:5-7
 Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 82
 Moroni 6:5-6
 Exodus 4:10
 Moses 6:31
 Exodus 4:12
 Moses 6:32
 D&C 33:8