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The Right Place at the Right Time

Aloha. Ever since the Fall of 2009, when I started teaching here at BYU–Hawaii, I have started the first day of class the same way. I write some numbers on the board and explain that the students are supposed to identify what these numbers represent. 

I start by writing 7 billion, then 300 million, then numbers like 15 million, 1.4 million, and then the smallest number has ranged from 2500- about 2800. I invite you now to think about what the numbers represent.

The last number usually gives it away. The students recognize that the last number is the number of students on this campus. The students then, with my help, identify the other numbers. I explain that 7 billion is my annual salary in dollars. Not really. 

Actually, there are over 7 billion people on the planet, over 300 million in the US, about 15 million in the Church, about 15 million in the Pacific Islands region as I define it, about 1.4 million people in Hawaii, and then a small seemingly insignificant number of BYU–Hawaii students.

Then I ask the students the analytical question: why am I writing these numbers on the board on the first day of class? Sometimes, students say that the numbers make them feel insignificant, but I point out that I am not trying to make them feel small. I am actually trying to make them feel special, to feel like one in a billion, to recognize and acknowledge the blessing and privilege it is to be here at this place at this time, that out of all the people now on the earth (not to mention those that have lived or will live), of all the people in the U.S., in the region, in the Church, in Hawaii, they are privileged to be a BYU–Hawaii student. 

I suppose ingratitude is the universal sin. I know I wasn’t grateful enough when I was a student here, nor do I really think I’m grateful enough now to be a faculty member here, but if we start every class on this campus with that perspective, with an understanding of the privilege we have to be here at this place at this time, then we are starting off on the right foot. We must recognize the rich blessings we have and acknowledge the truth that “where much is given, much is required.”

With that in mind, I’ve asked a few of our students to sing the traditional Hawaiian song, “Kanaka Waiwai.” 

Mahalo for the song – “Kanaka Waiwai.”

“Kanaka Waiwai”

“Kanaka Waiwai” was one of the first songs I remember my father playing – Dad was not a member of our Church, and it is not an LDS song, but it is a Christian song. In the Hawaiian language, kanaka is man, waiwai is rich or wealthy, and the song’s full title is “Iesu me ke kanaka waiwai” and refers to the story of the rich man in the Bible, who was told by the Savior  e haawi e haawi lilo (give away) I kou mau waiwai (your riches) huli ahahai mai iau’u (turn and follow me) I loaa e ke ola mau (to obtain eternal life). Unfortunately, we know that the rich man was unwilling to give all he had and follow the Savior. 

I like to tell my students about waiwai. Wai means fresh water, and waiwai means wealth, and the idea is that if you have a lot of fresh water you’re wealthy. 

So in general, we might not consider ourselves to be wealthy, but in a global sense, everyone in here is wealthy. We can walk a few steps, press a button, and have safe clean drinking water. A lot of the people on the planet can’t do that. In fact, about a billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water according to the World Health Organization. So we are wealthy because we have wai – fresh water. 

Further, we have the wai ola, the living waters of the gospel of Jesus Christ – a lot more people on the planet don’t have that. In fact, with 15 million Latter-day Saints on a planet of actually 7.1 billion, it’s over 7 billion that don’t have the gospel, so we need to, as our prophet Thomas S. Monson has suggested, rescue the lost and share the living waters of the gospel – and we need to hasten the work.

Right Place at the Right Time

When I was a student here, I majored in History and Pacific Island Studies. For my graduate work at BYU–Provo and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, my field was Cultural Geography. We can generalize that history deals with with the temporal dimension (time) and geography deals with the spatial dimension (space). Everything has a history and geography because everything happens in time and space. 

When we think of being in the right place at the right time, it can be in the immediate sense, here and now (like being at devotional), in a season of our lives (being at BYU–Hawaii for a period of time), or in an eternal sense (being here on the earth during the dispensation of the fullness of times), and certainly when our temporal life is over, we want to be in the right place at that time. 

Of course to get there, we need to be doing the right thing, like it says in Mosiah 18:10, “at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death.” 

Recently, we heard Elder Russel M. Nelson speak here. As he spoke, I noticed to my right, someone was texting, and to my left, someone was sleeping. You can be at the right place, at the right time, but not doing the right thing. I hope you are not sleeping or texting now, but if you are, the wonderful thing about the gospel is that you can repent.

Cannon Center

I will now move back in time but stay in this place.

One of my earliest memories is being here, I think right about where I am today, but it was in the 1970s before this building was here. The Old Gym was there, but where we are now was a large field, and I remember sitting on the metal bleachers facing this big field. In a sense, I have been on the bleachers, a spectator watching this place change through time. I’ve also been a participant and have been shaped by this place.

The Cannon Center was built in 1981. And why was it built?  So that we could celebrate the only true and living sport on the earth: basketball. Basketball is the celestial sport – unfortunately, I am a telestial player. I’m half blind and have traumatic memories of church basketball. I know basketball is the celestial sport because growing up in this Church, every chapel I’ve been in has had basketball hoops – Hauula makai chapel, the Hauula mauka chapel, Laie Stake center, etc. On my mission, every building had basketball – even on the Navajo Reservation. For the record, I’m kidding of course, but a reason chapels and this campus have spaces like this is for cultural events. That’s why this is an activities center and in chapels we have cultural centers.

This Cannon Activities Center is named for George Q. Cannon, one of the early missionaries here in Hawaii who, along with Jonathan Napela, translated the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian. A sculpture of George Q. Cannon and Jonathan Napela is right outside, created by one of our faculty members here, Viliami Toluta’u.

So this is the Cannon Center, and I work in the Jonathan Napela Center for Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Studies.

George Q. Cannon also went by pukuniahi – the Hawaiian word for Cannon, which literally means “gun burning fire.”   Clearly, the work of pukuniahi and Jonathan Napela was earth shattering and ground-breaking, ushering in the establishment of the Church here in these Islands.

This building was built not only as an Activities Center for cultural events, but it has especially been a Center for another kind of Canon. 

The Bible Dictionary defines Canon (with one N) as “a word of Greek origin, originally meaning ‘a rod for testing straightness,’ now used to denote the authoritative collection of the sacred books used by the true believers in Christ.”

From this building has come authoritative words of God – the words of prophets that have been like a rod for testing straightness – a standard for us. 

The field that I saw as a child was like the field in Lehi’s dream of the Tree of Life in the Book of Mormon – the field represents the world. The canon that has come from this place, the rod for testing straightness, is the iron rod we also find in Lehi’s dream.

And like in Lehi’s dream, literally people from all over the “spacious field,” or the world, have come to this place searching for and finding the iron rod for testing straightness and tasting of the fruit of the tree.

This Canon Center was built so that children like I was could see and hear a living prophet for the first time. It was in 1981. I was just baptized by my grandfather at Kakela beach, and this building was just built. We sat up there, and President Spencer Kimball spoke there. As he departed, and we sang Aloha Oe, he went back to the podium, and as I recall, he was draped in leis and said, “May the Lord Bless you and the Devil miss you.” I thought to myself, that is a prophet.

This building was also built so that college students like I was could see and hear prophets like President Howard W. Hunter. I remember I played in the brass band under Brother Kammerer, who still teaches here today, when President Hunter came. We were there, and the Tongan choir led by Tevita Toafa was there, and they almost raised the roof off of this structure.

This building was built so that we could see and hear from President Hinckley, and more recently from President Monson, who stood there spoke to our youth as they performed the cultural celebration here on the floor as part of the rededication of the Laie Hawaii Temple in 2010.

So when I consider those who have graced this podium, it is humbling to be here. And I guess, even in my weakness, I suppose I am now in the right place at the right time. I apologize in advance for being a little self-indulgent and telling personal stories, but they should illustrate the principles I am trying to emphasize.

Laie – Special Place

I grew up in Hau’ula, which my students know is the best place on the planet. I now live in Laie, which is a special place. It is a place of refuge, a gathering place. It is unique in all the world with three significant places: the temple will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in a few years, which is amazing; the Church College which became BYU–Hawaii will have its 60th anniversary in a few years; and the Polynesian Cultural Center just last month celebrated its 50th anniversary. This talk will be a kind of triangulation,, looking at how these three places BYU, PCC, and the LHT (Laie Hawaii Temple) have come together for me and blessed my life. Really, all three of these places have been formative for many people from the spacious field of the world that have come here.

BYU–Hawaii:  One in a Billion

I’ll begin with BYU. We have to do better here at BYU–Hawaii. I like President Hinckley’s words: we must “stand a little taller, rise a little higher, be a little better.”

In 1955 when the Church College of Hawaii was established, the global population was 2.8 billion. 

In the almost 60 years since then, the global population has increased by about 2.5 times. During that time, our student population has held fairly steady. In the context of a burgeoning world population and a global church, our mandate here is to mold leaders. The stakes are too high – we can’t afford for our students not to be leaders. Our students must, as our prophets have reiterated, “act and not be acted upon.”

We must instill in ourselves and in our students here, from both local and global standpoints, that where much is given much is required. Like the hymn says, “Because I have been given much, I too must give.”  Like the kanaka waiwai was told by the Savior: haawi, huli, and ahahai – give, turn, and follow. 

By the way, if there are students out there that are like the kanaka waiwai and would rather chase the things of the world than turn and follow the Savior, I am not shy to say to go someplace else, to another school. 

A few Sunday nights ago, I was coming from a General Priesthood meeting here on campus and saw three brethren out of standards carrying their surfboards toward the dorms. I don’t know why they needed surfboards on the Sabbath and why they were dressed like they just came from the beach. 

The previous Sunday, my wife and I were taking a meal to a family in need here in Laie. On the way, we saw three young ladies headed back to campus, also in swimming clothes and coming from the beach. I don’t think there is a student here that loves the ocean more than me, and I’ve been surfing longer than most students here have been alive, but the sign in front of this campus says, “Enter to Learn Go Forth To Serve,” not surf. I’m not perfect, but I’ve never surfed on the Sabbath. Hawaiians have always known, you have to respect the ocean. I would not expect to be watched over and protected in the ocean if I was not there at the right time. Disciples of Christ have always known you have to honor the Sabbath and keep your covenants. 

You chose and were chosen to come here. 

As it says in Doctrine and Covenants Section 121, “There are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?  Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world.”

If you are not willing to live by the standards you committed to and take your studies here seriously, this is not the right place at the right time for you. There are so many that would love to be in your shoes, so many that are willing to haawi, huli, and ahahai, give, turn, and follow.

Utah Provo Mission

In the middle of my time here as a student at BYU–Hawaii, I served a mission. I remember when I opened my mission call, I was shocked that I was called to the Utah Provo Mission. My dad had these words of wisdom, and this is a direct quote: “At least you’re going on a mission.” Thanks, Dad. Actually, this is good advice for any able and worthy young man in this Church, something that my dad has testified to because he saw how I and we as a family were blessed by them supporting, and me serving, a mission. At the very least, go on a mission, but give it your most. 

My mom on the other hand, in her seminary teacher fashion suggested a scripture: Proverbs 3:5-6.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

I remember two of the songs that were sung at my mission farewell. One was “Kanaka Waiwai,” and the other was “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.” 

My mission call reinforced a principle that I am still learning and that is a recurring theme in my life: we need to trust in the Lord and submit to His will. The Lord establishes the right places for us. Our job is to bring our will in line with His – not the other way around. Our job is to go where He wants us to go. My mission was not what I expected, or where I thought I would be, but was definitely what I needed.

Polynesian Cultural Center

When I returned as a student, I also returned to work at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Since our chapels have cultural centers, it is perhaps not surprising that we have a Polynesian Cultural Center, yet the PCC is unique in all the Church and a special place – a miracle in many ways.

It was the right place at the right time for me. My first job at PCC was in the brass band, and I worked there before and after my mission and was able to reunite with many friends and play with the brass band last month as part of the 50th anniversary. I also worked briefly in the Marquesas Village, but PCC is especially significant to me because I met my wife on the road to the back stage area of the Night Show. I like to think that we actually first met in the back stage area of our lives, the pre-existence, but in this life, I first met my wife on the road to the theater.

I like to tell my students this story; it is very symbolic of our courtship. I remember the first time I saw her. She was new at the Night Show and in the Hawaii, Maori, and Tahitian sections. I had come back to the show but had moved to the other sections: Tonga, Fiji, and Samoa. So the first time I saw her, we were both new and back stage in front of the mirrors, doing the fittings for our new costumes. She was looking pretty in her Hawaiian outfit, and I thought I was looking pretty good in the Tongan outfit. She never noticed me, but I noticed her. I actually had the kailao (carved and painted club) and was practicing one of the moves – spinning the kailao and running in a circle. There’s some symbolism there –I was running in circles, and she never seemed to notice me.

For my last few nights at the Night Show, somehow they allowed me to do the fire walk. This of course is where the dancers walk through the fire boards, play with the fire, and eventually put the fire out with the ti leaf skirts. This is also symbolic – after running in circles and not being noticed, when my wife finally did notice me, it was like walking through fire to get through to her. 

I suppose it is true that nothing that is worthwhile is easy, but she could have made things a little easier. In the end, she did come around. 

When we worked at PCC, we never actually danced together with each other. So full circle, for the 50th anniversary, we were able to learn the couples hula and actually dance with each other. We were able to perform for our family and children. When you think about it, that is what the dance of life is about: choreographing our lives to the music of the gospel and celebrating together across generations.


We were married and sealed to each other in the Laie Hawaii temple, and now 13 years and six children later, we are trying to attend regularly and impress upon our children the importance of the temple. Of course, we are blessed now to live so close to the temple. President Grace here in the Laie Hawaii Married Student Stake has emphasized doing the right things at the right time. For our married couples (most of whom live a stone’s throw from the chapel, their neighbors, and the temple), they should be establishing righteous patterns of behavior, as the song says, “Today while the sun shines,” and the sun is shining. Attending all church meetings, doing home and visiting teaching, and attending the temple will never be more convenient. 

It’s a cliché that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone – I’ve come to appreciate the temple especially since its rededication while it was closed for 18 months during its renovation. Just like the temple, we need to constantly renovate and rededicate our lives to live up to “temple standards” as Elder Scott D. Whiting explained:

“We are each made of the finest materials, and we are the miraculous result of divine craftsmanship. However . . . our own temple can become in need of renovation and repair work. Perhaps there are walls within us that are gritty and need buffing or windows of our souls that need replacement in order that we can stand in holy places.”1

For our singles, the goal is to go to the temple and be sealed for time and eternity. I’m now going to address my remarks specifically to the brethren. From The Family: A Proclamation to the World, we know that there are three P’s that signify the roles fathers play:  they are to Preside, Provide, and Protect. 

However, to get to that point brethren, I want to suggest a forth P:  Pursue. Women in this Church believe in the 13th Article of Faith; they believe in being chased – both chaste as in chastity, but also chased as in being pursued! You knew it was coming, and of course, prophets have commented on this. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said to get away from “hanging out,” and instead you need to “get on with it.”2  Enough said about that. You know what I’m talking about.

On the flip side, one of my favorite scriptures is Mosiah 4:27:

“And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.”

My mission president Keith Humphreys actually told me in our final interview before I returned home (and he was a lawyer and didn’t mince words), “Elder, take your time.” I was obedient, probably in part because I needed to grow up (something that Elder Oaks also said), but also, things must be done in wisdom and order. We need to be actively engaged, even if getting engaged takes longer. As with many important things in my life, like marriage, I’ve had to wait. Just like in returning to teach here at BYU–Hawaii.

Return to BYU–Hawaii

After we got married, I was a fulltime student working on a Ph.D., teaching part time, and we had a new baby girl, Kialoa, our oldest, and I thought I was busy. Then, I was called to serve as the elders quorum president of the Kahaluu Ward by the president of the Kaneohe, Hawaii Stake at the time: President Scott D. Whiting, who is now Elder Whiting whom I just quoted. I laugh now because I thought I was busy then, and now I have six children.

Anyway, I accepted the call with some reluctance. He asked if I had any concerns, and I said something like, “I’m concerned because if I say I’m going to do it, that means I have to do it.” President Whiting, also a lawyer, smiled and said, “It’s funny how that works – when you say you’re going to do something, you have to do it.”  

I served as well as I could and then I had to be released because we were moving to Waianae on the other side of the island. When President Whiting released me, he asked, “Why are you moving to Waianae?” I said “I’m pursuing a Ph.D. and doing my dissertation field work there.” “Why a Ph.D.?” he asked. I told him, “My goal is to teach at BYU–Hawaii.” After our interview, I asked him to give me a blessing. The main thing I remembered him saying in that blessing was that our goal of being at BYU–Hawaii would take longer than expected.

A few years later, in 2005, I applied for a position here at BYU–H. I thought the process went well; I think I gave the best research presentation I had ever given (before or since) and felt like that was confirmation that that was the time and place. Humbled is a nice way of saying it, but it was really disappointing and hard to take when I was informed that I didn’t get the job. It didn’t help that the grant I was working under at UH at the time was coming to an end, and I was about to be unemployed when my wife was pregnant with our third child. I thought, “We talk about returnability, but I’m returning home and can’t get a job.” To make a long story short, this was a very challenging time for us but a time we value and have learned from. 

Hindsight is always 20-20, and for me, I’m half blind, so that doesn’t help, but I can see clearly now that not getting the job at that time was the best thing that could have happened. I ended up elsewhere, and that experience was invaluable. I completed my Doctoral degree at UH, got a tenure track job at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, we lived on an acre in lower Puna, we made lifelong friends, and my family was thriving. And then to make a long story short, four years after I first applied, I got a job here, and we ended up coming back home; however, it was in a position that I honestly didn’t anticipate or expect to be in. 

I guess four years is a magic number for me; it was also four years after we met that we were married. I guess I’m lucky it was not seven years like Jacob or 40 years like Children of Israel.

However, President Whiting’s blessing proved prophetic – it took me longer than expected to return to BYU–Hawaii. In many ways, that’s the story of my life. My name Kali means “wait” in Hawaiian. Things have taken longer than expected. I was born late, and I’m a late bloomer – I was the last of my friends to serve a mission, one of the last to get married, and it also took me a while to finish my education and to start my career. 

Another cliché we might use is “better late than never.”  One of my favorite stories I heard President Hinckley tell is that of Joseph F. Smith who was called to serve a mission to Hawaii at the age of 15. Here are key elements of the story taken from President Hinckley’s talk:

Here in Hawaii, young Joseph F. Smith was lonely and impoverished like the Hawaiian people. One night, he had a dream. He dreamt that he was rushing somewhere with a bundle in his hands and realized that he was headed to a mansion. On the way, he found a bath, bathed, and realized that in the bundle were white clean garments, which he put on. He then went to the mansion. These are Joseph F. Smith’s own words:

“I knocked and the door opened, and the man who stood there was the Prophet Joseph Smith. He looked at me a little reprovingly, and the first words he said: ‘Joseph, you are late.’ Yet I took confidence and [replied]:

“‘Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!’

“He clasped my hand and drew me in, then closed the great door. I felt his hand just as tangible as I ever felt the hand of man.”3

I too have been late in many things, but I too have been embraced by loving leaders, and I hope to be clean.

Here and Now and Beyond

So I stand here and now in this time and place, wearing a maile lei. I have not worn a maile lei that often - only on special occasions. A few times were when I graduated from BYU–Hawaii, when I was sealed in the Laie Hawaii temple, and then now today. A lei can be thought of as connecting people through time and space. I’m now going to look to the future and reflect on where we want to be at the end of our temporal lives.

About seven months ago, we had our sixth child. A few days before he was born, my wife’s grandmother, Marcella Brede, passed away, and one of the names our newborn son carries is her name. When I think of Tutu, as we call her, I think of enduring to the end. She was orphaned as a youth, she was a convert, she was a young mother who singlehandedly raised five children in the Church in a part member family like my mom did for us. She was widowed (for almost 30 years) after caring for her husband who had Alzheimer’s. She was a cancer survivor and had some serious health issues, but despite her health, she served faithfully in various callings and was a long time temple worker, and even in her older years, she served as a full time senior missionary at the Washington D.C. Temple. 

When I think of Tutu, I think of enduring to the end. She was of course not perfect. In fact, one of her weaknesses was not letting others help her; she had a stubborn resolve to be on the giving side as compared to the receiving side. She endured well because of her giving and nurturing nature. Three things come to mind when I think of her and her legacy:  

The first is food. I think of her guava jam, her famous chocolate cake recipe, and also her squid luau recipe, which we still use. Tutu fed people; she nourished and nurtured people, more than just with food. 

Second, I think of the blanket she sewed for me when I graduated with my Ph.D. She sewed blankets for all of her graduates. Knowing I was a proud Kahuku Red Raider for Life, she made a red blanket that we still use today. We felt her warmth and comfort when she was here with us, and we still feel her comfort and love today from beyond the veil. Tutu was always in the mix, and I’m confident she’s working hard on the other side, just like she did here on this earth.

The third thing I think of is the leis she would make. Her grandchildren, including my wife and even our children, would help her pick flowers, and she would sew the leis. In addition to making leis, she was good at stringing family together and including everyone. Today, we perpetuate some of the family traditions she established which have helped keep the family close. 

So when I think of where I want to be at the end of my life, I want to be like Tutu, to endure well with a life of service – giving, nurturing, comforting – and stringing people together.

Hiki Mai E Na Pua

So at the conclusion of my talk as I stand here with this lei, I ask you the question I ask my students:  What kind of lei are you?  

In the Hawaiian Studies program here, we teach the chant “Hiki Mai E Na Pua.” It was composed by Uncle Cy Bridges, a man special to me for many reasons but especially because he was the bishop that ordained me to the Melchizedek Priesthood and sent me on a mission. The chant was incorporated into the Hawaiian Studies program by the late Uncle Bill Wallace, the founder of the program, a professor and predecessor of mine. I want to acknowledge him and Aunty Nikki who are both on the other side of the veil and also acknowledge the extended Wallace Ohana who have always supported me. I also want to acknowledge the kupuna (elders) who are here with us today. Mahalo. And also to those kupuna  (ancestors) on the other side of the veil, who have prepared the way for us. Mahalo.

The chant speaks about us coming forth as children with our ancestors and honoring them, as well as the Savior and our Father in Heaven. A few of the lines of this chant are “haa mai na kama me ka makua, he wehi pulama a o ke kupuna,” which translates as “humbly coming forward children with parents, a cherished adornment of our ancestors.”

In Uncle Bill’s interpretation of this chant, he explained that we are like leis worn on the necks of our ancestors. 

So again I ask, what kind of lei are you?  Are you fresh, vibrant, and sweet smelling, or are you wilted, decaying, and not so nice smelling?  Ultimately, when we get to that place and time when our lives are over, what kind of lei will we be on the neck of our kupuna (our ancestors)?  How well will we have represented our ohana (our families)? What kind of lei will we be on our ultimate ancestor, Ke Akua, our Father in Heaven?

I have a testimony that we should as the chant says: “E hahai I ka leo o ka Haku,” “follow the voice of the Lord.” If we follow the voice of the Lord and accept His will, we will be in the right places at the right times in our lives here on Earth as well as in the eternities. 

Again, I thank you for your indulgence, for listening to me share some personal stories. This place and these places I have talked about are a part of me. I leave you with another part of me, my testimony.

The Church is true. 

We have the Gospel – let’s live it and share it.

We have a living prophet, Thomas S. Monson – let’s follow.

We have the Book of Mormon – let’s read it and share it.

We have the Priesthood – let’s magnify it.  

We have the temple – let’s go to it.

We have the Savior and His Atonement – let’s give all we have, turn and repent, and follow him so that we can return as ohana to our ultimate ancestor, our Father in Heaven.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 


1. See Scott D. Whiting, "Temple Standard," 2012 October General Conference,  Ensign.
2. See Dallin H. Oaks, "Divorce," 2007 April General Conference,  Ensign
3. See Gordon B. Hinckley, "Be Ye Clean," 1996 April General Conference,  Ensign