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Cultivating Generations Through Small and Simple Things

One of the first great blessings of my life has been the privilege of growing up here in Lā‘ie. I am a proud Lā‘ie Elementary School Gecko and Kahuku Red Raider for life. I spent my childhood running up and down Iosepa Street and Moana Street, buying pake cake and soda from Sam’s Store (now Lā‘ie Cash and Carry), and bodysurfing at Hukilau Beach until dark.

As a teen, my friends and I taught each other how to drive in the big parking lot outside the administration building here on campus, and then in the evenings we went to dances or “cruising” around the community driving past the houses of the boys we had crushes on and listening to reggae music. More often, we just sat around for hours playing card games, talking, and laughing while eating snacks from 7-11 or the old Chevron. We always knew how to have fun even in a small, country town. The friends that I made as a youth here in Lā‘ie are my forever friends, and 20-something years after our high school graduation, they are still my confidants, travel companions, and hide and eat crew. Lā‘ie is also where I met my husband on a blind date set up by a mutual friend of ours. Luckily, he fell in love at first sight, and we recently celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary in March. Clearly, my life has been shaped in countless, transformative ways by this wonderful place.

But even more importantly, Lā‘ie is the place where I learned how to be a disciple of Christ. I was baptized at Laniloa Beach, also popularly referred to as Clissold’s beach, and I remember walking to and from church every Sunday in the hot sun and then taking afternoon naps outside in the shade of the plumeria tree in our yard. We would often walk over to the temple and hang out in the Visitor’s Center air conditioning. Lā‘ie is a place of wonderful, Christlike people, and I had the privilege of being raised by so many of them, including a large number of people in this room right now. They were my bishops, Young Women leaders, Primary and Sunday School and seminary teachers, my neighbors, my aunties and uncles. Through their examples, I learned how to serve others and how to serve the Lord. This place is special for so many reasons and for so many people, but for me, it’s our community members’ collective dedication to the gospel that makes this place extraordinary. And they do it through small, simple acts of love for each other consistently throughout their lives.

So how did a haole-Samoan girl like me receive the double blessing of
1) growing up in Lā‘ie and
2) getting to return here to work at BYU–Hawaii as an adult?

I would argue that it was a series of small, simple choices made by my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. In my remarks today, I’d like to share a few stories about how my own family, past, present, and future, has been blessed with great things because of small, simple things.

Before I share those stories, however, I want to briefly look at a common reference to this principle, which is found in one of my favorite scriptures, Alma chapter 37 verses 6-7.

6 Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
7 And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls. [1]

These words were shared by the prophet Alma to his son, Helaman, in reference to the importance of preserving the records of the Nephites “until they should go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, that they shall know of the mysteries contained thereon." This prophecy is now being realized thousands of years later, but it is only possible because these ancient prophets faithfully and consistently performed the task of keeping records and ensuring that they were “handed down from one generation to another.” [2] This small and simple act repeated over generations is why we have the Book of Mormon today and are able to participate in the great work of gathering Israel.

This is a powerful example of how choices made by earlier generations of people can culminate in significant impacts for later generations. The same is true within our own family lines.

As I share some of my stories during our time together today, I encourage you to reflect on your own family legacy by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What are some of the small, simple choices that the generations before you in your family have made to get you where you are today?  
  • What are some of the small, simple choices you are making every day to honor their legacy?  
  • Will the choices you are making today also bless the lives of the generations that come after you? 

The first intergenerational story that I’d like to share with you today is how my mother’s family has defended and served The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their small, simple actions have resulted in a very large, faithful posterity that continues to do the work of the Lord all over the world today. Parts of this story were previously shared in a 2017 BYU–Hawaii devotional by my cousin Eugenia Soliai [3], and I encourage you to look up her wonderful talk if you would like more detailed information about the events and genealogy.

My great-great grandfather’s name is Pinemua Soliai of Nu‘uuli, American Samoa. His father, High Chief Muliufi Soliai, died when he was six years old, and so he was raised by his mother and maternal grandparents in Pago Pago, where they joined the Church in 1893 and did many things to build the Church there. As an adult, he was given the chiefly title Soliai and moved back to his father’s home village of Nu‘uuli in 1926. At the time, a village rule allowed only the London Missionary Society church to operate, which caused some conflict when Papa Soliai invited the missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into his home.

When the villagers found out, they wanted to kill the missionaries. Papa Soliai protected them with his own body, telling the villagers that if they wanted the missionaries, they would have to kill him first. After this intervention and many discussions within the village matai council, the Church was established in Nu‘uuli. It started as a small Sunday school in Papa Soliai’s home consisting mostly of his own family members, and later grew into a branch and then a ward whose first bishop was his grandson, William “Bill” Cravens, who also happens to be my grandfather. Today, Nu‘uuli has three wards.

Papa Soliai’s oldest daughter, Noanoalevaifagaloa Lorraine Soliai Hill Cravens, my great-grandmother, attended Church services with her father throughout her childhood, both before and after the family moved to Nu‘uuli when she was around 10 years old. She would have been old enough at that time to witness her father’s efforts to establish the Church there. Despite moving away from her family to the continental United States for much of her adult life, she remained a faithful believer in Christ.

One story about her that I will never forget came to me by divine design while I was an undergraduate student attending an institute class in California in the early 2000s. Our institute director at the time, Paul Browning, told us the story of how his nonmember father was converted to the gospel by a ward missionary during his childhood in San Diego. He said that the ward missionary was a no-nonsense “Hawaiian” woman named “Sister Craven” who visited their home, handed his father a copy of the Pearl of Great Price, and said, “read this, and get baptized already.”

Despite numerous previous attempts to convert his father, something about Grandma Noanoa convinced Brother Browning, and he was baptized in a matter of weeks. When I told my institute teacher that I was her descendant, his eyes filled with tears as he explained that his father’s conversion changed the trajectory of their family and blessed their lives immensely. I didn’t go to institute that day thinking that I would learn something new about my family history from a stranger. Now, he did get a couple of things wrong, since she was Samoan and not Hawaiian, and our family surname is Cravens, not Craven, but hearing this story about her taught me that she had a testimony of the gospel and was unafraid to share it with others. Shortly before she died, my grandfather Bill took her back to visit San Diego where over 1,000 people attended a dinner held in her honor as thanks for her influence on their lives during her time as a ward missionary.

Both Papa Soliai and Grandma Noanoa died long before I was born, but stories like these help me to feel closer to them and to understand my own responsibilities as their descendant. When I defend my faith and share the gospel, I am honoring their legacy and setting an example for my own children and nieces and nephews.

I think of the promise made in Doctrine & Covenants section 64, verses 33-34:
33 Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.
34 Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days. [4]

The Soliai family, along with the Cravens branch of it that I belong to, continues to honor the legacy of our ancestors. My Papa Bill built on the examples of his forebears by serving as a stake president in American Samoa and later here in Lā‘ie, where he brought our family after being asked to share his time and talents at the Polynesian Cultural Center. His many children and grandchildren have served and continue to serve missions and magnify callings in their wards and stakes. At any given time, Papa Soliai’s many descendants around the world are serving as mission presidents, temple presidents, stake presidents, bishops, Relief Society presidents, Young Women leaders, and teachers in Primary, youth, Sunday School, and seminary. There is a long list of full-time and senior missionaries serving in locations on every continent. This great work that we are doing as a family today is a direct result of the small, simple choices that consecutive generations of our family have made to pass on faith in Jesus Christ and a willingness to serve.

The second intergenerational narrative that I’d like to share with you today is the story of my father’s family and how they gained, lost, and regained a knowledge of the gospel.

My father, Steven Kunz, grew up in Kailua and Kāne‘ohe. He is a BYU–Hawaii graduate and convert to the Church. He is also a die-hard surfer, and that is how his best friend, Carl Arume, convinced him as a nonmember to attend BYU–Hawaii after they graduated from Hawaii Baptist Academy in 1977: there was no university closer to the world-class waves waiting for them on the North Shore.

After taking several religion classes and meeting my mom, Susan Cravens, who was also enrolled at BYU–Hawaii at the time, my dad started to take the missionary discussions. It was during this time that my grandfather, Lawrence “Larry” Kunz, shared that he had been baptized a member of the Church at the age of 8. As you might imagine, this was a bit of a shock for my dad, who had been raised without any religion.

In fact, it turns out that Grandpa Larry was descended exclusively from Mormon pioneers who immigrated to Salt Lake City, Utah between the 1860s and early 1900s from England, Switzerland, Denmark, and Holland.

His parents, Susanna deBruijn and Lawrence Kunz Sr., moved to Honolulu from Salt Lake in the late 1920s. While both had been raised in the Church, they did not attend services or maintain their membership after moving to Hawai‘i. However, they did not forget what they had been taught by their pioneer parents and grandparents.

When my grandfather was three years old, he suddenly became severely ill within a matter of minutes. Doctors at the hospital guessed that he had accidentally swallowed something poisonous such as an oleander bud, and as a result his lungs were not functioning properly, and he was having extreme difficulty breathing. Despite their best efforts, the doctors told Grandma Susanna and Grandpa Lawrence that there was nothing more they could do and that my grandfather would die.

As the mother of a three-year-old boy myself, I can imagine the terror that they must have felt watching helplessly as their firstborn child lay suffering and dying. But in this dark moment, they remembered what they had been taught. Grandpa Lawrence called the Honolulu Mission Home at 2:30am and asked them to please send someone to give my grandpa a blessing. Two elders quickly got out of bed, dressed, and rushed to the hospital. They anointed my grandfather and blessed him to be healed, and within 24 hours he went from being hours away from death to as healthy as if it had never happened. Even though my great-grandparents had chosen not to attend church as adults, their faith in the power of the priesthood remained. While they never did return to full activity in the Church, they made sure that my grandfather was baptized when he turned 8 years old, and they made sure that he viewed the Church in a positive light. When my dad chose to be baptized decades later, Grandpa Larry was completely supportive, and attended all of our baptisms and other important milestones throughout his life until his passing at the age of 91.

The story of my paternal family brings us back to Alma 37, where later on in the chapter Alma teaches Helaman about the function of faith using the example of the Liahona, a compass given to the Nephites to help them find their way in the wilderness:

40 And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day.
41 Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey;
42 Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions. [5]

I am so grateful that my pioneer ancestors chose to believe the missionaries and exercise their faith to join the Church and travel to Utah. I’m grateful that my great-grandparents chose to remember their faith in God and take the small, simple action of asking for a priesthood blessing. I’m grateful that Grandpa Larry lived, and that his small, simple choice to support my dad in his conversion has brought our family back to the truthfulness of the gospel.

So far, I’ve shared how past generations of my family have made small and simple choices that have resulted in great things. But it’s important to keep in mind that the principle of small and simple things can be a double-edged sword. President M. Russell Ballard shared a promise and a warning: “We must ever be aware of the power that the small and simple things can have in building spirituality. At the same time, we must be aware that Satan will use small and simple things to lead us into despair and misery.” [6]

To illustrate this, I’m going to share a story that not many people know about because it’s not one of my finest moments. As a freshman in college, I took a required math course. It was a calculus class, which I had avoided taking in high school because I have always preferred letters over numbers. At the beginning of the semester, I was registered to receive a letter grade at the end of the semester. By midterms, I changed that to a Pass/Fail option, and by the end of the semester, I got a big, fat, F on my transcript. As a former valedictorian, this was the absolute lowest point of my academic career. Not only had I received my first-ever failing grade, but I now had to retake the class and relive my suffering. How had this happened?

Well, I’ll tell you: I sometimes missed class to sleep in or study for other classes. I told myself that I would cram before the final and that it would all work out somehow. I didn’t attend office hours or tutoring, and I didn’t give my best effort to my daily assignments. When it was time to study, I usually chose to go out and do fun things with my new college friends instead. Now, arguably none of these small actions would have had a big effect if they happened only once or twice during the semester. But enacted consistently over the course of the semester, they added up to a failing grade.

The power of small and simple things goes both ways. It can lead to great things, or it can lead to awful things. Sometimes, as my story illustrates, the consequence comes by choosing NOT to act.

A great example of this can be found in the Old Testament, when the Israelites were being bitten and killed by poisonous serpents. When the Lord arranged a small, simple way for them to be healed, many of them chose not to act, and “because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.” [7] Likewise, one of the final instructions that Alma gives to Helaman in chapter 37 is “do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way.” [8]

We live in a time and place of great blessings. We carry the scriptures and the words of the prophets around in our pockets. We live steps away from a temple of God. There are more resources on-campus for academic, mental, emotional, and physical support than ever before. I have often found myself thinking, “it’s so easy to read my scriptures, I’ll do it later,” or “the temple is right there, I can go anytime.” Have you ever told yourself, “Office hours are every week. I’ll go next week.” Or “I don’t want to bother anyone; I’ll figure it out myself.” Brothers and sisters, your choice to get an education and develop your discipleship will have an immense positive impact on future generations of your family. What daily choices are you making to get the most out of your time here at BYU–Hawaii?

One of my favorite talks from the October 2023 general conference was given by Sister Amy A. Wright, who shared her reaction to being diagnosed with cancer. Instead of fear, she felt comfort and assurance because she had consistently done the small and simple things to prepare her children to be faithful disciples:

“We did not need to hurry home and teach our children how to pray. They knew how to receive answers and comfort from prayer. We did not need to hurry home and teach them about the scriptures or words of living prophets. Those words were already a familiar source of strength and understanding. We did not need to hurry home and teach them about repentance, the Resurrection, the Restoration, the plan of salvation, eternal families, or the very doctrine of Jesus Christ.

In that moment every family home evening lesson, scripture study session, prayer of faith offered, blessing given, testimony shared, covenant made and kept, house of the Lord attended, and Sabbath day observed mattered—oh, how it mattered!” [9]

As a wife and mother with two small children working full-time, I don’t always succeed at doing the small and simple things. Some days, I feel like a complete failure as a teacher, as a wife, and as a mother. But I have a testimony that as I continue to try my best, the overall cumulative impact of my willing efforts will echo positively into the eternities. I know that each and every one of us has tremendous power to bless our families and our communities by adding our efforts to the efforts of those who came before us. I pray that we will each prioritize cultivating small, simple actions that will lead us and our families to great things.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] Alma 37:6-7
[2] Alma 37:4
[3] Eugenia Soliai, “Choose to be Grateful,” [Brigham Young University–Hawaii devotional, Nov. 21, 2017],
[4] D&C 64:33-34
[5] Alma 37:40-42
[6] M. Russell Ballard, “Small and Simple Things,” Ensign, Apr. 1990, 8.
[7] 1 Nephi 17:41
[8] Alma 37:46
[9] Amy A. Wright, “Abide the Day in Christ,” Liahona, Oct. 2023, 10.