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Different, Yet Same

Aloha Sisters and Brothers:

Very rare in my life have I been as excited as I am right now. In many instances, this historic Cannon Activities Center, this central court of challenge and competition, has been the location of many a struggle for those attending this school to overcome adversity, lay it all on the line, showcase all that their effort and energy has prepared them for to face their competitors and kūlia i ka nuʻu… strive for excellence. I too have felt that heat of nervousness here, that excitement, that anxiety to do good, that fear of messing up. The spotlight turns up on me and I want to deliver… all preparation and focus and study and prayers culminate to that very moment. Ah the emotions of being in the Cannon Activities Center. Of course I never played a sport in this building. Oh, goodness no. I was never good enough to play at any game here. It's usually the butterflies of a stake conference general session, hoping nothing's in my teeth, or the camera doesn't add too many more pounds to my already healthy physique, or I don't trip to the stand or the podium. I suppose now I can check that off my list of accomplishments for today; I didn't trip on the way up to the podium. Yes, I am excited for now. I am excited for today. This moment. Because in a few short moments, this will be done, the lights will dim, and I will be able to go back to not worrying about tripping over myself to get to the podium, or how much additional weight the camera has added to how I look.

In all seriousness I'm excited to be that instrument in the Lord's hands in this capacity for the next few moments, to share some thoughts from my limited perspective that hopefully are meaningful in some way to help us do a little better, and to be a little better. Hopefully at the end of this we can all, including myself, give a little more aloha to each other in very different yet similar ways.

Recently, I seem to return to the thoughts I’ve had in regards to the hymn, “How Firm A Foundation.” In it we sing, “How firm a foundation, ye Saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in his excellent word! What more can he say than to you he hath said...” I interpret these words to mean that Heavenly Father has said a lot; a ton. What more can he say than to you he hath said? What more can I, who am a shadow of a man compared to those who have come before me and spoken in this venue, share differently than those who have graced this podium previously. To put it in intimate terms, when Elder Bednar spoke from this podium at a stake conference a few years back, he spoke at a few other meetings at a nearby stake center. He said, “Look, if you want new topics from the brethren, then do what the brethren have said before. If you want the brethren to stop talking about tithing, pay your tithing. If you want them to stop talking about the Word of Wisdom, obey the Word of Wisdom.”

“What more can he say, than to you, he has said.” Elder Bednar recognizes the repetition needed to get things done in our weak human nature. The scriptures are filled with repetition. And here I am, about to repeat some of the same things you've heard over, and over, and over again. Perhaps, there is importance in repetition. Perhaps, some things just stick when said in a different way, from a different perspective, in a different tone, from a different mouth. As some of our children have become teenagers, sometimes they don't seem to always be interested to follow what their parents say, but will follow obediently when a friend or cousin says things… sometimes the same things their parents just told them that they chose to not obey. Sister Haverly and I have joked that we should call our children's friends and bribe them to tell our children to wash the dishes, or take out the trash, or something that we've told them to do but they haven't. And of course, as much as I put my own children on blast here today, I'm sure your parents have never, ever told each other, “Can you please talk to your son or daughter, because they'll listen to You!” The messenger may be different, but the message is the same. I’d actually love to see the conversations in Heaven, with god-level patience; a Heavenly Mother turns to a Heavenly Father, and says, “Dear, can you please send Brother Jon Kalā Kau to go to BYUH's devotional and talk to that Haverly boy about being more patient in his afflictions, and to be more faithful,” or “Dear, that Haverly boy is at it again, questioning the timing of changes in his life; can you send Sister Michelle King, serving at the Lāʻie Hawaiʻi Temple Visitors Center, to give a talk at devotional and see if he listens to her about trusting in the Lord's timing?” How many times has a Heavenly Mother, like many mothers the world over, had their husbands send someone to talk to their children on a message they've already heard. Perhaps some of the words I share today are a direct spiritual impression of that same pleading.

I give my aloha to Kahoku Haverly, my wife, my love and companion; she is quite literally the reason why I am standing here in this suit and arguably with this stress, speaking to you in this capacity as stake president.

I have lost many a Gospel discussion with this woman. From the days where I'd ask, “You don't REALLY believe that Joseph Smith actually SAW God do you?” and her calm and confident responses, I'm not gonna lie, they kind of irritated me. Not because she was sharing them as a “know it all,” but more because I could feel her answers were correct, and fought it. Other questions; as an active Protestant, I'd ask, “Well in Revelations at the end of the Bible it says that you can't add to this Bible, and here's your church adding this whole other book, The Book of Mormon. Explain that.” And with calmness and confidence, she'd explain that well, that same promise was stated in Deuteronomy; the word Bible means collection of books; Revelation was written much earlier chronologically than other books in the New Testament; John meant that no one should add to the revelations of what he was describing… ugh. Again, it was irritating yet convincing. My spirit told me she was right. I knew she was right. Again. And again.

The discussions turned from, “Why does your church…?” to “Tell me about…?” Notice the difference in tone. A young woman's prayers of faith to be that instrument in conversion of a friend were now prayers being answered to soften that young man's heart, demeanor and perspective. I look back at those times with such surprise and awe, knowing it definitely was critical that the prayers of a young woman, True to the Faith8, inseparably connected to the concepts of what is now For the Strength of Youth, followed the Spirit, paid attention in seminary and used her quiver of spiritual tools to help a very hard headed young man allow his heart to be softened. They were so very different. Yet they became the same.

Years later, after a baptism, a mission, a temple marriage, and 6 children, I'd draw upon these experiences as I counseled with many couples as they prepared to get sealed in the temple. I'd use a whiteboard and draw something that I hoped looked a lot like this. I'd draw a picture of Oʻahu, and draw a star here to represent Waialua where I grew up, and then I draw a star here, to represent Lāʻie, and a star here right by China Man's hat for Waikāne for where my wife was raised, and explain those stars. I ask the couple what the distance is between those two stars, the one in Waialua and the one in Waikane. I write down the number 33, representing the number of miles between these two stars. 33 miles is the mile marker closest to where my wife grew up.

I then add another star around the Kalihi area, where my wife and I went to high school. So we grew up on the same island, we went to the same high school, we are generally of the same culture. We had the same lunches. Participated in the same marching band. As you heard a few classes we attended together. So we were so similar. However, that’s where the surprising similarities end. She had 5 other siblings, I had one. Her mom stayed home to care for the children; my mom worked. Her parents attended church with her. I went with my brother and friends to church. A very different church. She had dinner at a dinner table every single night, and frequently breakfasts and lunches also. Our dinner table was used usually for Thanksgiving and a handful of other special occasions. Those 33 miles of distance between this young girl and me seemed more like 33 thousand miles of distance. We were so different. When we were married, those differences seemed to become louder and louder, as we focused on them. However, if we focused on those differences, or if we LET ourselves focus on those differences, they will get louder and louder and inescapable, causing us to grow apart. But as has been the case, and the counsel of many a bishop and stake president, if our goals are to be the same, if we didn’t focus on those differences, but connected with our similarities along with an “eye single to the glory of God,” we would overcome the 33 thousand miles of perceived distance between how this Waikane girl was raised and how this Waialua boy was raised.

So what then do we say of differences in life? John De Fries, newly christened CEO of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, long time Hawai’i community advocate and tourism leader, frequently started his presentations with a statement that I’ll paraphrase here. He’d say that in looking at this picture, it is said that much can be understood regarding a person’s psyche in relation to their answer of this question, What do you see in this picture? Is the glass half full, or is it half empty? What difference do you see? Are you a pessimist or an optimist? Mr. De Fries would continue, that his grandmother would say it is neither half full, nor half empty. It is completely full… full of water plus air. Different, yet the same. It is one unit. One glass. Both important. Air is incredibly important to life as humans. Water is important to many things on Earth including humans.

There are a multitude of other analogies of being different, yet being the same. Most who know me know I’m a Chevy guy. I love Chevy trucks. So it is peculiar that I drive a Ford Ranger these days. Why? Not because I’ve somehow converted… I still love Chevys. But I need to get from point A to point B, and although different, the capabilities are the same. Similarly, my associates at work know that the phone I pull out of my pocket is a Samsung, and I have not converted to the dark side of using an Iphone. It’s different. I don’t choose Iphones. But can I make a call on an Iphone? Of course. Can I send a text? Absolutely. Can I read my scriptures, look up a member on the Member Tools app, submit a name to the temple, share an inspiring message from a friend to my friends online? Absolutely! Different, yet same.

Many years ago in training at this university in the classes Mālama kai and Mālama waʻa classes, or classes associated to learning about the ocean, the Iosepa voyaging canoe and voyaging in general, a phrase “He waʻa he moku, he moku he waʻa” was commonly shared. Basically and loosely generalized, “a canoe is an island, and an island is a canoe.”There are stark differences between life on a canoe, and life on an island. There is no Walmart on the open ocean. There is no West Marine or Nanko's fishing store. No Ace Hardware to pick up more rope or epoxy. However “He waʻa he moku, he moku he waʻa” is a deeper concept to help us live on a canoe with an island in mind, and live on an island with the canoe in mind. Be mindful of your environmental impacts. Avoid waste. Be aware of your surroundings. Utilize ʻike, or observation to understanding, to learn and adjust to what is right for you, your family, your people. And speaking of people, the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa recently returned from a worldwide voyage navigating by nature without the use of technology, to showcase to the world that although we may be from vastly different cultures, we are of the same island, “Island Earth,” a term from the 50’s used by the crew of Hōkūleʻa many times. We've only got one Island Earth. We all come from this same Island Earth. Whether dark skinned or light skinned. Educated, or non-educated. Asian, North or South American, African, Australian, Pacific islander, Atlantic islander, European, or anywhere not particularly mentioned, we are of one moku. One waʻa. So very different. Yet so very similar.

In alignment to that, the Polynesian Cultural Center, where I work, changed it's messaging to the public from phrases such as “All the islands of Polynesia, all in one place,” to what is now, “One ʻohana, sharing aloha.” This isn't a reference to just the cultures of Polynesia sharing aloha, or the workers at the Center and their varying perspectives sharing aloha, to me this phrase, like Hōkūleʻa, is saying hey look, we're all one ʻohana. We are spirit children of our Father in Heaven. Believe it or not, we are brothers and sisters, and the Center is here to remind us of this through sharing aloha to you, brother, and you, sister. Again, regardless of where we're from.

And speaking of differences, let's compare where I work and BYU–Hawaiʻi. The Polynesian Cultural Center is Hawaiʻi’s best family attraction, voted in as such year after year, after year. But here I stand on the campus at BYU–Hawai’i; a quaint Church school far from Utah and Idaho. A visitor attraction. A university. Quite a stark difference in business models. Or is it?

In a meeting a few years back the CEO of PCC, President Alfred Grace, said something that was surprising to my ears. He said that without the students of BYUH, PCC would close. At the time I was the head of the sales team, in charge and feeling confident in getting tickets sold to the Center. Sales were up; demand was strong; satisfaction was high. Could the Center continue without the students? Sure, I thought. Of course the Center cannot continue without our beloved students. The students are why the Center exists. Without the students, PCC would have never opened. When you boil down the lengthy mission statements of these two institutions, BYUH and PCC are here to create this genuine gold of servant leaders to spread as a positive pandemic of generational change throughout the world via different yet purposefully identical experiences here in a very little town in Koʻolauloa, Oʻahu.

And in full consideration of this wonderful success story that is the Polynesian Cultural Center and BYU–Hawaiʻi, so different yet so much the same, let us look at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When in our recent history have we lauded the efforts of other churches, championing their efforts as loudly as we are ours today? We work literally shoulder to shoulder with other congregations and churches, providing support and service to them and with them. We don't sit on the corner, looking in a demeaning manner at them, saying, “Well, we believe our prophets see God and you don't,” or “Well, the book of Revelation wasn't written at the end of the Bible, and as such we've added scriptures that you don't have.” We don't highlight our differences. We focus on what's the same. We love God. We are strengthened by He who is greater than us. We can make the world a better place. We are all on this same Island Earth together. That's why we work with the many denominations throughout the world. This is why we have many combined service projects, and support legislation which is alignment with the following: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” We love this privilege, and hope to support other religions in this equal privilege. We are so different from these other religions, yet in many instances we are the same. Isn't it interesting that as Joseph Smith defined to the world through the Articles of Faith the characteristics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the many differences the Church has with other religions and organizations, he actually was able to build upon similarities such as this 11th Article of Faith, which is what we build our current inter-faith relationships on.

So how is it living in this community and with those who “Enter to learn”? Latter-day scriptures share with us the fact that “if ye are not one, ye are not mine.” Is it possible to be “one” with so many stark differences interculturally? Absolutely. Consider this.

My calling and the reason why I'm here is not because I like Chevys or don't like Iphones. It's because I have answered the call to serve as a stake president, one of the 5 stake presidents that serve this community, this land division or moku of Koʻolauloa. In the General Handbook: Serving in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in section 5.0, it says, “The stakes of the Church are established “for a defense, and for a refuge” for the Saints in the latter days (Doctrine and Covenants 115:6). The term stake comes from the prophecies of Isaiah, who described latter-day Zion as a tent or a tabernacle that would be secured by stakes (see Isaiah 33:20; 54:2).”

Brothers and sisters, I can assure you I am not anything like the 4 other stake presidents who serve this Koʻolauloa community. They are all unique. I am strangely unique. For one, I think they all use Iphones. But in all seriousness, I know without any doubt that they are called of God to create this “defense”... this “refuge.” President Schlag, President Tueller, and President Nawahine, who I love dearly and seek to draw closer to constantly as my keyholder, my stake president, I love. They are there for us. President Ah You drips with Aloha… his calling is the closest to mine in terms of being the counterpart YSA stake president, but he is so much more handsome and Samoan and energetic and everything. These brethren take my breath away they're so capable. They are so different. Yet here I am, as one of the five, with a rope in my hand, pulling and pounding in the fifth stake; the Lāʻie Hawaiʻi YSA 2nd stake, creating this tent like structure, far larger than anyone has seen in our community, a tent over our community, to provide shelter “for a defense, and for a refuge.” Here we are, the five of us. So completely different, yet so completely the same. How is this possible, you may ask? In the next paragraph of the Handbook; this is our work as stake presidents and stake presidencies, “They [stake presidents] care for stake members with love and concern, helping them become true followers of Jesus Christ.” This is it. This is our task. These are our marching orders. Each of us, from the facilities guy at PCC to the CEO of a care provider, to BYUH executives, to a business partner and leader at the largest private high school in the nation; we are all here to care for stake members with love and concern, helping them become true followers of Jesus Christ. We are so different. Yet, we are the same.

Brothers and sisters, I know how amazing these men are, and although they are miraculously capable, the defense and refuge needed in this area here is not to be exclusively done by them. Fortunately for us, there are bishops with the same call to service, there are stake council members, there are ward council members, there are ministering brothers and sisters, there are you; all of us. If we all pull together at the ropes of these stakes to stand up this tent, this refuge in the way the Lord has designed, to first be filled with this love, this charity, this Aloha, and then as Moroni 7:48 states, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren [and sisters], pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ, that ye may become the sons [and daughters] of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.” Perhaps if we pull together, in different ways, we will yet be able to receive this same eternal life as our Father has planned and promised. To this end I add my testimony. We are here for you. We see you. We love you. We give our aloha to you, and seek to serve you in different, yet similar ways. Our Father in Heaven lives. He is different from our Savior, His Son, our older brother, even Jesus Christ. Their work is the same. And their work is our work. This I leave with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.