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Faith to Move Mountains

Talofa and Malo e lelei my dear brothers and sisters. I am so humbled and grateful to stand before you as a servant leader of this university. I am so grateful to be a part of this work in preparing students of Oceania and the Asian Rim to be lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ and leaders in their families, communities, chosen fields, and in the building the kingdom of God. I am grateful to be the recipient and product of the blessings that are promised by this university’s mission. I am thankful that the Tonga Club accepted to join me here today to represent our people of Oceania. 26 years since arriving as a young convert, wife, and mother of two, eager to learn I would have never imagined being on the opposite side of this podium giving a devotional talk. I am truly honored for this invitation and pray that the spirit may dwell within our hearts and minds as I speak on a topic that has helped me navigate through some difficult times in my life. In these times of great change, the topic of faith is one that kept coming to mind as I prepared for today.

In Mathew 17:20 it says,” For verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of a mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” [1] I remember reading this scripture and thinking, “I wish I had the faith to move mountains.” I even remember questioning, if faith as small as a grain of a mustard seed can really move a mountain. I remember even asking the Lord to please help me to see and experience that faith can move mountains. This scripture has always been in my heart and mind throughout my adult life.

I am grateful for the examples and acts of faith in my life. Particularly the example of my mother. When I was 8 years old, my parents separated and eventually divorced. My mother moved back home to American Samoa where she found herself picking up the pieces from a broken marriage. She was not prepared for this change as she thought being married and raising her children was her life. She quickly found a job at the tuna factory standing all of 8 hours gutting tuna. She later was able to find employment at the hospital in the dental clinic as a secretary. She then took classes at the community college and did online courses via mail to get her certification to become a dental assistant. It was not until I was 15 that I was reunited with my mother and saw for myself the hard work and sacrifices she was making. I remember in my teenage years watching my mother wake up early to say prayer, read her bible, go to work, come home, and tend to the needs of the house such as cooking, repairing the sink/plumbing, wash clothes by hand in buckets and hanging them to dry). She would paint the house and always say no matter how old a house is, if you paint it, it makes a difference. She was good at budgeting. I remember her always writing down the bills that had to be paid and what was needed for food. During school time she would budget to take us shopping to get our uniforms and school supplies. She did all of this without complaining. I watched her give to those that came and asked for help when she herself did not have much. I remember a neighbor visiting and asked my mother for money to help buy food for her grandchildren. I remember watching my mother go into her room and come back out with money that she gave to our neighbor. I remember asking my mom, “Why do you give when we ourselves don’t have enough?” She responded, “If I have, I will always give because the Lord provides and He always blesses us.” She was right we always had enough. I am so grateful that my mother taught me faith through her actions. I got to witness the hand of God in her life and am able to apply it to mine.

At the age of 20, I was a young wife and mother of 2. I just graduated from the American Samoa Community College and was accepted to BYU in Provo and BYU–Hawaii. I remember trying to decide which university to attend and felt that I needed to be closer to home and decided to attend BYU–Hawaii. Hindsight of this decision I am grateful I decided to come to BYU–Hawaii at that time because I know for sure I would have been home sick if I had chosen to attend BYU in Provo. The distance and weather would have been difficult for me. BYU–Hawaii was the perfect transition from American Samoa. But coming here wasn’t easy, especially in relocating with a family. Fortunately, I was awarded an academic scholarship from the American Samoa government and BYUH that would help with the cost of school. I knew that I would need to work as well once I arrived to help with the cost of housing and help provide for our little family. At the time there were no TVA apartments available for us to move into, and me being a married student, I was not allowed to move into the hales. Being a bit discouraged of the situation, I was considering staying home in American Samoa to just work.

Fortunately, my mother-in-law started asking around in our ward if anyone had housing available around Laie. We were blessed that Aunty Oli Fiso offered her home for us to live in until TVA became available. We are forever grateful for Aunty Oli. Preparations were made and I came first to Laie to get settled in and look for a job. My husband and 2 kids stayed back with my family and we both saved along with the help of family to pay their airfares to join me a couple months later. We stayed at the Fiso’s house with Luana and Tasi until TVA was made available. I was able to find a job at Photo Poly at PCC at the time and my husband was able to find employment as a full-time security guard in town at Mayor Wrights. We juggled our schedules to make it work so we could watch our kids. A few months later TVA was made available. In TVA we made lifelong friends who we consider family. Being a part of the D Building family was the best. We are forever grateful to the Taliauli’s, the Autele’s, the Ahuna’s, the Levao’s, and many more who became our family. We all watched each other’s children and celebrated holidays together. I believe we all had babies around the same time and would claim there was something in the water. So, in my second year here my third child was born. I then was looking for a second job and was able to work for the Office of IT. Now I was faced with working two part-time jobs, being a full-time student, being a wife, and mother of three. But because of the example of my mother, all I knew was to keep the faith and do the work.

Fast forward three years and it was my last semester at BYUH. Our daughter who was four at the time and was attending Laie Elementary came home with a note from the teacher that she had bumped her head on the slide. Our family was planning to go to town that weekend to do some shopping. We woke up that morning to our daughter vomiting and she didn’t have her sense of balance and she didn’t look well. We decided to take our daughter to the ER at Kaiser in town along with the note that was given to us by the teacher. There they did a CT scan and then an MRI scan of her head. It was then we were told that fortunately she did not have any internal bleeding of any kind, but they had found a tumor. The tumor was located in the back area of her brain. The specific medical diagnosis was cerebellar astrocytoma. This news hit us hard, thoughts of cancer and losing our daughter were overwhelming. But we knew we had two other children to take care of and so my husband and I took turns going back and forth to the hospital to be with our daughter. I remember driving home one of the nights by myself asking Heavenly Father why—why our daughter. I remember pleading with Heavenly Father to please don’t take her. The night before our daughter’s scheduled surgery on January 10, 2000, I remember holding her and she could see the worry on my face. It was then this 4-year-old reminded me to keep the faith. She held my cheek and said, “Don’t worry mommy. Jesus is with me.” That night driving back to Laie I was reminded of the story of Abraham and his son Isaac and how he was asked to sacrifice his only son. I remember thinking is this how Abraham felt at that time and why was he willing to be obedient. Gabriella being my only daughter, memories of the past four years flooded my mind. My prayer changed that night from why and please don’t take her to a prayer of gratitude. I began to thank the Lord for allowing her to be with us for four years. I thanked the Lord for her sweet spirit and for the blessing she has been in our lives. I then thanked Him for the short moment we have had with her and that if He needed her back, then let His will be done. It was then that a strong feeling of peace came over me. I remember being able to finally sleep that night and waking up early to go back to the hospital for her surgery. I remember us praying as a family before she went in and the peace that we both felt as they strolled her away into the operating room. Those were the longest 8 hours of our lives. But, we felt the power of fasting and prayer and were blessed with the outcome of her surgery going well and that the tumor was benign. She didn’t need any chemo or radiation treatment. However, she needed to have physical therapy and speech therapy to regain mobility and had to learn how to walk and talk again. It was a long journey but we are grateful for the faith of all those who prayed and fasted for her. She is now 27 and still our only daughter and continues to bless our lives. I am grateful for this experience that set the tone of knowing faith can move mountains.

Some of you are experiencing mountains of juggling work, school, family, callings, and learning a new language/culture, or dealing with a personal trial. Whatever the mountains that you are facing at this time in your life, do your best and keep the faith knowing that things do come to pass. Be grateful for the opportunity that you have to rely on the Lord and what he is teaching you.

Another experience that testifies that faith can move mountains is the experience with our son Nephi his junior season of high school.

In August of 2015, it was the start of another football season for our family. We just sent off our oldest son to college and it was the next son in line to be the focus of high school football. It was the first game of the season and on the third play my son was in man coverage and he broke on the ball and the receiver was in the air. My son lowered his shoulder while the receiver was coming down and when they hit my son fell straight down and couldn’t get up.

Being a football mom anytime something happened to my sons the coaches knew that I was sure to make my way down to the field. I was relieved that my son was able to stand up and walk off the field and knowing my kids no matter how injured they are they always tried to get back into the game. I was glad to see that they took his helmet away. At the time I believe they ruled him out of the game with a concussion. It wasn’t until half time or beginning of third quarter that my son asked if I could go with him into the locker room to take off his jersey. It was then that I noticed that something was not right. He said, “Mom can you help me take off my jersey. I can’t lift my arms.” I quickly helped him take off his jersey and said, “Son, we need to go to the hospital to get you checked.” I then drove him to the hospital and told them what had happened and then they started to run scans and tests on him. My kids know anytime we are at the hospital I am silently saying my prayers and talking to my angels. By this time the game was done and my husband who was an assistant coach at the time joined us at the hospital. The doctor came back and showed us his x-rays of his neck and showed us that he would need to undergo major surgery. With this news I was taken back to the time of our daughter’s incident. I felt peace again knowing we have been here before. I silently said a prayer, saying, “Lord you have worked miracles in our lives before and I know you will work your miracle again.” I remember that was the first time that I didn’t cry. I just had this overwhelming sense of peace that all will be okay. The next morning, he was scheduled for the procedure. Again, grateful for the prayers and faith of those who all were concerned for our son the procedure went well. That Monday after his surgery he was up and walking and showed signs of mobility in hands and legs. But we were in for a long journey to full recovery.

My son had his mind set that he was going to play football again. Every doctor’s appointment he would ask, “Doc, when am I going to be cleared to play?” We all would try our best to help him focus on just fully healing. But, all Nephi was focused on was getting back on the field. Each Friday night game Nephi was there to support the team. But with each loss you can see the sense of disappointment and frustration he had in not being able to help the team. Things got dark for my son and you can see this injury was taking a toll on his spirit. I would always say to my son just as my mother did to me “don’t lose faith.” I remember one of the games he called me to say that he wasn’t going. This was one of those difficult weeks where he was moody. I not wanting to deal with his attitude was content to leave him at home and go to the game myself. But I had an overwhelming feeling to go home and check on him. When I got home and went to his room. I found him laying in the middle of the room with his room flipped upside down. I remember something telling me to just hug him. So, I did and we didn’t say anything and just cried together. All I could say to him was how much I loved him. It was this moment that changed my parenting to, President Monson's quote: “Never let a problem to be solved be more important than a person to be loved.” [2]

The next doctor's appointment, my son brought a piece of paper to show his doctor information about a player in the NFL that broke his neck and was still playing. We could see that he was not going to accept not playing the game again. The next appointment the doctor told Nephi that he made some calls to doctors in the NFL and that they gave 3 things that would clear him to start on the road back to the game. 1) Solid Fusion 2) Range of Motion 3) Cognitive Exam. That was all my son needed to hear. In March 2016—seven months after his incident he was cleared to participate in the Nike Opening in Los Angeles. He was able to participate in the contactless drills. This was the beginning of his road back to playing football again. Many may have thought that my husband and I were crazy to let our son play the sport again. But, to us we were grateful for the light and happiness that we saw in his demeanor. Because it was better than the dark cloud that was trying to consume him. We understood the risk and he understood it, too. We knew this was part of his journey with God and building his own faith. We have watched our son Nephi play his senior year and at the college level. He is now fulfilling his dreams of playing in the NFL. We can honestly say this is the happiest we have seen him. He is currently with the New Orleans Saints and we are forever grateful for the faith he has knowing that Jesus got him no matter what.

One final experience that I would like to share is one of having faith in praying for your purpose. As you prepare for your graduation, ask Heavenly Father for guidance on where you are needed next. I can testify that entering here to learn and going forth to serve has blessed my professional life. I have always prayed to Heavenly Father where do you need me next. He has always answered this prayer. Looking at my resume I can see the Lord’s hand that prepared me for this current position now as the CIO for BYU–Hawaii. My goal in each place I worked at was to do my best to learn, do what was required, and to do it well. I was never the type to say I am in it for the promotion or title. I just wanted to be a part of the team. This position was something that came up unexpectedly. I was working at the Office of IT at BYU in Provo and we were challenged at the time by our CIO to pray for our purpose and where we fit in the organization. I took this challenge to heart.

I applied for an internal position at BYU in Provo thinking that was the change I needed. But at the same time I also received an email from a friend that this position was open. He recalled that I told him that I would love to be CIO of BYU–Hawaii someday. I let the email sit for about a week. The more I prayed the more I felt to just apply. So, I did, and to much surprise I got a call that same week asking me how interested I was in moving to Hawaii and in the position. I was then fortunate to get a call to schedule my first interview and then my second interview. By this time, I knew that I better let my husband know. I told him that if I make the finals that we would be flown out to Laie for a couple of days, and even if I don’t get the job at least we were able to get a free trip to Hawaii.

When we arrived here, I was called to remembrance and gratitude. Memories of our time here and the special spirit that is felt here filled my heart. Meeting my future team in my interviews felt right. But I was torn with the responsibilities of taking care of my mother, the distance from my children and grand-children, and missing out on my youngest son’s collegiate football games. On the second day of interviews, I woke up early to go running. I remember sitting in front of the temple and was torn on how this decision would affect my family especially my youngest son as my husband and I have supported all of our sons by being present at all their games. As I sat in front of the temple, I thought, “Lord if you need me here please help me to balance my time with my son and please help me to provide for my mother and take care of all that is needed.” When I got back to the guest house, I checked my phone and there was a text from my son saying that he supported me and wanted me to be happy. In my last interview knowing the sacrifices that will be made, I asked the team to pray for me and for them to know if I am the right fit for this position.

Upon returning to Utah, the next person that I needed to talk to was my mother. I wasn’t sure if she would be open to moving. But after family prayer, it was to my surprise that my mother was open to moving to Hawaii if I got the job. The final challenge was how my husband and I were going to make things work with him staying back in Utah to finish his coaching season as the Head Coach for Orem. At the time we thought three months would be no problem being away from each other. Let’s just say we are never doing that again.

Throughout that time, I stayed in touch with VP Kevin Schlag. We wanted to make sure that I was “ALL IN” if I was given the opportunity. Later that month, I received the call and was offered the position to serve as the new CIO. What a wonderful opportunity to have been here as a student that entered to learn, gone forth serve, and now return to give back. With much prayer and thought my husband and I felt that it was the right decision. It may not have made logical sense, but it made spiritual sense. 

It was then the end of July, and things were set in motion. Packing and relocation began. My official start date was September 1. My mother, daughter, and I were packed and on a plane to start our new journey here. We were all excited for this next chapter. When we arrived, I didn’t have much time to settle and was quickly reminded of some of the challenges in returning to island life on the North Shore. So, I had a two-week adjustment of unpacking, getting settled, and adjusting to how far things are from Laie. Then I received the news that my sister had passed in American Samoa. Losing a sibling was unexpected and it didn’t really hit me until I got back from her funeral that she was no longer here with us. October and November came and the separation from my husband was easier said than done as we agreed on, but we made it work. But again, we are never doing that again. As the African Proverbs state,” If you want to go fast go alone if you want to go far go together.”

Then in December I received news of my father’s passing. I just got back from the trip that I made to reunite with my husband. We understand that death is part of living but when my father passed I was not prepared for the unexpected grief that I felt. This experience knocked me off my core. Many people know me as a smiley person and I can smile through a lot of things. But this time I could not smile. Losing a parent is something that we know will eventually happen but until it happens you don’t realize how much a part of you feels empty. I want to thank my husband who held it together for me and was patient with me and let me grieve. I am grateful that I witnessed miracles during my time of grief. The veil is truly thin.

I again see the Lord's hand in my life knowing that I needed to be here at this time. Losing loved ones is hard. I can see how some struggle to get past it. I am truly grateful that the Lord has given me this opportunity to be here. Being here to celebrate the New Year was truly a blessing.

Walking around Laie with my daughter that night was what I needed to get out of the funk I was in. I want to thank the community for the beautiful display of fireworks to welcome the new year. That day reminded me that is how each day should be celebrated. We should all wake up each day excited to start anew. Whatever was done yesterday was yesterday. Today is a new day. As sister Joy D. Jones the 13th general president of primary explained:

“The Lord loves effort, and effort brings rewards. We keep practicing. We are always progressing as long as we are striving to follow the Lord. He doesn’t expect perfection today. We keep climbing our personal Mount Sinai. As in times past, our journey does indeed take effort, hard work, and study, but our commitment to progress brings eternal rewards. …" [3]

My dear brothers and sisters, I hope that these experiences will inspire you to keep the faith. Whatever mountains you are facing, let God prevail. Call upon Jesus’ name and your angels. FAITH CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS. Remember you only need faith the size of a mustard seed. I testify to you that it is by small and simple things are great things brought to pass. Peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment.

In closing I would like to leave you with quoting Andre De Shields’ cardinal rules.

1) Surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming.

2) Slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be.

3) The top of one mountain is the bottom of the next so keep climbing.

I testify these things to you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen

[1] Mathew 17:20
[2] Thomas S. Monson, "Finding Joy in the Journey," General Conference, October 2008
[3] Joy D. Jones, "An Especially Noble Calling," General Conference, April 2020