My brothers and sisters, the topic of my message is "Following a More Excellent Way". From the Book of Mormon, in Ether 12:11, we read:
"....But in the gift of the Son hath God prepared a more excellent way..."
To ensure that we can be partakers of that gift, the Savior declared: "Come, follow me!"
To truly acquire a more excellent way, we must be willing to follow "line upon line, precept upon precept" and 'live by every word which proceedeth forth from the mouth of God."
One of the earliest and greatest examples of someone who covenanted to follow a more excellent way was Father Abraham. From the Pearl of Great Price, in Abraham, Chapter 1:2, we read:
"And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers... having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a great follower of righteousness, ...desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God..."
Following a more excellent way resulted in Abraham becoming 'a father of many nations, a prince of peace' and one who received blessings related to the holy priesthood of God.
We, as members of the Lord's kingdom here on earth, have covenanted to follow 'A More Excellent Way'. At our baptism, we made the following covenants:
1. Take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ,
2. Always remember Him, and
3. Always keep His commandments.
Each one of us, whether born into the church or taught by the missionaries, has a story of our conversion and decision to follow a more excellent way.
I was born in the little island of Rotuma. There were seven children, 5 boys and 2 girls. When I was 6 months old, my father passed away. On my island, Methodism or Catholicism permeated our way of life. You are either a Methodist or a Catholic. To change religion is to be scorned at, ostracized, humiliated, ridiculed and treated as an outcast.
I had finished the 8th grade. My mother, who was getting sick, was determined that I should go to Fiji to further my education. Reluctantly, I boarded a boat, took the 2-day trip, sleeping on the deck. I lived with my relatives in Suva, the capital of Fiji. Three and half months later, word came from the island that my dear mother had passed away. I was heartbroken. I felt all alone.
It was at the end of the second year of high school, at age 16 ½, when I met the two missionaries. I attended my sister's wedding at the Suva chapel. The two missionaries arranged that I should come to the church to take the discussions.
In the first discussion, they introduced the Godhead. They then told the story of the prophet Joseph Smith and the First Vision. They said that young Joseph, after reading from James 1:5 where it says:
"If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God...' went to a grove of trees, knelt down and began to pray. They then quoted the words of Joseph:
"I saw a pillar of light, exactly over my head... When the light rested upon me, I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all descriptions, standing above me in the air. One of them spoke unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other, 'This is my Beloved Son, Hear Him.'"
Although the two elders were very sincere, I did not believe them. I laughed at them. I told them that such things only happened during the Savior's time in Jerusalem.
They continued to give the first discussion. They told me about Christ's church during the apostles' time. They pointed out how the Savior ordained apostles, gave them the priesthood and sent them out to preach, baptize, heal the sick, cast out devils and raise the dead. They also asked me to read from Ephesians 2:19-20 where it says:
"For ye are no more strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens with the saints in the household of God, and built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.
They also read from Ephesians 4:11-14 about the organization of the early church, with different offices.
Something hit me. I did not know about the Lord's church. It sounded true and yet, I was still very skeptical. I wanted to prove to the two missionaries that they were wrong.
You see, I attended the Methodist Sunday School and had memorized many scriptures. I thought I knew the Bible very well.
In the second discussion, the two elders introduced the Book of Mormon. They quoted from Ezekiel about 'the stick of Judah' and 'the stick of Joseph'.
They explained that the stick of Judah is the Bible and the stick of Joseph is the Book of Mormon. They explained that the Savior visited the people of the Americas after his resurrection. These people were the ones that the Savior referred to as 'his other sheep' and 'there shall be one fold, and one shepherd."
They bore their testimony and said that just as the Bible is a witness from the old world that Jesus is the Christ, and the Book of Mormon is a second witness from the new world. They concluded the lesson by challenging me to follow Moroni's admonition that if want to know about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, I must study, pray with real intent with a sincere heart and the Holy Ghost will manifest the truth unto me.
In the third discussion, they told me that one's body is the temple of our spirits and that certain things would hurt us physically as well as spiritually. Such things as tobacco, alcohol, tea and coffee are not good for the body. I drank tea everyday and loved the smell of coffee. The elders concluded that if I wanted to know if these things are true, I would have to follow the doctrine.
In the fourth discussion, the two elders introduced the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel. They talked about having Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They emphasized the need for Repentance, then one must be baptized by someone holding the priesthood. They said that the proper way to be baptized is to follow the Savior's example where he was immersed under water by John the Baptist at the River Jordan. The fourth principle was the receiving of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. They, then asked me about my baptism. I told them that when I was a baby, I was christened by my minister and that there was no need to be rebaptized. They then said: "How did your minister receive the priesthood?" I said: " I don't know. " All I knew was that he was good man and that he was sincere. They asked me if I would like to be baptized.
The fifth discussion focused on the Plan of Salvation. It answered the questions: Where did you come from? Why are you here? Where will you go after this life? The elders said that we lived in heaven before coming to this earth. They said that the purpose of life is to gain a body of flesh and bones, to live by faith and be tested. They also said that this life is the time for man to prepare to meet God. They pointed out that all will enter the gate of death after mortality and that the righteous spirits go to a place called paradise while the wicked are assigned to spirit prison. They read from the account of the Savior's death as well as His resurrection. They also said that there's not just heaven and heal, but there are many mansions, in Heavenly Father's house. They proved this by reading Apostle Paul's words in Corinthians 15:40-42, where:
"There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead..."
The elders also pointed out that it is only in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where temples have been built and ordinances are performed. One of the ordinances performed is baptism for the dead. They read from verse 29 of the same chapter about Paul asking, why the early members baptized for the dead.
This was new doctrine to me. It was so clear and it fit in perfectly. It gave me great hope thinking of both my father and mother who had passed away.
In the 6th discussion, they introduced the Law of Tithing and read from Malachi 3:8-10 where the Lord said that man has robbed him through tithes and offerings. The Lord also said,
"Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse....and prove me now herewith, ....if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."
The elders asked me how we made donations in the Methodist church. I said that we offer whatever we can to the Lord. They then replied, what happens if the Lord will only give us whatever he can. Would I like that?
Then they asked me: Would you like to be baptized? I had been reading the pamphlets and the Book of Mormon. I had been attending church meetings. I also had been praying to know about the truthfulness of all these things the elders had been teaching me. I remember distinctly, one night, praying and pleading with the Lord to know if these things were true. The Spirit told me that the teachings I had been receiving were true. I, then, told the missionaries that I would like to be baptized.
After my baptism, my family found out. I was given a choice: Leave the church and return home... if not, I would be sent back to my island of Rotuma.
How could I deny the truth? How could I ignore the Spirit who confirmed in my heart that this was the fullness of the Gospel? I could not.
I decided to leave my relatives' home. I went out with the missionaries proselytizing during the day. I slept at a classroom floor of the church...right next to the elders' quarters. By the end of the week, I boarded a boat, heading to school at Liahona High in Tonga.
I am reminded of the account of a young Korean speaking with Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley. This young military officer came to the United States. He joined the church. He was now preparing to return to his homeland. Pres. Hinckley asked him: "What is going to happen now that you have joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. " He said that being a member of the church, meant leaving the religion of his family and relatives. Besides the possibility of strained relationships with his family and relatives, he could also lose his friends. It could also affect his standing in the military. Then the young officer asked, "Isn't the church true". The prophet, replied, "Of course it is true". Then the young Korean said: "Then if the Gospel is true, then what else matters."
You see, just like the young Korean, each one of us who has 'forsaken mother, father, brother and sister' for the sake of the Gospel have made the decision to 'Follow a More Excellent Way.'
When we choose to follow a more excellent way, we are committed to upholding the Lord's standards.
This includes morality and chastity.
Seventeen-year-old Joseph, who was sold to Egypt by his conspiring brothers, was a great example of virtue and uprightness. As a righteous steward in Potiphar's house, the scriptures attested:
"...the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; ....and Joseph was a goodly person, and well favored," (Genesis 39:5-6)
Everything was going very well for him. Then temptation came. It was Potiphar's wife. In reply to her advances, Joseph said:
"How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God."
This same Joseph was summoned from prison to interpret Pharaoh's two identical dreams. This is his testimony:
"It is not me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace." (Genesis 41:16).
Being morally clean and having the Spirit of the Lord enabled Joseph to be a savior for his family as well as Pharaoh and his kingdom. We have covenanted to uphold the Lord's standards at all times, and in all places. Like young Joseph, as God's chosen generation, and royal priesthood, we cannot rationalize and make excuses. Anything less than this is following Satans' path.
Another indicator that we are living a more excellent way is to put the Lord first in all that we do. One of the ways that we put the Lord first is to serve a mission and preach the restored gospel.
I graduated from Liahona High at age 18 ½. About 98% of my classmates were going on missions; both boys and girls. Realizing that I was not 19, I decided that I will focus on coming to school in Hawaii. I returned to Fiji and my classmates immediately started their missions. I was really looking forward to coming to Hawaii. I had never dreamt of the opportunity, so the excitement was high.
Each time I ran into my classmates, as missionaries, they would ask me:
"Hiagi, when are you going to join us?" I would then reply: " I am not going on a mission. I am going to Church College of Hawaii."
The need for missionaries was great for the government of Fiji allowed just 6 outside elders. I knew that.
I met the District President, Bro. Blaine Anderson, a retired army colonel from Salt Lake City, Utah. He said, "Hiagi, are you ready for your mission." I replied: 'No, I am not," somewhat in an impatient tone of voice. He then said: "What did the Lord say in Matthew Chapter 6:33?" I then replied:
'But seek ye first the kingdom of God and all its righteousness and all things shall be added upon."
Then he said: "What do you think." I replied: "I am not going on my mission. I am going to school in Hawaii."
It was a week later in a district general priesthood meeting. I was sitting at the back of the chapel. Pres. Anderson was conducting the meeting. I knew he was going to call me to bear my testimony. Just then, he announced: "And now, we will like to invite Bro. Wesley to bear his testimony." I walked to the front, bore my testimony, and with tears streaming down my face, said: "I am ready for my mission. I will go where you want me to go dear Lord.'"
By the end of that week, I had collected the 2-3 white shirts and pants I had and very few other things including any neck ties in the house and went into my mission. It was shortly afterwards when I officially received my signed missionary call from President David O. McKay.
Of course, today, everything is done in an orderly manner. One officially supports the required paper work, is called, set apart, and has received the temple endowment before going in.
On this little island of Taveuni, in Fiji, that my companion and I opened, we found out that a Fijian sister, Jessie Maiwiriwiri joined the church in Suva, at the main island. She had moved to Taveuni, with her husband , Mosese, who was a strong Methodist. Her entire family had been attending the Methodist church. Her husband was a police officer. We went to the police barracks to find this sister and her family. We invited her to come to church although we knew that it would be difficult since they were living among predominantly Methodist neighbors. Well, they first sent the kids, then eventually the mother came. The children were taught and baptized. When the husband transferred to Suva, the father joined the church and the whole family became active members. Bro. & Sis. Maiwiriwiri were the first local missionary couple in Fiji. They served faithfully. The husband passed away. Later on, Sis. Maiwiriwiri went on a mission to Scotland. Their two older boys served faithfully as missionaries. They came to Hawaii, received an education and returned to Fiji. Today, one of the boys is a bishop on the western side of Fiji.
We had been teaching the Manueli's. He was Methodist and she was Catholic. Marriage between a Catholic and a Methodist was a bad combination. It was my last week. Realizing that I would be leaving very shortly to come to Hawaii, they requested that I baptize them during the middle of the week. Well, I baptized them on Wednesday and left on Friday to Tonga, to receive my release from Pres. John H. Groberg.
That special and humble man, Bro. Manueli became the first patriarch when Fiji received its first stake. Sister Manueli served faithfully in the Church. Their children joined the church. From this family, the children came to school here, some have returned and are helping to build the kingdom. A granddaughter who served a mission on the mainland currently attends school here at BYUH.
I came across something I wrote as I pondered the missionary experiences of our sons. The title is:
'Our Missionary Son'
Two years of your life, you've been a servant of the Lord
Your testimony has grown, you've demonstrated love for the living God
When you left your mission, you were but a 19-year old boy
Now you've returned at 21, a man with enthusiasm, you brought so much joy
You have taught, loved and shared happiness to so many people
You have helped fulfill prophecies in gathering scattered Israel
You have prayed, testified and helped others to find the living God
Also learn the Atonement, Joseph's vision and holding on to the iron rod
You have been greatly blessed, now live the gospel every day
Know this, son, you have chosen a more excellent way
President Ezra Taft Benson said:
"When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place...... Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.....May God bless us to put [him] first and, as a result, reap peace in this life and eternal life with a fullness of joy in the life to come." (Ensign, May 1988, 4,6)
My mission has blessed me. I experienced the joy that the Lord promised in bringing souls unto him.
When we follow a more excellent way, we are committed to what William Shakespeare wrote:
"Be true unto thine self."
When we are true to ourselves, we're 'honest in all things, and in all places, and at all times.' We put forth our best efforts, whether we're at school or at work or with our callings in the Lord's church. When we are true to ourselves, to the Lord and to the others, we are like what the Lord referred to one of his apostles, Nathaniel... 'There is no guile'.
When we are true to ourselves, we will merit what the Savior said: 'Ye are the light of the world', 'Ye are the salt of the earth.'
As a former tour guide at the Polynesian Cultural Center, I would say to the tourists: "I am working here to help pay for my education so that someday I will return to my home to help my people." I also danced at the night show. There were some nights that I did not feel like dancing especially under the rain, (this was in the old stage) but I, knowing that those tourists were paying big bucks, would smile and put forth my best efforts.
The real test of our uprightness is when we're faced with tough decisions. So whether it is the Honor Code or keeping the Law of tithing or living up to our commitment to return to one's home country to build the Kingdom, it is part of being ' true to thine own self'.
I believe returning to our home countries is a matter of faith. We need to follow the counsel of the Lord when he said: "Trust in the Lord and lean not unto thine own understanding."
Nephi's words apply when he declared: "I will go and do the things which the Lord commanded me to do". Nephi had a testimony that what he's doing is the right thing. He was prepared to do all he could in order to be successful. He went forward and the Lord helped him accomplish his mission.
When we are prepared with the knowledge, skills and attitude to provide for our livelihood, with the gospel in our lives, all things shall work out of our own good. After 5 years and a Bachelors degree in Geography and a minor in Communication, I returned to Fiji. Since I had some training to be a journalist, I was a reporter for one of the local newspapers. The agency was excited to have me. They had big plans for me. They wanted me to cover government proceedings during parliamentary sessions. After a short while, I turned in my resignation. I decided to pursue a teaching career.
Surely, gaining an education and being true to ourselves, is following a more excellent way. Be assured that the Lord expects us to be educated.
It was the prophet Job who posed this question: "Where shall wisdom be found?" (Job 28:12).
The Lord has specifically instructed us: (D&C 88: 118)
"....yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning, even by study and also by faith."
He also instructed us to: "... organize ourselves; and prepare, ... a house of learning."
In seeking wisdom, he said in D&C 88:76-80 to study
'of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms...
That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you"
Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley said:
"Be Smart" ...such a simple phrase has deeper meaning:
In fulfilling that charge, he said: "You must get all of the education that you possibly can....you will be expected to put forth great effort and to use your best talents to make your way to the most wonderful future of which you are capable. The Lord wants you to educate your minds and hands, whatever your chosen field. Whether it be repairing refrigerators, or the work of a skilled surgeon, you must train yourselves. Seek for the best schooling available. Become a workman of integrity in the world that lies ahead of you."
He declared: ..."I do urge you with all the power that I have to take advantage of learning to equip yourselves to do worthwhile things in the world. The world will compensate you for your skills. ... This is a great day of preparation for each of you. This is the season to train yourself for the highly competitive world that lies ahead."
Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve said,
"because of our sacred regard for each human intellect, we consider the obtaining of an education to be a religious responsibility." Elder Nelson was a leading heart surgeon by profession.
Elder Neal A Maxwell said:
".....the role of secular knowledge is very important. Latter-day Saints should have all the genuine excitement others have in the traditional adventure of learning, including learning secular truths, and we should have little more. In fact, when we are so learning and so behaving, we are truly "about [our] Father's business." This should bring to us a special and genuine zest for learning. (Luke 2:49; see also 2 Ne. 9:29)
In becoming smart, the law of the harvest is in effect: 'Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he reap. '
Whether we choose to attend or miss classes is our own choice. Whether we follow through and complete the assignment or become slothful. It is a matter of being true to ourselves and our commitment to gaining an education.
I decided to transfer to Ricks College in Rexburg Idaho. Many times I wondered why was I there especially when those cold Teton winds would blow through the campus. Why did I leave warm and sunny Hawaii, with a secured job at PCC. I was a poor student. I worked as a custodian. Thank goodness for the Law of Tithing and the Idaho potato. Through payment of tithing, I had the means to pay for my education and the baked Idaho potatoes gave me sustenance.
What a blessing it is for me to have the opportunity to pursue a Master's degree. I returned to Fiji and served as Assistant Principal and Principal at the Fiji LDS Technical College. After spending 7 and half years in Fiji, my family returned to Utah. The opportunity presented itself for me to pursue a doctorate degree. Having this post doctorate degree has opened many doors of opportunity.
Coming to school on this campus will require you to be true to yourself, to your parents and to the Lord. Suddenly, you are on your own. The present guidance of your family, relatives and others are absent. You have freedom that you have never experienced before. What an opportunity to be here to pursue an education. Not everyone has the chance to attend school. Be wise! Be prudent! Learn all you can.
When you choose to follow a More Excellent way, you will choose the right. You will make the decision to be at the right place, at the right time. You will learn to be a wise steward with your time and discipline yourself. When it is time to study, you will study. When it is time to work, you will work, when it is time for the beach, you will enjoy yourself. When you stretch your mental capabilities, you will discover the joys of learning. When you experienced spiritual stretching, you will grow in the Gospel, just like when you experienced physical pain, you gain strength and muscles.
Being on this campus is a unique opportunity. Where would you find a group of choice young people gathered together from over 70 different countries, speaking different languages and sharing different cultures. This gathering place is for learning, living and sharing. It is a laboratory of human interactions with the Gospel as its central focus. What an opportunity it is to be part of this special place with its prophetic mission and destiny. Laie, with its institution of higher learning; the Lord's university for spiritual learning, the temple; and the Polynesian Cultural Center epitomizing the spirit of aloha and love is a special place. When we truly catch the vision of what the Lord expects from each one of us, we will do all we can to fulfill the mission of this special place, Brigham Young University Hawaii.
This prophetic charge is for students, staff, faculty and administrators.
The ultimate test in our choice to Follow a More Excellent Way is to "love the Lord our God with all our hearts, might, mind and strength. When we truly love Him, we will obey, trust and serve Him. It is part of overcoming the natural man and becoming submissive, meek and humble. It is basically turning our lives to the Savior. It is giving or ourselves to him. C.S. Lewis expressed this type of feeling by saying:
"Christ says, 'Give me all...no half measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked-the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself; my own will shall be yours."
Pres. Benson declared:
"We must prove everyday of our lives that we are willing to do the will of the Lord."
Pres. Hunter said:
"Ultimately, what our Father in Heaven will require of us is more than a contribution, it is a total commitment, a complete devotion, all that we are and all that we can be."
In the context of why we're here at this setting, our education, training and a heart given to the Lord will enable us to fulfill the second commandment: 'Love thy neighbor as thyself'. When we experience mental calisthenics through the application of studying and learning, and with the appropriate dispositions, we will be in a position to fulfill the challenge in front of our campus: 'Go forth to serve'.
Pres. Monson said in his opening remarks in conference: "we're a global church. We need to be good citizens of the nations that we live in. We need to be good neighbors. We must be men and women of integrity."
During priesthood meeting, Saturday night, Pres. Monson said:
"Learn what we should learn; Do what we should do; and Be what we should be."
Our lives will then be a testimony of knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ, the eternal gift which Heavenly Father sent to us. We are then, Following a More Excellent Way.