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Greater Conversion With Each Generation

"Greater Conversion With Each Generation"

Aloha Kakahiaka!

First I want to thank Conner for that introduction. And of course, BYU–Hawaii for the invitation to be here today.

Today I came with a small gift! This is the Laie Elementary Gecko T-shirt, worn proudly by many. Our community is so ingrained in “Red Raider Pride” that we seem to forget about our green gecko; or even that many of the Red Raiders got their start as Green Geckos!

A few years back, we had a change in administration and our new principal was Matt Ho.

Mr. Ho was not familiar with Laie and was taken back by the large strollers and the number of vans and SUVs that dropped off and picked students up daily. He stood on the different corners every morning and afternoon greeting parents and kids before and after school for his whole term as principal. Parents loved this about him and he began to meet and become acquainted with our Laie families. And he found out a lot about our community. He asked me one day, “Do you know what the strength of your community is?

I answered, “Of course! Its the diversity!”

"No! It’s not that at all—its your faith!"

It just happened to be the rededication of the temple (which he visited twice), but he took all that he had learned about our community into deep consideration, and then came up with our branding— L -A -I -E! Leadership, Achievement, Integrity, Excellence. He wanted our school to mirror our community, with an emphasis on high moral and ethical standards.

So today it’s important for me to represent Laie Elementary and the good work being done there on behalf of our students in this community. In the last 40 years, we have had six principals and other administrators who have moved our school forward to be the school we are today. We are proud that our students have excelled and been awarded in physical fitness, in wellness, in academic achievement, and in 2017 we became an accredited elementary school through WASC. Then in 2019 we became a Blue Ribbon School, meaning we are dedicated to high standards of continuous learning and improvement for all students. We have also been privileged to be a partner in education with this university. We have for many years hosted student teachers, O&P students, volunteer tutors, and in many cases, have employed these students after graduation. And in turn, BYU–Hawaii has hosted us on campus for several occasions. And so we are not only grateful . . . but proud to work together with BYU–Hawaii on behalf of “both schools” and all of our students.

For those who may not know me outside of Sister Ah Sue or may not know me at all, I have been known to many for a few decades as Mrs. Ah Sue. Everywhere I go—Foodland, church, the mall, Utah, and even Disneyland—I’ve heard the shout of “Mrs. Ah Sue.” And I have to tell you it’s pretty awesome to be loved like that. Children are the best. They leave you notes and drawings; remember you on holidays; they volunteer to help out around the room, and of course, they can be somewhat difficult at times, but they forget and let go so easily!

Just like so many other teachers, faculty, and staff at Laie, I have been given the opportunity to not only teach reading, writing, and math, but to be a part of the preparation of what our prophet, President Nelson has named “The Youth Battalion.” He has called our youth to “take part in the greatest challenge, the greatest cause, and the greatest work on earth.” And that is the gathering of Israel.

Listen to what else the prophet has to say:

“You—my dear extraordinary youth—”

He calls them his extraordinary youth. And so I think it’s important that we need to keep in mind the vision the Lord has for them and remember who they are.

“You were sent to earth at this precise time, this most crucial time in the history of the earth, to help gather Israel. There is nothing happening on this earth right now that is more important than that.”

Think of all the things our youth are busy with—after school sports and lessons, school projects and club activities. He says and I repeat, “There is nothing happening on this earth right now, that is more important than that. There is nothing of greater consequence. Absolutely nothing. This gathering should mean everything to you. This is the mission for which you were sent to earth!” I added that exclamation point myself because that’s a big call! That’s a lot of responsibility for our youth! And who’s preparing them to do the greatest work on earth? Well. . . we are! And that includes you! And God too!

Think about how you were prepared for your mission, or are preparing for your mission, or the current calling you have in your ward or stake. I was prepared long before I ever joined the church. You may have been too. So let me tell you about my mom because it all started with her!

A few years before she passed away, I spent the summer with my folks in Southern California, where I grew up. One day I said, “Mom, let’s read through your patriarchal blessing.” So we did and by the end, I said, “Gee Mom- looks you did everything you came here to do!”

“I think you’re done!” She didn’t laugh.

So we started knit-picking through some of the details, but I kept going back to this line that read “You will open the doors for many to receive the gospel.” I remember when she received her blessing, we were so new in the church, and someone told her that it meant that she is going to do genealogy work and save her family. So she jumped on the bandwagon and did a lot of family history work. This was back in the 70s genealogy was hard work and took a long time. But looking hindsight, 45 years after her blessing was given, I know without a doubt that my mom’s mission in this life was to bring our family to the gospel; she was directed by the Spirit, and she never gave up—even though she didn’t really know what she was looking for. She was raised Catholic, received every ordinance in the church, attended a private catholic school and that’s when she began to go to church daily. There was a chapel on their campus, so whether it be mass, confession, or having personal prayer - she was there every day.

She loved God and had this undying yearning—almost like a poking or a prodding that kept her looking for more. The funny thing is, her family didn’t go to church. Everything she knew, learned, or attended she did on her own.

So when she met my dad and they talked about getting married, she insisted that he see her priest. My dad would not commit to baptism, but he agreed that all of us kids could. So we were baptized, attended catechism, confirmed, I attended private Catholic school. . . we did everything. But somehow for her-it was never enough. This yearning; this always looking for more—it just persisted with my mom for a long time, until one day we were swimming at a neighbor’s pool. My mom was chatting with their mom and mentioned how she wished my dad would just go to church, even if it was his own church. Of course the neighbor asked, “What church is that?”

“The Mormon Church,” my mom answered. And to our surprise, the neighbor said, “That’s our church too!” And being the good member missionary that she was, she offered to have her husband invite my dad to church and he loved it and has been active ever since. I wanna say “Amen!” at this point, but the journey to baptism was long. My mom was the most dedicated, loyal Catholic you’ll ever meet. So for months, we attended both churches.

One of the things that I loved most about my mom is that she sought out and received revelation long before she became a member. She didn’t understand the bread for sacrament. It was too simple and informal compared to what she was used to. She thought it should be more sacred than a slice of bread broken.

And then there were the scriptures.

My mom owned this bible from her church. It was huge and white, and leather and it was different. . . the books inside were different. She would argue with my dad, “How do you know your bible is correct?” And every week she carried it to church. In Sunday School they would look up scriptures and she could never find it.

So she prayed and asked for help to find the scriptures and understand the sacrament. One night she went to bed and woke up several hours later to a voice who told her to “ open up her bible to page “such and such,” look on the left column in the middle. She did that but found nothing. So she turned off her light and went back to sleep. A few minutes later the voice returned and told her the same thing. “Open your bible to page ‘such and such,’ look on the left column in the middle. She followed the instructions again and again found nothing. My dad heard her and asked her what was wrong. She told him and he said, “Tell me that page again.” And as they both took out their own bibles to search, quickly my dad exclaimed, “Oh here! I am the bread of life!” She needed to see it with her own eyes, but without a doubt, she knew her prayer about the sacrament and the scriptures had been answered. The next morning, she was super excited as she shared that story and announced that we were all getting baptized ASAP!

President Utchdorf reminded us that, “Our Heavenly Father sees our real potential. He knows things about us that we don’t know ourselves. He prompts us during our lifetime to fulfill the measure of our creation, to live a good life, and to return to His presence.”

Without a doubt, my mom filled the measure of her creation. And so at the end of her life, I had an even greater love for her! Not only because she had followed the guidance and persistence of the spirit that brought us to the church, but for instilling in us a love for God and an understanding that God hears us and answers our prayers.

And a funny thing. . . once we were baptized. . . . the yearning stopped!

Elder Renlund, in last October’s general conference, shares a story about the Saints from The Congo, who joined the church, and to show their genuine commitment to the gospel, they threw inanimate objects—things that represented their old beliefs, into the waterfalls along the Congo River. They did it as a sign to God—that they would discard their old traditions and accept Jesus Christ. They didn’t want to throw them into calm, shallow waters; instead they threw them into the waters of a massive waterfall, where you would never be able to recover these items. Elder Renlund says, “Their actions were a sign of a new but unwavering commitment that they were making.” I think it’s amazing that these “people” were so committed to change.

Listen to what Elder Renlund says, “Being “converted unto the Lord” means leaving one course of action, (that was) directed by an old belief system, and adopting a new one based on faith in Heavenly Father’s plan. This change is more than an intellectual acceptance of gospel teachings ” It's more than having a testimony.

Elder Bednar reiterates the same thing. He says, “Testimony brings increased personal accountability and is a source of purpose. The essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ entails a fundamental and permanent change. True conversion brings a change in one’s beliefs, heart, and life to accept and conform to the will of God and includes a conscious commitment.”

This is so different from my experience when I joined the church. We just went to church. Although I was a new convert, I was not converted for a very long time. Prayer, scriptures, family home evening, and the temple were all a part of my life, actually a big part of my life. . . but they were not a part of my routine. Think about that. Does that really make a difference? Actually—it does!

Elder Bednar reminds us that “as we honor the ordinances and covenants of salvation and exaltation, pressing forward with a steadfastness in Christ, and endure in faith to the end, we become new creatures in Christ.” And so it’s being firm and resolute, it's the steadfastness, it’s the (unwavering) that creates the conversion.

My favorite “Go-To” scripture is found in Alma chapters 48 and 49 and 50. Great chapters! Amalickiah becomes king over the Lamanites, but he decides he wants to reign over all the land, which includes the Nephites too. The scriptures say he “obtained power by fraud and deceit.” But on the other hand, Captain Moroni begins to strengthen the Nephites and their land by building small forts, encircling themselves with stone walls, throwing up banks of earth to enclose their armies, and fortifying their weakest places with the greatest number of men.

The scriptures describe Moroni as a strong and mighty man with a perfect understanding, who did joy in the liberty of his country and the cause of Christians. He was firm in his faith, gave thanks to God, and worked hard on behalf of the welfare and safety of his people. And so he continued to build, casting up mounds of dirt to shield them from arrows and stones. He even protected his army with shields and breastplates, head plates and garments to protect their nakedness. And so it was that the captains of the Lamanites brought their armies to what they thought were the weakest spots and found that they couldn’t contend with the Nephites. The Nephites were prepared to defend themselves against the Lamanites and drove them back. . “insomuch that they were slain with an immense slaughter.” They couldn’t obtain any power; in fact, the Lamanites, seemed a bit desperate and began to dig down the banks of earth, but they didn’t have a chance! And when all the chief captains of the Lamanites were all slain, the Lamanite army retreated. The scriptures tell us that all this was “because Moroni had kept the commandments of God in preparing for the safety of his people. . . and there was continual peace among them.”

Now I imagine at this point, after all their preparation and the actual battle—that every Nephite went home for a hot shower, a hearty meal, and probably just put their feet up just before they gave a great sigh of relief and told their wives they were gonna sleep in the next morning. But here is my favorite part. It's found in Alma chapter 50 verse 1:

“And now it came to pass that Moroni did not stop making preparations. . .”

As simple as that! It was a time of peace, but he did not stop! And I think that is what Elder Bednar is referring to when he said, “pressing forward with a steadfastness in Christ, and endure in faith to the end.” That is when we become new creatures in Christ.

Think about a time when you went through something really hard and you toughed it out. Didn’t you feel like you accomplished something and maybe found a new part of you? Maybe you didn’t call it “a new creature,” but I think we can all relate to that feeling.

Elder Bednar shares that, “conversion is an ongoing process;” and I agree. Establishing patterns and regular routines of scripture study, temple attendance, prayer, and the like is the essence of conversion over time. But I’d like to share with you a powerful experience that solidified my commitment to the Lord almost immediately. I’m still not perfect, but it was an eye-opener. It’s very personal, but worth sharing. So I hope you will receive it in the same Spirit in which I share it with you.

My oldest son had a very severe drug addiction for several years. . . 10 or 12 years. What started as partying and fun, turned into a thing he would do with a certain group of friends, and that turned into a serious addiction; a lonely addiction, sometimes just staying in his room, but nonetheless, an addiction in which he was entangled in a web—all because of poor choices. But one day he decided to kick the habit all on his own, cold turkey.

I’m not really sure all of what he was going through, because honestly at this point of his addiction, I was pretty angry with him with all that he had put us through for a number of years. I didn’t really see him pulling himself out and so I wasn’t really sympathetic. A few days into his withdrawals, I rushed home from work to make a meal for the 1st counselor of our ward relief society, who had just given birth—and I was feeling the pressure because the daughter of a very good friend of mine. who happened to be living with us, was going to the temple for the first time in an hour and a half. I put a few chickens in the oven to roast, baked some potatoes, and was in the middle of making a salad when my son came down the stairs looking pretty gruff!

His hair was shaggy, he had long whiskers, eyes sunken in, pants hanging off because he was so thin. . . a pretty rude awakening when you realize that’s your son. He went through the refrigerator looking for something to eat, but there wasn’t really anything unless you wanted to cook it. So he asked if there was anything to eat, looking at the oven. I told him no and explained that the chicken was for another family and I couldn’t really cut into it. He asked what we were having and I said that I hadn’t really planned for us and that I was headed to the temple soon. He quietly reached into his pocket and brought out six dollars, placed it on the counter, and explained that he was hungry and wasn’t really feeling well and probably shouldn’t go out of the house in that shape; then asked if I had a minute to grab him something at the store.

Giving an unsympathetic and angry sigh, I made no promises. Another friend who was staying with us volunteered to buy him Subway with his $6 and soon enough I was showered, the meal was packed and delivered, and I was speed walking through the halls of the temple to make it in time for the session. It took me a few minutes to cool down and catch my breath, and that’s when I heard the still small voice say. . . . “Yvonne, you are an idiot!”

Those were not the exact words, but these were the words that followed:

“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”

My mind was filled with all the meals I had ever made, all the sisters I had ever visited, all the time I spent reading my scriptures, all the time I had served in the temple. . . I could go on! But the Lord had taught me in that one moment of chastisement that I needed to love unconditionally; especially to love those who are hard to love. I’ll tell you that I went home that evening, I gave up some things to spend more time at home and with him. I made a conscious effort to love him no matter his choices, no matter how he lived his life, and no matter if this was going to be a lifelong addiction. Funny things happen when you change your attitude—soon enough I stopped calling him a drug addict and referred to him as having an addiction. There’s a difference. I started recognizing how generous he was and helpful. I pledged to support him in his good choices and in good things. And most importantly, I learned how loving and merciful our Heavenly Father really is.

So for today, I decided to entitle my talk, “Greater Conversion With Each Generation,” because after I had witnessed my mom following the promptings of the spirit and bringing us to the gospel and knowing that she had fulfilled what she was sent here to do, I realized that I should have been doing more than changing diapers, wiping tears, and driving my kids to practice! I could have raised them intentionally; teaching them the patterns I was learning. It took me a while, but I finally learned for myself how true conversion occurs as you continue to act upon the doctrines you know are true and keep the commandments, every day, every day, every day!

And now I look at my children and my grandchildren and those of you of their generation. Who are you? What have you been sent here to do? What patterns have you established in your life that will aid you in the greatest cause on the earth today? Are you prepared to gather scattered Israel or to teach or raise or train those who will? The prophet himself said, “You are among the best the Lord has ever sent to this world. You have the capacity to be smarter and wiser and have more impact on the world than any previous generation.” I sit often with our young married sisters and Relief Society Presidents, and I can testify that I am sitting among the best the Lord has ever sent to this world.

I testify that you are sons and daughters of God, you are of the seed of Abraham, the House of Israel. You are gathering Israel for the last time, as missionaries and ministers of this gospel. And you are being led by a prophet of God; our prophet President Russell M. Nelson, who along with our apostles, is directing this gathering of Israel in our day. May the Lord’s choicest blessings be yours as you strive to know who you are and what work is here for you to do. May you seek the revelation you need to accomplish the Lord’s work. And may you find joy as you come closer to our Savior. This is my prayer

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.