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Jesus Christ, the Finisher of Our Faith

Aloha Kakou, and welcome to our Winter 2021 Semester!

This semester, with the full support of our Board of Trustees, we are looking forward to an expansion of in-person courses and student life activities. These offerings, and our ability to provide them safely, are the result of hard work and sacrifice by many students, staff, and faculty.

There is a Japanese phrase used frequently to acknowledge and express gratitude for the hard work, commitment, and effort that a colleague has put into their responsibilities. It is a warm and encouraging phrase that one not only loves to hear but also loves to share.

It is a special phrase that even now, nearly 20 years after returning from my missionary service in Japan, I find myself wanting to use in daily conversations. I feel it is especially applicable to those who have put forth so much faith and effort to make this semester possible. Thus, it is fitting for me to share it warmly with each of you who is listening.

So again, I tell each of you, domo, otsukaresama desu.

The COVID-19 pandemic is giving us an opportunity to show how we can work together as a community- an opportunity to show that, with our shared faith in Christ and commitment to Gospel principles, we can lift and care for all. As we struggle to learn and grow through our challenges, some unique to this time, we can develop attributes that make us more like our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The challenges we face have been very real. Any one of us can make a long list of opportunities and experiences we have lost as a result of this pandemic.

I have spoken with dozens of you students- in person and via remote meetings. I have heard and felt your sorrow over the disruption of your education, loss of internship and job opportunities, and disrupted relationships. I know that many of you are suffering emotionally, spiritually, and temporally, and that you deeply desire to return to campus for the safety and happiness that you know you will find here.

Please know that the faculty and staff of this University, the President’s Council, and the Board of Trustees understand and care about the challenges you are facing. We are all doing everything in our power to provide for your safe and timely return to campus. Please remember, that as one blessed to be part of this university, we also need you to do everything in your power to make that possible.

Regarding what is expected of those who enter the waters of baptism, Alma taught that they “…are willing to mourn with those that  mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things.” Mosiah 18:9.

No one has been spared from hardship and suffering in these difficult circumstances. And yet, despite all our challenges, we can be deeply grateful to our Heavenly Father, our Savior Jesus Christ, and the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the incredible blessing of this University. We have been able to move forward with full enrollment of students, including supporting hundreds of students and graduates who could not return home due to travel restrictions. Our efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 have been successful to date, and we are able to begin increased operations this semester. It is clear that we have been given the capacity to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those in need of comfort, and stand as witnesses of God.

Elder Dale G. Renlund’s recent statement clearly connects our behavior with respect to the spread of disease to this important part of our baptismal covenant. He said, “As it relates to this pandemic, especially in temples, that means social distancing, wearing a mask, and not gathering in large groups. These steps demonstrate our love for others and provide us a measure of protection. Wearing a face covering is a sign of Christlike love for our brothers and sisters.”

Here at BYU–Hawaii, we have a responsibility to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students, staff, and faculty. We also have this same responsibility as part of the special role we have in the Lāʻie, and broader Ko’olauloa, community. It is a privilege to be part of this university and community; each of us should treat it as such.

We must take our responsibilities and role in this community very seriously. In today’s conditions, operating in ways that enhance the safety and wellbeing of the community must be a crucial focus of our efforts.

To fulfill those responsibilities, we require careful adherence to state guidelines for face coverings and social gatherings. We have also implemented required weekly COVID-19 testing for all employees, and for all students who are working, attending classes, or using resources on campus. We have protocols for entry into on-campus housing to ensure that new members of our campus community do not bring disease with them from their travels.

Our policies are, in some cases, more careful than state regulations. These differences, driven by carefully considered choices we have made about the balance of safety and sacrifice, are required to fulfill our responsibilities to our university, the broader community, and the most vulnerable among us. It has proven worthwhile- our post-travel quarantine policy has already kept several individuals with COVID-19 from immediately entering the University and the broader community.

In John 15:12-13 the Savior not only teaches but commands us, saying, "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

I understand that these policies require increased effort and sacrifice on the part of our students, staff, and faculty. In a sense, each of us is at least partly showing the “Greater love” spoken of by the Savior, by laying down some aspect of our life for our friends. This sacrifice, though at times difficult, is what is required of us to have the privilege of working at and attending BYU–Hawaii at this time.

Though life today may be full of trials and circumstances requiring difficult sacrifice, I testify that not only will we survive these times but that we will be better because of them through our continued efforts and steadfast faith in Christ.

As we consider our journey and the individual and collective challenges that we encounter, we can draw great strength from the teachings of Paul in Hebrews 12:1-2. “...[L]et us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith;”

I recently had a simple experience that made me think even more about the role of Jesus Christ as the finisher of our faith. Today I want to share that experience with you and talk about what the Lord expects of us and how he promises to support us in his role as the finisher of our faith.

A few weeks ago, I was at the beach with our family. Monica and the older kids were out on stand-up paddleboards and enjoying the water. I was playing in the sand with our three-year-old son, Kaleo.

He pointed to a hole that a crab had dug that morning and asked me to dig and find the crab. We dug together and had a great time. To our surprise, we un-earthed the crab!

The hole was deep and steep on the sides- the crab attempted to run out of the hole but could not. We had captured the crab. That was exactly what Kaleo had hoped for!

He enjoyed watching the crab. Kaleo wanted to pick it up but he didn’t quite have the courage.

We left the crab there and watched it for a while. It tried several times to climb out of the hole. Each time it climbed, it moved sand, making the walls of the hole rougher and slightly less steep. It tried and tried, each time getting slightly closer to the top of the hole. The crab was just a few more attempts from escaping when it stopped trying. It just sat there…it didn’t bury itself, it didn’t keep trying to climb out, it did nothing.

Kaleo looked at me with his trademark puzzled face and said, “Dad what is it doing? Is it dead?” A quick wave of our hands toward the crab confirmed that it was not dead. At that point, we decided to help it. We widened the top edge of the hole where the crab had been climbing previously. We also brushed the edges of the hole to complete the textured path that the crab had been creating with its previous efforts. Then we waited again. But still, the crab didn’t try to get out. It continued to just sit there.

Kaleo was still worried about the crab and wanted it to go free, so I reached into the hole and guided the crab up the path that it had created with its own efforts to climb and that we had completed for it. The crab easily climbed out of the hole and ran into the ocean, where it disappeared into the waves.

In some ways, this crab’s experience is analogous to critical parts of our mortal experience. Today I want to share three lessons that stand out to me from this simple and enjoyable time I spent with Kaleo on the beach.

First, like the smooth, steep walls the crab faced, there are challenges between us and our temporal and spiritual goals. There are things that we can only learn through overcoming the adversity and challenges we face in life. That gap between where we are and where we need to be is an essential part of our mortal progression.

In Alexandre Dumas’ classic adventure novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, the character Abbe Faria, an elderly man who has been unfairly imprisoned for many years, is asked by a fellow prisoner, who is in awe of his intellect and ingenuity, “What would you … have accomplished if you had been free?"

Abbe Faria replies, "Possibly nothing at all; the overflow of my brain would probably, in a state of freedom, have evaporated in a thousand follies; misfortune is needed to bring to light the treasures of the human intellect. Compression is needed to explode gunpowder. Captivity has brought my mental faculties to a focus; and you are well aware that from the collision of clouds electricity is produced — from electricity, lightning, from lightning, illumination,”  Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo.

Abbe Faria, in his wisdom, understood the value and benefits that his misfortune had brought him. Like him, each challenge we encounter can provide the “electricity” to power our progression.

In a revelation given to Joseph Smith in the midst of the early Saints being subject to persecution in Missouri, we learn that growth through adversity is very clearly the Lord’s plan. In Doctrine & Covenants section 98, verse 3 it reads,

“Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord." Doctrine & Covenants 98:3.

Equipped with the knowledge that “all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good" you are prepared to find success and joy in this life.

The second lesson we can learn from the crab’s experience is that our active efforts to overcome challenges and progress are vital- you are instructed to serve your Heavenly Father “with all your heart, might, mind and strength…” Doctrine & Covenants 4:2.

Kaleo and I saw that the crab had two very different options when confronted with our disturbance—it could actively work to escape or sit passively. The passive strategy would have exposed the crab to unique threats and would likely lead to its death.

When the crab engaged in active efforts to climb, its efforts directly changed its environment, leading to significant progress out of the hole.

In our experience on the beach, the crab became tired or perhaps discouraged. It stopped trying to get out of the hole. Kaleo and I didn’t know if it was just resting or had given up. The challenges we face today and throughout our lives can be exhausting and discouraging.

As we face these continued challenges, and the temptation to slow down or even quit, I share another simple Japanese phrase that is dear to my heart, Ganbatte kudasai!

The direct translation of this phrase is ‘hang in there', 'keep it up', or 'I know you can do it'. Importantly, this phrase communicates the concept of persevering through any challenge, no matter how hard or long.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught us that, “Perseverance is a positive, active characteristic. It is not idly, passively waiting and hoping for some good thing to happen. It gives us hope by helping us realize that the righteous suffer no failure except in giving up and no longer trying,” Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Never Give up” October 1987 Saturday morning session general conference.

We are taught repeatedly in the scriptures about the importance of perseverance. Eight times in the Book of Mormon and six times in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord’s prophets plead with us to “endure to the end.”

In modern days, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf articulated this message clearly, saying, “The blessings that come to us from enduring to the end in this life are real and very significant, and for the life to come they are beyond our comprehension," October 2007 General Conference.

Finally, we are entitled to the guidance and support of the Spirit as we seek to progress in this mortal life.

Kaleo and I wanted the crab to climb out on its own, but we saw that it needed help and encouragement to overcome the challenges that it faced- it simply no longer had the capacity to persevere.

We didn’t want it to be hurt by exposure to the sun and wind, so we widened and added texture to the last part of the hole, the part that the crab has not had the capacity to change with its own efforts. Then, knowing the path was prepared, we encouraged the crab to leave the hole. That added support and encouragement made the crab’s efforts sufficient, and it was on its way, having overcome the disturbance we created. The Lord has promised to help us in similar ways—adding His support to ensure that our efforts will be sufficient to overcome the challenges that we encounter.

Each of us faces challenges in life where our own knowledge, effort, and capacity to persevere feel insufficient. We may also feel that we are simply exhausted and need respite and additional support to continue onward. Under these circumstances, we are all susceptible to fear, anxiety, and doubt.

In those difficult situations, we can be comforted by the faith that the Lord knows our needs, that he will prepare the path before us, and that he will give us the strength to carry on. In 2 Timothy, 1:7 we are taught,

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7.

I testify to you that when we have faith in our Heavenly Father and His son Jesus Christ, we can access that spirit of power, love, and of a sound mind.

Consider the journey of Lehi and his family to the promised land. By faith, Lehi led his family. They had no path in mind, no idea how far they would travel, and certainly doubted whether they had sufficient provisions and skills to complete the journey. They faced nearly overwhelming trials and had to turn back and correct paths several times. In those settings, Nephi drew strength from his faith. In a passage that is repeated often, and for good reason, he said, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare. a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” 1 Nephi 3:7.

With faith in the Lord, Nephi overcame the spirit of fear on several occasions. Through the Lord he accessed the spirit of power, love, and of a sound mind. He used that spirit to find solutions to each challenge that he faced with his family during their journey in the wilderness.

After about eight years of meeting challenges with knowledge, effort, and perseverance, Lehi and Sariah and their family found themselves in the “Land Bountiful.” This land was filled with “much fruit and also wild honey”, “prepared of the Lord”, and in view of the sea. They were “exceedingly rejoiced” to arrive and dwelled in the land of Bountiful for the “space of many days.”

But their journey wasn’t over yet, the voice of the Lord came to Nephi, saying “Arise and get thee to the mountain”. There the Lord asked again for effort and perseverance from Nephi, this time to build a ship. This whole family was then asked to demonstrate complete faith in the Lord to board that ship and embark on an ocean journey to an unknown land.

Like Lehi’s family, our success in navigating the challenges of this life is assured when we trust our Heavenly Father and have faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ.

When we put forth our effort, perseverance, and faith, Jesus Christ promises to provide the path and support to overcome all things and complete our progression. He is in a very real way, the finisher of our faith.

At the moment, we are fortunate to share many similar challenges with respect to life during the pandemic. It is an honor and privilege for us to work through these challenges as a university community. I want to thank each of you for your continued support and sacrifice on behalf of those most vulnerable among us.

I testify to you that the Lord knows us. He sees our individual and collective challenges and He is caring for us constantly. He requires our effort, perseverance, and faith. In return, He promises that we will have the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind; He promises that all things will be for our good, and He promises that we shall have eternal life. I assure you that these promises are true. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.