Brothers and Sisters Aloha!
It's a pleasure to share a few of my thoughts and my testimony with you today. And even as I stand here looking at the empty chairs in front of me, I cannot help but to still feel your presence. Perhaps it is because of your goodness and how you continue to give your best in school despite the circumstances. I commend your efforts to be of good cheer. I admire your resilience and look to always be a champion of your learning, discipleship, and progress.
Whether you are near or far or attending online, I hope that you will feel the care we have for all of you. I hope that you continue to feel unified as an 'ohana and feel buoyed up, as I do when I remember the prophecy and mission of our University.
Remember, President David O. McKay foresaw that there would be "an aura of light" radiating from both the buildings and the people when giving his dedicatory prayer . You are part of this vision and carry that light and spirit. You are leaders and builders even during these uncertain times. I look forward to the day when all of our students can return to campus and also enjoy the new updates that have taken place over the last year.
I have always loved our campus. I especially love the symbolism and imagery of the Flag Circle. It is representative of the feelings of being encircled by gratitude and aloha that is shared by our students. Currently, 59 countries are represented here, but a total of 143 different countries have seen representation here since 1955. Currently, BYU–Hawaii has an enrollment of 2,988 students - the highest Winter enrollment ever realized, despite the COVID-19 physical enrollment woes. 58% of our students are either international students predominantly from Asia and the Pacific Rim or from Hawaii. Over the last half-decade, there has been a tremendous 19% growth in international enrollment each year.
I feel honored to be a part of this work and serve alongside the many who also labor in this vineyard. It's a blessing to lead the efforts of the new Ho'okele Department, which is a unique combination of departments strategically formed to unite services to enhance the student experience. The Ho'okele Department provides assistance in the areas of recruitment, admissions, New Student Experience, Financial Aid, International Student Services and Career Services, and Alumni Relations. Ho'okele is the Hawaiian word for “navigate.” I can't express enough how amazing and dedicated those in the department are, not only to this institution and its mission, but helping each of you succeed and guide you in your path not just to get you from Point A to Point B, but even beyond - to point C - and that C stands for the Celestial Kingdom.
Anciently, Laie was considered a Pu'uhonua or a place of sanctuary and refuge. In more recent history, Elder Scott D. Whiting said, "Laie is a gathering place and has been since the mid-1800s". I believe it is still today. It's a place that gathers in people like Yee Yee Mon – otherwise known as Olive. Who is from Myanmar
Myanmar is a country of over 55 million people. In spite of this large population, the Church is still emerging, and proselytizing is not allowed. Olive was baptized 17 years ago as one of the first members ever baptized in Myanmar.
Her initial interactions with the missionaries were centered around free piano lessons, but she felt like she should oblige their invitations and listen to their missionary lessons. After one meeting, Olive was given President Hinckley's book entitled "Way to Be." She could not stop reading it. She was impressed by the morals and values covered in the book. It opened her mind, and she was led to answers to her prayers - linking every question she had about the Church, Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith with the answer that they all had to be true.
Olive was the first Sister to serve a mission from her country, despite her mother's apprehension. But it was Olive's persistence and her display of faith by saving her own money and surviving on noodles for months that influenced her mother to support Olive's desire to serve a mission. Olive served in the Pocatello Idaho mission. It was there that further miracles unfolded.
Olive was born with a severe case of Scoliosis. Not only was her spine S-shaped, but it was also twisted. Her life expectancy was projected to be significantly shortened. However, while on her mission, she was able to see specialists and receive corrective spine surgery and therapy, which greatly improved her quality of life.
After returning from her mission, Olive helped with the translation efforts of Church materials and the Book of Mormon into Burmese. She also learned about BYU–Hawaii and worked hard for admission. She majored in Social Work and was known by many for her work ethic and academic success. She turned down an offer to intern with the UN in New York to instead accept an internship in Salt Lake City at the Burmese Refugee Center, where she could work with her people. While a student, Olive not only worked as a carver at the Polynesian Cultural Center but with the Admissions, where she could help and influence others in Myanmar. Because of her efforts, four others from Myanmar are now studying at BYU–Hawaii.
While at BYU–Hawaii, she met and married her husband, Dustin. They now have a baby girl and another on the way. This is a miracle considering doctors told her that she would likely never have children of her own. She is currently getting her Masters in Social Work at BYU in Provo and intends to return to Myanmar to utilize her degrees to help others.
Olive is one example of the types of students you can find at BYU–Hawaii. It humbles me to be able to meet, work with, and so often have my life touched by so many of them. I have often shared that while many people look to travel to experience the things of the world, I feel that you don't have to travel the world, you can come to BYU–Hawaii, and the goodness of the world comes to you. It's a blessing to be able to help students further their education.
Not all students are like Olive. Some of you may listen to her story and compare your life or experiences. The story's intent was not shared for you to compare but to be strengthened by it. We can find perspective in the parable of the talents. To some, much is given, and others are given less. We may think this applies to things like our skills, like being musical or a good surfer. We count those talents numerically, assuming they are like money, where the more you have, the more you are worth. What has become more evident to me is that the value of talents is measured in the eternal perspective with omniscient eyes that see far more than we can understand. How can we assume that he who is magnifying five talents is greater than he who is magnifying one? Perhaps the impact of the one talent in this life may bless the lives of ten times the number of people than the person who had five talents. We need not compare our lot to others. Instead, we need to be mindful that however much we have been given is for others to also be blessed by. It is what is illustrated in the Hymn "Because I Have Been Given Much." We are all God's children, and he loves every one of us. We can be like vessels to help with the work of the Lord.
In D&C 46:19-26 we read:
"And again, to some it is given to have faith to be healed;
And to others it is given to have faith to heal.
And again, to some is given the working of miracles;
And to others it is given to prophesy;
And to others the discerning of spirits.
And again, it is given to some to speak with tongues;
And to another is given the interpretation of tongues.
And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God."
Brothers and Sisters, what will you do with your blessings, talents, or even trials and opportunities to bless others?
These are many stories we get to learn about in Admissions and in the Ho'okele Department. I take great cheer knowing how many of you have been very selectively chosen or reserved to come to this special place at this particular time, even during this COVID pandemic. I believe it's because you have the desire to bless the lives of others with what you have been blessed with - whether it be with your testimony, your culture, or through your other talents.
I feel blessed to have met many of our international students in their home countries and hear of their stories and background and learn how hard they've had to work just to feel qualified to attend BYU–Hawaii. I think individuals like Pattica San from Cambodia who had to do a qualifying year of school after his mission to be ready to come to BYU–Hawaii because his schooling while living in an orphanage was insufficient for admission. Or Isaac Hawlader from Bangladesh, who while also an orphan desiring to find out more about his family, was led to find the Church. After he converted to the Gospel, strained foreign affairs forced many foreign members to leave the country, but through Isaacs's efforts, 29 nationals were baptized when there were only three members previously. Isaac became the first missionary to serve from his country and served in the Philippines Cauayan Mission.
I have often had students that I have met in their home countries in my home for dinner. It has been a blessing for my family. The conversations, whether they be about geography, history, or gospel related, have enriched our lives and opened my children's eyes to the reach not only of BYU–Hawaii but the Gospel.
I often travel as part of my work here at the University. On one trip, I was traveling from Indonesia to Malaysia, and I found myself being bumped from a flight because the airlines oversold their seats. It was stressful. A few local Indonesians in front of me were trying to deal with the issue, which got very heated. The tension was high, tempers were flaring, and young kids began to cry. I felt helpless and frustrated. This setback would be detrimental to my downstream engagements like firesides, interviews, and meetings with area leaders. I felt alone in a foreign country trying to navigate complicated travel changes in a foreign language and embittered with having to spend an additional 8 hours in an airport.
After about 30 minutes, the air started to clear and the guards dissipated. We, who were bumped off the flight, sat in the terminal together. I sat in a corner close to a small family with young kids and thought of my own children. I tried to talk with the kids. This allowed me to talk with their father. To my surprise, the young father spoke excellent English as he had studied in Australia for his undergraduate degree. As we talked about kids and our families, the conversation turned to the gospel beliefs on family. For the next 6 hours, we sat engrossed in gospel conversation.
Fortunately, before we boarded the plane, I was able to share my testimony and give a Book of Mormon to my new friend Indra Kasuma. I recall occasionally looking back at his family to see how he and his kids were doing, and every time I looked, I would see him reading the Book of Mormon. Upon arrival in Malaysia, he recounted to me all that he read and promised to read more. We exchanged information and still connect on social media. Being grateful to have received the gift of the Book of Mormon, he hired me a cab to get to my event as a token of his appreciation.
What both of these stories illustrate is how unexpected events, or the meeting with certain persons and being influenced by the things that they say or do at particular times in our lives, can become instrumental in unlocking future potential and blessings. Sometimes the blessing may be recognized immediately. Or, in the case of Olive, it may take years to see how a specific decision to take free piano lessons connects to future decisions that lead to very profound blessings. In other instances, as in my experience with Indra, It was his receptiveness to talk with me and learn about the Book of Mormon that helped me to better refocus on my personal readiness to the Lord's greater plan despite adversity. It was with that refocus that I was still able to fulfill my goal to give away a Book of Mormon on every trip that I take. I don't know what may eventually become of his interest in the Book of Mormon, but I know that he blessed me.
We Can Trust that the Lord has a Plan
In Proverbs 3:5–6, we read:
"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
Sister Bonnie Cordon, Counselor in the Primary General Presidency, shared, "A warning comes in the words ‘lean not’…In English the word lean has a connotation of physically listing or moving to one side. When we physically lean toward one side or another, we move off center, we are out of balance, and we tip. When we spiritually lean to our own understanding, we lean away from our Savior. If we lean, we are not centered; we are not balanced; we are not focused on Christ".
Having the surety that we are being directed or even in the right place at the right time requires that we be ‘centered’ on Christ. We need to be ready, worthy, and have the willingness to act upon His promptings. Having the right mindset and being open to the Lord's timing is essential.
Remember that the right place and right time does not imply perfection. We should often check our lenses on what we consider to be perfect. Things can be right without being perfect. Remember, as illustrated in a talk given by President Nelson in 1995, he said, "Perfection is Pending" . Also remember, David O. McKay had to wait and work for over 30 years to see the vision of BYU–Hawaii come to fruition.
Changes in our Best Laid Plans and Facing Uncertainty
So how can we navigate these challenges when so much can not go as planned? What is critical to remember is that it's not always our plans that result in what is the best for us.
In Ecclesiastes 3:1, we read, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Everything has a purpose!
Being in the right place at the right time means doing what the Lord expects you to do at the time the Lord expects you to do it. Sometimes we do not fully understand it.
We can learn to embrace uncertainty instead of always treating it like the bad guy. It is often the presence of uncertainty that allows for invention and faith.
In Samuel 9, we find the story of Saul. He was sent to look for his father's lost donkeys. Saul didn't really want to go, but he went anyway in obedience to his father. While he was looking for the donkeys, God instructed the prophet that a young man would come the next day and that he would be the king. Samuel meets Saul the next day and anoints him the first king of Israel. Saul never found the donkeys because it wasn't about the donkeys. It was about getting Saul to the right place where he could be anointed King of Israel.
Brothers and Sisters, would you be willing to go looking for lost donkeys? God might want to intervene and put you on the most important path of your life. The Lord knows each and every one of us and our capacities. We need to remember this. I was reminded of this by my son when he was only four years old.
Louis had a love for dinosaurs and animals. He knew the names and sounds of dozens of animals, and naturally, a favorite place to take our young children was the zoo. Given our frequent visits to that zoo, he would often run ahead as he knew where the animals' enclosures were located. On one visit, Louis ran so quickly that I lost sight of him. I figured he probably made his way over to the bears. It was near dusk and getting chilly, so I picked up my pace to see if I could catch up to him. When I got closer, I saw him standing in front of the glass at the bear den display, and he was talking with someone I didn't recognize. As I started to get closer, I picked up on his conversation with this stranger. I heard her ask. Hello little one, are you lost? I then saw my son look up at her with a bewildered look and respond, "I'm not lost, I'm Louis!" She then saw me and realized that he was not alone after all.
I didn't realize the significance of this story and how I was at the right place and the right time to hear it until many years later. It was ‘out of the mouth of a babe’ that greater perspective and strength was given to me in how we should live our lives. When asked, "Are you lost?" The response was, "no, I'm not lost, I'm Louis!" It was a confident answer exclaiming who he is. And fears were also allayed when my presence, as his Father, was known. Louis was not alone.
I pray, that we too, can always have the same confidence to know who we are and who we belong to. Then with this surety, we would seldom or never feel lost. When we were baptized, we all took upon ourselves His name. We've become like family, called by the same name - Jesus Christ - who in turn will call us His. It is only through Him that we can be saved.
I feel very blessed to be working at BYU–Hawaii. BYU–Hawaii has always been in my genealogy. I have a greater appreciation for the roles my parents played at this University. My parents both worked and retired as employees at BYU–Hawaii with over 60 years of service combined. The University was my second home, and to me, BYU stood for my BackYard University.
Now, please indulge me by allowing me to share one last story - my own.
My father was born and raised in Kahuku. At that time, Kahuku was mainly a plantation town with an operating sugar mill. My father's grandparents were amongst the first laborers to work in the cane fields. They had several children, and my grandfather was the first to be born in Hawaii. They raised their children as devout Catholics. My grandfather had limited education and after marrying at a young age, he also went to work on the plantation to support their seven kids. Sending their kids (my father amongst them) off to go to college was an expensive proposition, which was left up to them to pursue.
My dad's plan after High School was to enlist in the military. He and 6 of his friends, mostly plantation kids, went down to Fort Derussy less than one month after graduation to enlist. This was during the time of the Vietnam war, and they felt the need to volunteer and fulfill their civic responsibility instead of being drafted. My father wanted to go into the Air Force and have a career as an Aircraft Mechanic. However, after taking the hearing and vision tests, he was told to go to the processing window for reclassification instead of going with his friends to get physicals. He was processed out as a 4F - exempt from military service and selection. His friends considered him lucky, but he didn't think so at the time. But that perspective would change!
Somewhat unsure about what to do next, he decided to check out that Church school down the road – the Church College of Hawaii. He knew of some members in High School with last names that we still find here in the community, like Goo, Enos, and Owan. But it was the Huston family from Alaska that made a particularly positive impact upon my father. They had befriended him, and it was with their good influence in mind that he enrolled. He took some challenging classes and excelled, but his most challenging course would be in the subject called "The Book of Mormon." He sought out help with this class (as struggling students should). He approached Kimo Poai, who had just returned home from his mission. It wasn't long before the help extended not only in the subject matter but into the waters of baptism. My father was baptized in December of 1967, and Dennis Mau confirmed him.
After the school year ended, my dad was invited to stay with the Huston family for the summer break in the Seattle area. He was fortuitously hired by Boeing to work with aircraft attachment points and earned an excellent wage for the time - $4 an hour. This job was a reassuring blessing to my father since he hadn't been able to join the military to be an aircraft mechanic as previously planned. That earlier disappointment was pivotal in the opening of the door for my father to join the Church. Although it would be a year later, he was still blessed with the opportunity to work on aircraft. He ended up working for Boeing through the year and returned to school with good savings. As a point of reference, tuition was only $125 a semester at the time.
He would later decide to transfer to BYU in Provo to pursue engineering. By this time, his membership in the Church was nearly two years, and his friends who were serving missions were returning to school. One RM who was in the right place at the right time was Pete Kindara, who specifically asked my father if he thought about going on a mission himself. That rattled around within my father for a while. And before finishing the semester, my father withdrew to prepare to serve the Lord.
In the summer of 1971, he found himself on a mission to the land of his heritage in the Philippines. This call to serve in the Philippines would give increased appreciation to my father's parents in his decision to join the Church. His mission was the right thing to do and it put him in the right place at the right time as my father was very fortunate to meet old friends and relatives that would have otherwise remained strangers to him and lost to his parents. Another blessing that would come to my father was the offer of financial support by the Huston family. They were very gracious and angels to him.
In my father's first area, He would serve with a newly called leader, Bishop Selfaison. Little did he know at that time that this experience would pay dividends in his future as that Bishop's daughter was attending school at the Church College of Hawaii. After his mission, he would later meet and date her. They married in 1974 and had two children; Sonya and I.
I am a product of BYU–Hawaii. I am a result of the faith-filled decisions of my parents. Both my mother and father were pioneers in their own respect. Both were converts to the church and first-generation college students. Like many of the students we have here today, they come from very humble beginnings. Some of the turns they took in life were unexpected, but they allowed for the very blessings that I have received in my own life.
One of those blessings that illustrates how things are divinely orchestrated is the detail that the Hustons were baptized into the Church upon the invitation of a neighbor in Alaska named June Oberg - a recent convert herself. Her invitation came at the right time. The Hustons, who later moved to Hawaii, in turn, were instrumental in introducing the Church to my father and also later supported him on his mission. As you all became acquainted with my wife at the beginning of this devotional, what she didn't share about herself is that she was born and raised in Alaska. Her grandmother is the June Oberg, who introduced the gospel to the Hustons, who then shared it with my dad. All these events happened at their own respective right times and in the right places. And these sequences allowed my wife and I to meet and have an eternal marriage and family.
My family has been blessed by the legacy of faith of those who followed their faith and persevered - despite uncertainty and unknown twists in the road. Our lives have also been blessed by this place, this institution, and, more importantly, the Gospel. Because we have been so tremendously blessed, we, in turn, strive to live by our family motto, which is to "Be a blessing."
I want to bear testimony that I know that the Lord lives. He loves us and leads us. If any of you, who are listening are struggling with feelings of uncertainty at this time, I bear testimony that the Lord knows you and has a plan for you.
In Joshua 1:9, we read,
“Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
I know that as you proceed with faith, you will have heaven's help. If you ever wonder if something you need to decide upon is happening at the right time or right place, I suggest that you just do the right thing. Counsel with the Lord, and he will direct your paths.
I bear this witness to you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. BYU–Hawaii Magazine, President's Message, 2016 page 2
2. Church News: "Laie Temple Site a Gathering Place," Archives 27 NOV 2010
3. Bonnie H. Cordon: "Trust in the Lord and Lean Not," Ensign: May 2017
4. Russell M. Nelson: "Perfection Pending," Ensign: November 1995