I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to Monica for her very timely and thoughtful discussion of our God-given agency.
As we are still getting to know each other here at BYUH, I thought some of you might want to hear about how Monica and I met.
I went to college, and I was a little bit younger than everyone else. I had a cousin who lived in Provo, Utah, and I spent a lot of time hanging out with her friends. They were in high school and were my age. Monica was a part of that friend group, and we somehow never overlapped or connected in any way. Monica's brother even came and spent some time with his friends at my house, and I still never met Monica.
I was home from my mission a few years later, and Monica was at my cousins' house with her friends. My cousin told Monica that I was home from my mission and that she should go on a date with me. Monica looked at Amy and said, "I don't know who that is. What are you talking about?" The rest of Monica's friends were there and remembered who I was, but Monica had never met me; I had never met her, and we had no recollection at all. So, Amy said that we needed to get together.
She arranged for us to spend time together in a group setting, and I picked Monica up for a fireside, and we spent some time together there. There is some disputing over the next events; whether I didn't call back or she didn't answer... I don't know what happened, but nothing happened for several months. Maybe her younger brother didn't pass the message on, but several months later, I woke up on the 4th of July, and I woke up and thought, I should go run the 10k in Provo. I signed up and registered for the race and went to the starting line. When I was there, I saw Monica and some of her friends. I started chatting and reconnecting with Monica.
I made a mental note that I needed to beat her in the race so that I could wait for her and talk to her afterward. At that point, we found out that we were both signed up for the same marathon a few months from then. We decided to train together, and after running about 200 miles together, we went out on an actual date. Six months later, we were engaged, and six months after that, we were married.
I am inspired by her example of faith and confidence in doing what God would have us do. I am grateful to be on this eternal journey with Monica and appreciate all the love and support she provides for this vital work that we are doing.
It's good to be back together again after the many challenges we have faced over the past year and a half. Thank you for using your moral agency and choosing to do what is needed to qualify as a BYU student. You can be a great strength that uplifts us and adds to our university's richness, joy, and happiness, ohana.
Every day we struggle with difficult decisions that are necessary to sustain the University in these difficult times. There is no instruction manual for what we are facing. I and many others at the university are working, studying, and praying at all hours of the day to ensure that we are making sound decisions that are guided by the spirit and that our efforts are worthy of your love and trust.
That love and trust humble me. I am grateful to be part of this University and this community. I am grateful to be surrounded by faculty, staff, and students that are determined to love and support each other in these most challenging times.
Before I begin my prepared remarks, I have three important reminders for us as a campus community.
First, our being together today is a great blessing. For that to continue, all of us must do our part in following university guidelines about COVID and all orders and regulations issued by the State of Hawaii and Honolulu City/County.
Second, please do not forget the importance of the Honor Code and the dress and grooming standards you committed to as a member of our campus, ohana. Your observance and commitment apply on and off-campus and between semesters as long as you are enrolled at the University. You and our entire campus community will experience genuine blessings as we honor these commitments together.
Finally, we are a campus that makes and honors covenants and commitments. Everyone who has a sincere desire to honor these covenants and commitments and demonstrates their honest effort to do so is welcome here. We follow Christ’s example by treating others as we would want to be treated and by working together to create a community of safety and love among all, where we are “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
I invite each of you to prayerfully consider how you can improve your personal efforts on these three points and how you can support others. As we do these three things together, we can sustain the university community through the temporal and spiritual challenges we face in these trying times.
Sorry, it is mission storytime. I served several months of my mission on the Island of Okinawa. Summer in Okinawa is very hot and very humid. In my first week in Okinawa, I experienced what, for me, was shocking heat and humidity. I didn’t really notice, but every day when we got home, my companion would bring his shoes into the house (not a common practice in Japan) and sometimes even put them in front of a fan. Having not noticed, I didn’t bother to do either of those things. I opened the door to find that my shoes were completely covered in the mold just two mornings later. These were the shoes that I wore yesterday!
Just some practical advice- It isn’t quite as hot or humid here as it is in Okinawa, but you may have already learned that things don’t dry quickly. Wet clothes dropped on the floor will likely smell of mildew in hours, not days. Do yourself and your roommates a favor and hang things up when they are wet!
You’ve probably noticed that here at BYU–Hawaii water is everywhere. It brings us joy and trials. There are very few parts of our lives that don’t involve water in some way, shape, or form.
As you get to know me, you will learn that I love water. I have spent what some might consider an inordinate amount of time submerged in rivers, lakes, and oceans in my life. I spent nearly every free moment fishing in rivers, lakes, and the ocean as a teenager. The fieldwork for my master’s degree in population genetics consisted of collecting a small aquatic insect called a stonefly from every major river drainage in the Western United States of America. I have continued researching the genomics of marine fish and traveled the world’s oceans to secure samples for that work. Now I make time to be in the ocean most mornings. It still doesn’t feel like enough to me.
So naturally, as I read the scriptures, the passages about water stand out. Recently the passage in 1 Nephi 20:18, from Isaiah, chapter 48 verse 18, has been on my mind.
“O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments—then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.”
I have read this scripture many times, but it’s only recently that I’ve taken the time to understand the passage more deeply. What is Isaiah trying to teach when he laments that if we’d followed the commandments that we would have “peace...as a river” and “righteousness as the waves of the sea?”
First, Peace as a River
The power of a river can be shocking. In fact, I have seen many rivers that do not seem peaceful at all.
That might be the point--the power of a river is visible through the path it forges. The Li River in China that you can see here and all the other majestic canyons throughout the world is a good example of the power of a river’s flow, which carves through and around all landscapes and terrains.
Through sand or stone, rivers have a steadiness, persistence, and power that will carry it over, under, around, or through any obstacle.
Isaiah teaches us that obedience to the commandments of God will bring us “peace... like a river.” I believe he is talking about a peace that steadily and inevitably continues through every challenge of our lives. Allowing us to proceed over, under, around, or through everything we face.
The connection to obedience to the commandments adds additional depth to the message. Rivers begin at the highest peaks where rain and snowfall and water gather and flow, aggregating from tiny trickles to raging rivers. The source of that water is the Heavens. So it is with peace. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is the Prince of Peace. The plan of salvation, made possible by His atoning sacrifice, brings us peace to overcome any obstacle. His peace is there for all of us, all the time. We can access it by learning of him, loving him, and following his commandments. When we do that, our peace will be like a river.
Righteousness as the Waves of the Sea
As this passage is shared with us from the Book of Isaiah, there are many thoughts by people of many religious denominations about what it might mean. I spent several hours reading these interpretations. I learned a lot, but they didn’t capture the properties of waves in ways that really connected with me.
I have spent many hours experiencing the waves of the sea. I have fished from shore and boats. I have spent time scuba diving and free diving—body surfing, boogie boarding, and surfing. I have experienced waves in the open ocean that were so large that I couldn’t even see over them. Nearly all of us are mesmerized by the shape, color, and sound of ocean waves. As you experience the ocean and its waves, you will learn that within that beautiful form is a great power.
I add here another bit of practical advice: always be very careful around the ocean. Summer waves on this side of O’ahu are generally gentle, but in the winter, the waves are very powerful and often dangerous to those without experience. Please be careful; we want you to be safe and healthy!
Waves are the result of water transmitting energy from the heavens in the form of wind and the moon's gravitational pull. The water reacts to that energy, the energy is transferred through the water until it gathers in a breaking wave. The result of that movement is tremendous power and wonder.
Righteousness is the quality of being morally right or justifiable. In a religious sense, it can be the quality of being judged or reckoned to be aligned with God and His will.
In this context, Isaiah’s teaching of obtaining “righteousness like the waves of the sea” through obedience to the commandments describes a person whose actions are completely shaped by, and in alignment with, the energy of the heavens. Such a person would understand and translate the will of God into actions that are as beautiful and powerful as the waves of the sea.
When Isaiah teaches us that obedience will bring us “righteousness like the waves of the sea,” he reminds us that we want our own righteousness, our actions, to be completely dictated by the power of heaven the same way the waves of the sea are dictated. This righteousness, obtained through obedience, will give us access to divine power: the power to transform our own lives and the lives of those around us in eternally significant ways; power to overcome any challenge or obstacle; power to enable BYU–Hawaii students to lead in their communities and build peace internationally.
The great prophet Nephi, who shared this passage of Isaiah with us, saw our day. In 1 Nephi 14:12, he wrote,
“And it came to pass that I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few,… I beheld that the church of the Lamb, who were the saints of God, were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small...”
We have all been blessed to see the tremendous growth of the Church in these latter days. Forty years ago, church membership was about 6 million. By the end of 2020, membership had grown to well above 16 million. Given that trajectory, it is easy to feel that the Church will continue to grow at that pace and fill the whole earth.
In the April 2019 general conference, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said:
"In the last 200 years, the restored Church of Jesus Christ, the Latter-day Saints, have also experienced persecution in many forms. But despite that persecution (and sometimes because of it), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has continued to grow and is now found all across the globe."
However, before we bake a cake, throw confetti, and congratulate ourselves on this remarkable success, we would do well to put that growth into perspective.
There are roughly seven and a half billion people in the world, compared to some 16 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—a very small flock indeed.
Here in Laie, we are a small part of a small flock. We have been gathered from all the faces of the earth to live and learn together.
Let’s talk a little bit about this flock and our gathering. Students from Mongolia- I see you; 73 of you enrolled out of 12,261 church members in Mongolia. It's absolutely wonderful to have you here. Let’s consider our students from Thailand- there are 26 of you out of 23,043 church members. I could go on, and it would be a really long devotional.
We are fortunate to live, work, and study in a place that has been blessed with the power of God and supported by righteous Latter-day Saints for generations. These people, our ancestors, and our predecessors have prepared and maintained this place for us. They have strived to learn and live the teachings of our Savior, Jesus Christ. They have made His Atonement an important part of their lives. They have exercised the power of the priesthood to bless the lives of others. They lived worthy of receiving and heeding the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
Today, we have been entrusted with the care of this beautiful community. It includes a house of the Lord and one of just four universities in the world that is part of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. In this little Zion, we have and will continue to face great challenges and temptations. The powers of heaven that have sustained this place for generations have not changed. They can be seen, felt, and accessed anywhere on this earth. They are like rain and snow that gather into rivers and energy from the wind and tide that gather in the sea's waves.
As you learned from Sister Kauwe’s message, we are here to learn to use our agency to choose actions that conform with God’s will. When we personally choose to be obedient to the commandments of God, we can gather these powers of heaven in us. It is then that our peace will be as a river and our righteousness like the sea waves.
This peace and righteousness will prepare us to patiently and confidently trust our Savior, Jesus Christ, in every challenge. Like a river, our peace will sustain us around, over, and through every obstacle we face. Like the waves of the sea, we will translate the powers of heaven into a righteousness that is awe-inspiring in its beauty and power.
I testify to you that:
Jesus Christ is our Redeemer. He showed us the path for to follow. The powers of heaven come to us through Him. Living by His example brings great joy, both to us individually and to those around us.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides the setting to learn and live His gospel and the authority to make covenants with our sacred Father in Heaven. I testify to you that the making and keeping those sacred covenants brings the great blessings of heaven.
In closing, I want to share my love for you and personal gratitude to live, learn and serve with you in this wonderful place in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.