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"These Things Shall Give Thee Experience"


Greetings to the University President’s Council under the leadership of President John S.K. Kauwe III. I am grateful and humbled by the invitation extended to me to speak to the BYU–Hawaii family. Greetings to all staff members. More importantly, I acknowledge the student body, the key university stakeholder. Without you, we wouldn’t be here. A big gratitude to those who worked hard to facilitate this visit.

There are 12 hours between our home in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the state of Hawaii. Our home is the furthest place from this campus.

As a student here between 1987-1991, I attended all the devotionals. I listened attentively to all the talks. I used to wonder where they got the courage to stand in front of such a huge audience and deliver those masterful talks. It never occurred to me that one day I would stand here on the same podium where Church leaders and other significant people have stood. Hence, I am humbled by the invitation to speak.

I am also grateful to my friend, my companion, mother to our children, and grandmother to our grandchildren. Thank you, Futhi, for who you are. When we got married, I made a promise to you that I would bring you to Hawaii to see the campus that nurtured me. You waited for 32 years to see that promise fulfilled. Your patience is amazing.

You might be interested to know how we met. I returned to South Africa after graduating from BYU in Provo to focus on finding an eternal companion. I was in my late 20s and I wasn’t going to settle for less than ideal. On my first Sunday I went to church-not looking. The branch president invited me to come to the stand to bear my testimony. Two to three minutes before the start of the sacrament, a family walked in. I looked over and my eyes became fixed on one of their daughters. Right there, on the stand, even before I could get to know who she was, I said to myself I will marry her someday. I do not remember what I said on the pulpit that day because my mind was on her. And, as they say... the rest is history. My young friends, church is a great place to meet your eternal companion.

I have entitled my remarks, “All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience.” This phrase is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 122:7. [1] The section was given to Joseph Smith on March 20, 1839, nine years after the Restoration of the Church. Nineteen years earlier Joseph Smith had the First Vision. During those nineteen years, he had been visited by many heavenly messengers, he raised a family, translated the Book of Mormon and other scriptures, built a temple, sent missionaries abroad, was persecuted, and escaped death on many occasions. The list is endless of what Joseph Smith experienced in those first nineteen years after the First Vision. The Lord was correct to say to him, “These things shall give thee experience.” [1]

We are here on earth to have experiences. They come in different forms. Some are good and bring joy, while others are hard and difficult and bring hurt and tears. Today I would like to invite you to think about your experiences. I invite you to ask yourself, why has God given them to you? Think further about the experiences you are having on this campus. To what extent are these experiences preparing you for what lies ahead? Joseph Smith was shaped by his experiences.

Jesus Christ, the Creator, was also shaped by His experiences and we read about this in Hebrews 5:8: “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” [2]

The Cambridge Dictionary adds this to our understanding of the word experience: “the process of getting knowledge or skill from doing, seeing, or feeling things.” [3]

In most cases our experiences are made up of little things, but the accumulation of those little experiences can cause the mountains to move. In the Book of Alma 37:6-7 the accumulation of small experiences is described in these words:
“Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls." [4]

Every experience we have shapes our lives. We should not ignore experiences given to us. I hold the view that experiences, good or bad, are gifts from a loving Father, given to us for our own tutelage.

Some degrees will require you to participate in an internship before a degree is awarded. The purpose is to give you experience.

When the Lord chooses a prophet and the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, He always chooses the most senior apostle. Part of the reason is that as a senior apostle he has tremendous experience in Church leadership and vast experience with life in general. The combination of these experiences allows him to be sensitive to spiritual things. At 99 years old, President Russell M. Nelson is the oldest member of the two presiding councils of the Church. He was 94 years old when he was called to be the prophet. Prior to his call as the prophet, he had been an apostle for over three decades. Among the first things he did as a prophet, he reminded us to use the correct name of the Church. That counsel, I suspect, originated from his vast experiences as an apostle, a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather, a visitor to many nations of the world. These experiences had reminded him of how important it is to use the correct name of the Church.

Nelson Mandela, the father of modern South Africa, the country where I came from, was shaped also by his experiences. He was in jail 27 years. He went to jail because he wanted to liberate his people. About his prison experiences he said, “No one truly knows [his] nation until one has been inside its jails.” [5] For example, his experiences in jail taught him how to reconcile with his tormentors and those who had oppressed his people for almost 400 years. He used this spirit of reconciliation to create a non-racial modern South Africa.

Experience properly utilized can cause the oceans to go dry.

Jacob, in the Book of Mormon, used his experience to silence Sherem the anti-Christ, “And he had hope to shake me from the faith, notwithstanding the many revelations and the many things which I had seen concerning these things; for I truly had seen angels, and they had ministered unto me. And also, I had heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me in very word, from time to time; wherefore, I could not be shaken.” [6]

My brothers and sisters, as a former mission leader, it saddens me when I see returned missionaries leave the church. You wonder, how were they using the experiences they had gained for two years and eighteen months? Sherem here uses his experience to be able to silence the anti-Christ.

Indeed, experiences can cause the sun to fall from the sky.

The BYU–Hawaii mission speaks of the experiences students are to have while on this campus. [7] The mission has always been purposed to serve an international population of students. I believe, talking from experience, that everything being done at this university is about this mission.

When I entered the university in 1987, I was not aware of this mission. Looking back, I testify that I was given real experiences. The fulfilment of this mission starts while you are here on campus having real life experiences.  

With that in mind, allow me to be personal and to share experiences I had on this campus that shaped and impacted my life.

The Value of Hard Work

I came to BYU–Hawaii with limited work experience. While in high school I worked as a garden boy. My missionary service in England had taught me interpersonal skills. With those limited skills, I was limited in what I could do. Hence my first job on campus was in the cafeteria cleaning pots and pans in the evening, while my fellow classmates were enjoying dinner. I was soon promoted. I was given a three-wheeler bicycle with a responsibility to make sure that all vending machines throughout the campus were always full. My next job was at the gym issuing athletic clothing to students. From those work experiences, I learned to be comfortable with whatever job I was given on my way to achieving my goals. 

The Courage to Defend What Is Right

Dr. Kathleen Ward’s English literature class added in how I defend what is right. Every semester her classes read “Cry the Beloved Country” by a South African writer Alan Paton. From the first semester on campus until the final semester I had a standing invitation to come and talk about growing up under the apartheid regime. Those discussions sharpened my own understanding of apartheid system from an intellectual point of view.

Academic Success

I came to BYU–Hawaii thirsty for academic success. I knew a university education would change my life, my family, and the nation at large. I had been given a chance of a lifetime. I wasn’t going to squander it and looking back, I did not. My parents had no formal education. They grew up in the rural part of South Africa where opportunities for education during their days were non-existent. My mother was a domestic worker and my father a labourer at a timber company. My father had told me as a boy that education is the ticket to success. This understanding of my family background, a single chance to taste success, and the role education could play to one’s success served as an inspiration to do well.

In addition, there were people I could not disappoint. The list included my mission president, Dr. Wayne Shute, the BYU–Hawaii staff at the Admissions and Financial Aid offices, and my family, whom I had not seen since I left for my mission. These people worked hard to make sure I was on this campus.

Back to my background, soon after arriving on campus, it became clear that my early education under the apartheid regime had not prepared me to compete at the college level in the U.S. The apartheid education had only prepared me to do manual labour. In short and to quote the Soweto Student Representative Council, “hewers of wood and drawers of water."

It came as no surprise when I was asked to enroll in EIL (English as an International Language). I took Math 90 before I could take Math 110. A few semesters later I registered in Astronomy 110. Even though I had completed high school, it was the first time in my life that I learned about the planetary system. As a college student I was shocked to learn that beyond the clouds and the skies there are planets and let alone the universe.

Despite the poor academic preparation, I was determined to succeed and complete my studies within time. I put every effort into my studies. I dedicated four hours per day to my studies outside the classroom. Two hours at night and two hours in the morning. I completed all my assignment on time. The hard work I put into my studies paid off.  I graduated cum laude and was on the Dean’s List for the last three years of my studies. I was on an academic scholarship which paid for most of my studies.

The academic training I received on this campus prepared me to obtain four more additional high education qualifications, passing them with flying colors.

Expansion of the World View

BYU–Hawaii is in the small town of Laie. Despite its size it can still expand your view of the world.

From 1988 to 1991, I served as a BYU–Hawaii student body officer. As student body officers, we all shared one secretary. A few months after I had been in the office, the secretary came to my office looking upset. She asked why I was not utilizing her like my other colleagues were. She questioned why I was typing my own letters and picking up my own mail when she should be doing that. I said, “I came from South Africa where a black person cannot instruct a white person.” She looked puzzled at first and after gathering her thoughts she said, “you are not in South Africa.” She then left my office.

That conversation was one of many invitations directed at me to leave behind all prejudices I had known since childhood. Prejudices in their different forms can limit your destiny to greatness.

Our Prophet, President Russell M. Nelson was correct when he said, “I assure you that your standing before God is not determined by the color of your skin. Favor or disfavor with God is dependent upon your devotion to God and His commandments and not the color of your skin.” [8]

BYU–Hawaii taught me we are all God’s children.

There Are More Sports Than Soccer

I grew up playing soccer. I came to BYUH knowing that the sport in the world is soccer. Soon after my arrival, I was exposed to such sports such as volleyball, basketball, tennis, swimming, and the list is endless.


I mentioned earlier that I served in student leadership for three years. Student leaders’ roles in our day were to organize various activities throughout the year. Management and organizational skills were required. If you did not have them, you needed to develop them quickly. I came to the position unprepared but expected to learn quickly. I am grateful to my colleagues who patiently taught me how to do things.

On my return to South Africa, I was quickly given responsibilities to lead. For example, for ten years I was asked to lead Seminaries and Institutes of Religion for 36 countries on the continent of Africa. In some of these countries we were introducing the programs for the first time. Many of the current crop of Church leaders would have grown up without parents in the Church which meant their exposure to the foundations of the gospel would have been the Seminaries and Institutes of Religion programs. To have learned how to lead and initiate things from this campus benefited me a lot.

Church Callings

I served in several Church leadership positions including being in the bishopric and in the elders quorum presidency. Such callings introduced me to the Church governance I would need upon my return to the African continent. For over a decade, I served in the stake presidency and for five years as an Area Seventy. BYU–Hawaii leadership experiences helped me to be the spiritual leader that the Lord required. As an Area Seventy, I travelled the continent testifying of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Allow me to share some of my experiences testifying in various callings that I had.

In 2016, I was asked to speak by the president at the stake conference in Jinja, Uganda. I spoke about the importance of the temple. At the end of the conference, as I left the chapel, a young lady handed me a piece of paper. There were so many people wanting to talk and to stop and have a conversation. As my car drove away, I looked at the paper, I noticed that she had written a long list of people and next to each name was a specific blessing a person needed such as a land dispute and passing a high school exam. I have never forgotten her innocent face. Every time I visit a temple, she is always on my mind. She lived a thousand miles away from the temple but somehow, she knew that the temples are important.

Another experience about how my leadership in the Church has blessed me took place when my wife and I were serving as mission leaders in the Kenya Nairobi Mission. We visited the town of Molo in the western part of Kenya. Our missionaries had contacted a pastor. I went there to see his congregation and assess the situation for further teachings. I was asked to address the congregation. I spoke about the sacrament. I spoke about how important this ordinance is and why we partake of the sacrament weekly. I shared my testimony and then invited questions. A young lady raised her hand and she said, “President, if the sacrament is important to you, then give it to us.” I have never forgotten the strength in her voice as she asked, give it to us. I left wondering how many of us as Latter-day Saints really understand the importance of the sacrament.

Leadership learned on this campus has blessed me. Leadership opportunities that have been given to me since then have been a great blessing to me and the people I was assigned to minister to. We minister to individuals.

Strengthening of Testimony and Remaining True to Covenants

While serving on the student council, our administration decided to attend a temple session on Fridays. My education about the House of the Lord started. I performed my first temple baptism in the Laie Temple. Today, I am an ordinance worker in the Johannesburg South Africa Temple.

Bishop Mariteragi invited me to an interview to issue a calling. During that interview, he asked if I was paying my tithing. I said, “No.” I told him that I was earning $2.00 every two weeks. That $2.00 paid for bath soap and toothpaste, and if I was lucky, to take a girl on a date. He listened attentively and said, “Desmond, you have just returned from your mission. If your investigator were to tell you a similar story after teaching them about tithing, what would you say?” That was the end of the interview. I began with my next paycheck to pay my tithing. I paid the entire $2.00. The windows of heaven were opened and were opened wide. Since that interview I have continued to pay tithing. I have continued to see the windows of heaven opened.

University devotionals provided an education of their own. Prior to coming to BYU–Hawaii, my knowledge and understanding of the living prophets was limited. The devotionals brought me closer to them. I have a photo taken with President Hunter when he was the President of the Twelve on this campus. In addition to prophets, other men and women of great influence taught us. Through their words and testimonies, my own testimony of the Restored Church and the Atonement of Jesus Christ grew.

One time we had Elder Marvin J. Ashton, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles come and speak. I remember exactly where I was seated in the auditorium. I remember him saying something like the following, “I know some of you young men have a list somewhere of what kind of a women you would like to marry. You go on a date, and you return from the date, you consult your list and if she misses one point from your list, she will never be invited to another date with you.” In his concluding remarks he invited us to get rid of the list. Those words were directed at me. We laughed when he first gave that advice, but later that evening I reflected on that counsel given. I got rid of my list. Ever since I have always welcomed and tried to act on the counsel given by those we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators.

We watched general conference in the Little Theater. We became familiar with the words of the living prophets. Today I sacrifice everything to watch general conference.

Classes were taught by men and women who were filled by the Spirit of the Lord. They not only presented academic information, but they taught with power and authority from God. Professors shared their testimonies with us and expected us to do the same.   

President Russell M. Ballard said, “Balance your life with spiritual experiences that remind and prepare you for continued, daily ministering to others.” [9]

BYUH could be likened to an incubator.

I left BYU–Hawaii in the Spring of 1991, but memories of what l experienced, felt, and learned on this campus have not faded in my memory. They have continued to shape my life. I continue to draw inspiration from them as a husband, father, brother, grandfather, and friend, in my professional life as a leader in organizations, as a contributor in the Lord’s kingdom in different capacities, such as being a Sunday School teacher, an institute teacher, a temple ordinance worker, an Area Seventy, a mission leader, and so forth.

As I conclude, I ask, what are you going to do to ensure you have the most meaningful experiences while you are here on this campus? Secondly, how are you going to use those experiences? Look to BYUH as an incubator. Do not squander the privilege given to you to be here. This is the Lord’s university.

May I conclude by sharing with you my testimony.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] Doctrine and Covenants 122:7
[2] Hebrews 5:8
[4] Alma 37:6-7
[6] Jacob 7:5
[7] BYUH Mission
[8] President Russell M. Nelson, “Let God Prevail,” Liahona, Oct. 2020, 94.
[9] Russell M. Ballard, “The Greatest Generation of Young Adults,” Liahona, Apr. 2015, 69.