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Who Are You? What is Your Mountain?

I would like to express an appreciation for Professor Rebecca Carlson and Mele Tafiti Morgan the musical number and thank you, Kinsey, for offering the prayer on our behalf to invite the spirit. I have paid attention to the words shared as I take strength from them.

Emma, thank you for sharing those kind and thoughtful words. For Māori the belief is if you are named after an ancestor you take on the characteristics of that ancestor. Emma is named after her grandmother and has many similar great qualities of resiliency and loyalty.

If you will allow me to share sentiments of respect in reo Māori (Te Reo Māori), the Māori language:
Tribute to God- He hōnore, he korōria ki te Kaihanga o ngā mea katoa, he maungārongo ki te whenua, he whakaaro pai ki ngā tāngata katoa.
Tribute to those who have passed on- Ngā Mihi ki te hunga a Charles Goo, hoki atu rā, hoki atu rā, hoki atu rā.
Tribute to the living - Ngā Mihi Vice President Walker, Nga Mihi e Ngā Hau e Whā

First, I paid respect to God, second paying respects to those who have passed on. I particularly mentioned a Rangatira, a respected elder in the community, Charles Goo. Third, I acknowledge the distinguished people here, all of you, the living. From a Māori perspective you are never alone, you are connected to the almighty and generationally those who have passed on.

I learned many lessons as I would watch and listen as a child and a young man. I remember my grandmother asking people at our Marae, the ancestral meeting house, similar to what you would see at the Māori village at the Polynesian Cultural Center. If she did not recognize someone she would say, "Ko wai koe?" Or translated to mean, "Who are You?" To the discerning person my grandmother was not necessarily asking what is your name but trying to understand, “who are your people?” You see, from a Māori perspective understanding who you are is understanding the relational connections one has. What tribe you come from, what land you are from, the relational connection also extended to the wider environment. One can draw mana or strength from those relational connections.

I would like to frame some thoughts today by asking of you the same question my grandmother might be asking of you if you were to be on my marae. My grandmother would ask, "Ko wai koe? Who are you?" As you think of your identity can you think of “your people”? What are your relational connections that offer identity and strength to you?

For a moment I would like to speak of some of “my people,” my mum and dad.
My mum and dad gave a very clear message to love God with all their heart and to value education. Mum and dad had very little formal education. My mum completed high school and my dad 3rd form which is equivalent to freshman year in high school. I will add that despite both my parents having very little formal education they were some of the wisest people I knew. I will share in a little more detail later on my parents’ story. My parents effectively raised nine children. I am the youngest of the nine. As kids were coming of age to go to high school my mum and dad decided to move from the South Island, Nelson City, to the North Island, Hamilton City. This move was no small feat. In fact, it was a sacrifice.

Of all places why Hamilton? The New Zealand temple is in Hamilton. My parents expressed their devotion to God by attending church and the temple regularly. They would serve their fellow man in the church and community. Why Hamilton? The only Church sponsored high school was in Hamilton. The Church high school was called the Church College of New Zealand, and it was in the shadow of the temple. Teachers at that school, although teaching a core subject, would explicitly share their testimony of Christ through words or actions. My parents through their example showed their love for God and the value of education. No righteous opportunity would be squandered.

It was almost as if my parents knew the BYU–Hawaii motto, “Enter to learn. Go forth to serve.” The blend of secular knowledge and spiritual knowledge. A school and a temple. You may not have traveled to Hamilton City in New Zealand, but I suspect there has been sacrifice by you and your family for you to be here at BYU–Hawaii.

I would like to share a portion of the dedicatory prayer of BYU–Hawaii: “We dedicate our actions in this service unto thee and unto thy glory and to the salvation of the children of men, that this college, and the temple, and the town of Laie may become a missionary factor, influencing not thousands, not tens of thousands, but millions of people who will come seeking to know what this town and its significance are. [1]

Two institutions of learning, a college and a temple.
The dedicatory prayer states that millions of people will be influenced. Do you believe that God fulfills his promises? What is the significance of this place? We know our identity! We know who we are!

My mum and dad have taught me to remember who I am. For Māori; pepeha is a way of stating who you are. A way of introducing oneself and acknowledging relational connection. As I share my pepeha the words may not be appreciated or understood by many, but I will share the significance to me.

Pepeha –

  1. Ko Maunga Tapu te Maunga, 
  2. Ko Tainui te waka 
  3. Ko Ngāti Koata te Iwi, 
  4. Ko Whakatū te Marae 
  5. Ko Kākati te whare tupuna 
  6. Ko Andre Ahau -Tēnā Koutou Tēnā Koutou Tēnā Koutou katoa. 

I have just shared with you my mountain. My waka, the name of my canoe by which my ancestors came to Aotearoa. I shared with you my tribe, My marae, My tupuna, my ancestor and then lastly me, my name. This pepeha is a constant reminder for me to nurture these relationships.

My pepeha is a constant reminder of my identity, my Turanga waewae, or translated a place to stand, a place to belong. I know that no matter where I go in this world, I always have a place to stand and call home. 

Dr. Mason Durie, a Māori psychologist, talks about the concept of health from a Māori perspective, "An individual cannot be healthy when there is a disconnection with one’s land, mountains, and reefs, because there is spiritual significance. As you take care of the land, inherently the land takes care of you. The land has been in existence before man and will exist beyond man. A lack of access to one’s mountain is a sign of poor health since the natural environment is considered integral to identity and fundamental to well-being." [2]

In my professional career as a social worker, I have seen the significance of understanding one’s identity and how it is directly related to well-being. In social work you help people alleviate a myriad of problems they deal with.

One of the settings I worked in was a drug and alcohol facility. The agency was a kaupapa Māori residential facility where cultural interventions were implemented throughout the program. The program was designed particularly for Māori youth who were dealing with significant problems because of alcohol and drug use. From my experience Māori youth already feel alienated and experience a sense of diminished self-worth and identity in society. For many of the youth this alienation is further compounded with the societal strains of poverty, discrimination, gang life, and legal problems. In this setting the staff attempt to provide culturally appropriate treatment services. A growing body of research supports that amongst Māori youth cultural interventions are critical. Let me give you an example of one cultural practice. Every day we would have a support group meeting and every group member would state who they were. You may have seen on TV when a person is introducing themselves at a group meeting. I will substitute my name to illustrate the point. My name is Andre, and I am an alcoholic. In the program as the youth are taught or reminded of their identity they would state their whanau (family) or tribe, or their waka or mountain as a way of acknowledging their true identity. The truth of the matter is alcohol and drug dependency are very serious problems and many times is a long journey to recovery and healing. But if a person amplifies their true identity, they are deeply rooted to something that gives the ihi, the wehi, and mana. The life force, reverence, and strength to the recovery journey ahead. When one’s life already seems unmanageable and out of control because of drug and alcohol problems there is a yearning to be connected to a higher power. One’s connected relationships ground you to something bigger than yourself and to any problem you might be dealing with or will deal with.

Moses went to the mountain to talk to God and receive instruction from Him. Moses had the experience of talking with God face to face. Moses was able to think celestial and have an eternal perspective. Moses initially had a conflict of his identity. He was raised in Egyptian royalty. He discovered his Hebrew identity. He was stripped of his Egyptian royalty. He had witnessed the oppression of his people but was eventually given the task to free Israelites. An insurmountable task. Moses went to his sacred mountain, and he recognized his true identity.

Moses 1 states:
Verse 3: And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God
Verse 4: And, behold, thou art my son...
Verse 6: And I have a work for thee... [3]

Consider that for a moment if you understood the following truths about your identity:

  • God is our Father. He is almighty. 
  • We are His children. 
  • He has a work for us to do. 

Whatever problem you are dealing with. Whatever the work may be at hand, is there anything you could not do if you were to understand those truths? Whether you are Māori or not, I submit to you, you have a sacred mountain! Are there spiritual landmarks that are a constant reminder of who you are? A reminder of where you come from? Is there a home, a place you belong to?

You may remember, as Father Lehi and his family were on a journey to the promised land, he counseled with his sons Laman and Lemuel of landmarks to be a reminder of the work to be done, “O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness! And he also spake unto Lemuel: O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!” [4]

The Lord wants us to return to our place of belonging, even our heavenly home. Mountains have always held a spiritual and symbolic significance within God’s relationship with his children. Mountains are often associated with sacred spaces. A symbol of stability, a sure foundation, immovable. The phrase "mountain of the Lord's house" is mentioned in Isaiah 2:2. [5]

Let me give you a few significant events that have happened or will happen that relate to mountains:

  • Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.  
  • Transfiguration of Jesus on the Mount.  
  • When Christ returns he will “stand in that day upon the mount of Olives” Zechariah 14:4. [6

I suspect you will hear the following truths in the story of my mum and dad’s journey toward education.

  • God is our Father. He is almighty. 
  • We are His children. 
  • He has a work for us to do. 

Because of the social injustices and conditions in which my parents grew up in the 1940s in New Zealand, education for Māori was not an easy path, particularly in higher education.  In fact, my father, Benjamin Turi Hippolite, only went to school until his freshman year of high school. Unfortunately, at the end of that year, the principal of the school forced him to leave because the principal refused to approve of the financial funds for one more Māori. My dad reflected on this experience decades later saying, "I really did want to go to school. I would have stayed only if there was half a chance." 

After this sad ordeal, dad worked so hard and helped his other siblings afford schooling.  You could say my dad received a PhD- a PhD in the “School of Hard Knocks.”

I will add that although both my parents had very little formal education, they could read people and had emotional intelligence. They were hard workers! Despite the hardships and challenges, dad became the first Māori City Councilman in Nelson city.  He went on to be a regional manager at one of the largest insurance companies in the country. He was a manager at the Department of Conservation. How did he do this?  He learned invaluable skills as a labor missionary, and he was actively engaged in the gospel and served in several callings in the Church such as a gospel doctrine teacher, teacher development leader, district president, stake president, and so on.  Although his formal education was limited, dad continued to embrace the gospel and learn from the inspired programs of the Church. My mother, Emma Hippolite was continually learning. She read Church publications from cover to cover.  She became a renowned seamstress, developed her creative talents in multiple areas. She took night classes to eventually qualify and become a residential social worker. My generation is the first to accomplish higher education at all levels (bachelors, master's, and PhD).

Our path has been assisted by others. We are given the opportunity to follow the Spirit of the Lord by being faithful and allowing ourselves to be directed to opportunities, even if they are not the ones we thought we'd have or even choose for ourselves. By making wise choices we can become committed diligent servants of God.

There is a Māori proverb that goes, "Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini." This is a Māori proverb that translates to "My success is not mine alone, but belongs to many." It emphasizes the importance of the contributions of many.

I ask of you again, "Ko wai koe, Who are you? Who are your people that have paved the way for you?" If you are having difficulty thinking of your people, may I suggest some people who have a rich connection to this institution and have a love of God. Perhaps their stories can become your stories.

I will be quoting heavily from accounts collected by Alf Pratte and Eric B. Shumway in their book, “Prophetic Destiny.” [7]

Caroline Kwok

Caroline Kwok (Class of 1979 and respected professional in Hong Kong and China).

One of my all-time favorite Chinese quotes has always been, “When you drink water, think of the source.” I'm constantly reminded that one of the prodigious “water sources" in my life is BYU–Hawaii. The campus that took me in and gave me experiences that helped me remember who I was, that I had a purpose and mission in this life, and that I can make a difference for good. 

Pay attention as Sister Caroline Kwok recognizes the spiritual experiences of recognizing God is our Father and a call to work: “It was there (referring to BYU–Hawaii) that I had my first taste of spiritual experiences, my first lesson on how practical the gospel could be and, most important, how people with big hearts (like the entire university family) could transform my life. At BYU–Hawaii it was the first time I really studied the scriptures, and there I gained a personal testimony of the fact that God was real and He lived, that the scriptures were true [...] these experiences also showed me that we do have a spiritual connection with everything around us.”

Sister Kwok states the work God has for her: “It has been more than 25 years since I have returned to my people, and I'm glad to report that what I experienced in Laie, I have tried to pass on to those who have crossed my path, in my charity work, and my professional work, in church. By so doing I'm constantly reminded what a great source of water I have been drinking from.” 

God is our Father. He is almighty.

We are His children.

He has a work for us to do.

Sosaia Paongo

Sosaia Paongo (Student Body President, 1969-70 from Tonga).

“I owe everything worthwhile in my life to the Church College of Hawaii, my educational and spiritual development, my testimony, my ability to take charge and lead, and my wife, Marie Nin from New Zealand, whom I met on campus. Despite the limitations of my tiny island environment in which I grew up, CCH helped me to develop the confidence and the capacity not only to thrive but to contribute in any setting I might find myself. 

During my four years there, I gained the knowledge and leadership skills which prepared me to be a teacher, principal, school administrator, and officer in the Church. I was able to serve multiple times as a bishop and a stake president. Over a 30-year span in the Church Educational System in Tonga, my wife and I helped to make a difference in the lives of thousands of students from Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, and the Gilbert Islands. Many of these students also went on to BYU–Hawaii and have returned to their native countries to help build the Church and local communities.”

God is our Father. He is almighty.

We are His children.

He has a work for us to do.

Arapata Meha

Arapata Meha (Class of 1982, admissions director for over 20 years and serving as Office of Honor manager currently).

“I have witnessed how the Lord prepares students to come to this special campus. I have also witnessed their leaving, transformed by this unique place to serve effectively in their families, communities, and the Church wherever they go. They come from more than 70 countries. They come with various levels of preparation and life experiences, but they leave with strength, confidence, and testimony.

 After my graduation from BYU–Hawaii in 1982, I returned with my wife to New Zealand and taught at the Church College of New Zealand. When I returned to work at BYU–Hawaii I was also able to serve as bishop and as a stake president on campus. These callings allowed me to see the miraculous nature by which lives have changed and the students leave to fulfill President David O. McKay's prophetic declaration and become powerful ‘influences... for good toward the establishment of peace internationally.’”

God is our Father. He is almighty.

We are His children.

He has a work for us to do.

Phillip McArthur

Phillip McArthur, a professor in the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts, recounts a story of the work to follow the Savior in having brotherly love towards all men.

Let me give context to the story: This event took place just after the 2000 Coup in Fiji that was primarily centered in ethnic conflict. The Indo-Fijian president of the country had just been deposed by a pro-indigenous Fijian group and then there was a military take over. The coup occurred a month prior to graduation ceremonies at the end of June. It was customary a handful of student workers and presidency officers would wait for the graduates to come off the stand after receiving their diplomas and shaking the hands of the dignitaries, and then present them each with a lei. This presentation took place to the side by the student chairs so very few people focused on these exchanges while their attention was directed toward the stand.

“On this occasion I witnessed one of our Indo-Fijian graduates, after receiving his diploma, descend the stairs to be greeted by the student worker. I wanted to observe the interaction between the Fijian student worker and this Indo-Fijian graduate. When they met, the student worker placed the lei upon his friend, fellow citizen, and brother, and then they embraced with a most intense hug, burying their faces in each other necks. They held this embrace for some time, and when they raised their heads, I could see tears in both their eyes.

It was one of the most moving moments of genuine brotherhood, love, and affection among fellow saints I have ever witnessed. It was quiet, it was true, and identified what really matters, even in times of great political strain.” [8]

God is our Father. He is almighty.

We are His children.

He has a work for us to do.

Iotua Tune

Iotua Tune (class of 1986, provided leadership in the Church and the government of Kiribati).

Brother Tune testifies of the relationship with the learning institutions: the temple and BYU–Hawaii.

“On one Saturday morning as a student, I walked back to my dorm from the temple. I stopped at the front foyer and viewed again the famous mosaic depicting the prophet David O. McKay with the young students at the Church elementary school raising the U.S. flag. Although I had seen that many times before, on this particular occasion a very special feeling hit my heart as I also looked out at the front circle and saw my own country's flag flying amongst the flags of other nations of the world. The Spirit of the Lord testified to me at that moment that the vision of David O. McKay was true. I sat underneath that great painting and wept. I learned many great lessons at BYU–Hawaii.”

Ko wai koe? Who are you? Who are your people? Your people are:
Caroline Kwok, Sosaia Paongo, Arapata Meha, Phillip McArthur, The Fijian and Indo Fijian student, Iotua Tune and many others.

Students, you come from a rich legacy of people who love God. This is your identity. The stories mentioned testify of faith and courage recognizing the eternal truths. Do not squander any righteous opportunity. Even the opportunities you did not anticipate.

God is our Father. He is almighty.

We are His children. He has a work for us to do, and yes, sometimes that means a seemingly difficult work of being Christ-like.

Ani Hippolite

My daughter Ani Hippolite was called to Florida Jacksonville Mission. She has been there for just a few days. Without much thought, I sent this photo, but now it has more significance. A photo of the Laie Hawaii Temple. To remember her identity, this is her mountain, and this is your mountain. Kia kaha ki te rongo pai “Be strong in the gospel.” Embrace who you are, your culture, and all the good that comes from it. Recognize your mountain. As you recognize your mountain you will have clarity in your royal identity.

God is our Father. He is almighty.

We are His children.

He has a work for us to do.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] David O. McKay, Groundbreaking & Dedication of CCH/BYU–Hawaii,; emphasis added.
[2] Durie, Mason. Whaiora: Māori Health Development (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1994).
[3] Moses 1
[4] 1 Nephi 2:9-10
[5] Isaiah 2:2
[6] Zechariah 14:4
[7] Pratte, Alf, and Eric B. Shumway. BYU-Hawaii: Prophetic Destiny, The First 60 Years.
[8] Philip McArthur