Believe In God
Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
June 9, 2016
Gerrit W. Gong
Presidency of the Seventy
President John S. Tanner, Brother Mark Woodruff, BYU-Hawaii faculty and staff, June 2016 graduates, parents, family, friends, dear brothers and sisters – aloha!
The lei beautifully symbolizes celebration and the circle of eternity. At commencement, we see many beautiful leis and even more happy smiles!
Not long ago, Sister Gong and I and our family visited scenic New Zealand. In Mata Mata, big signs read, “Welcome to Hobbiton.” Hobbiton– home of the hobbits, home of Lord of the Rings. We boarded a green Gandalf bus, and made our way to the Shire, Bag End, and Bilbo Baggins house.
For Bilbo and Frodo Baggins and the hobbits, the Shire is beautiful and familiar -- perhaps a little like Laie. In a minute, we’ll return to Laie and the Shire, and specifically to leaving Laie and the Shire for the outside world.
But first I want to congratulate you graduates and your families at this, your commencement.
At commencement we offer hearty congratulations. “Almost graduated” and “graduated” are not the same. You’ve done it! Congratulations on graduating!
In many cases, you’ve worked and attended school – at the same time. You’re learned at school and applied what you’re learned at work; you’ve also learned at work and applied what you’re learned at school.
May that life lesson of learning to learn wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, continue to bless your family, church service, and community. May you always be a finisher, someone who completes your honorable goals.
At commencement we reflect with gratitude. You graduate on the wings of eagles – the love and sacrifice of others.
Your parents and families have loved and sacrificed to give you opportunities they themselves may never have. Many throughout the Church have loved and sacrificed to give you, our rising generation, educational opportunities sought for across the world.
As you go forth, your commencement invites you to remember the responsibility that comes with a degree from Brigham Young University – to live worthily of the love and sacrifice others have given you.
Never look down on parents, family, or others if they have less education or experience than you. Always be grateful to those who helped you learn and grow. Always live with honor as you bless and serve in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, including the isles of the sea and every country and heritage from which you have each come.
You are leaving a unique place. In all the world, only three places have a House of the Lord, a Brigham Young University campus, and a learning community dedicated to learning and serving according to the spirit and standards of the Holy Temple and Brigham Young University.
I hope you will remember your BYU-Hawaii years with the fondness and gratitude with which Sam and Frodo remember the Shire. When Frodo and Sam come to the edge of the Shire, Sam says, “This is it. If I take one more step, it will be the farthest away from home I have ever been.”
Frodo replies, “Come on, Sam. Remember what Bilbo used to say. ‘It’s dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.’”
Dear graduates, you are now going forth. We wish you Godspeed as you are swept all around this wonderful world.
At another point, Sam and Frodo confront seemingly impossible challenge. To inspire hope where there is otherwise no hope to be found, Sam asks Frodo about the Shire. Sam says, “Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It’ll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they’ll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields… and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?”
I hope you will always remember, with a sweet taste, your special days here at BYU-Hawaii. I hope what you have accomplished here will give you courage and strength and humility, when you meet ups and downs and challenges, as we all do, in your life.
Remember, you created opportunities where none were evident. You overcame challenges that seemed impossible at the time.
I recently asked a BYU-Hawaii student what he has learned and will take home when he returns to his country. He mentioned three things.
First, he said, English. It is not easy, but he works at it every day. He said, “If you want to learn English, you must speak English.” “Of course,” he added, “You do not forget your own language, heritage, or country. But,” he concluded, “the English I am learning will help my family, profession, Church understanding and service.”
Second, this dedicated student feels blessed to have learned business administration -- valuable knowledges, skills, and ways of thinking. His study is helping him re-imagine and restructure his business. He said, “I am learning things I never knew. That prepares me for a constantly changing future.”
Third, this good brother is a man of faith dedication. But even so, his third great learning at BYU-Hawaii surprised me. He said, “I have learned about the temple.” He explained, “In my country, I live far from the temple. But here in Laie I can go, and do go, to the temple twice a week. The temple helps me grow spiritually. It helps all aspects of my life.”
Wherever you next go, please keep the temple close to your heart, whether or not you are close to a temple. Wherever you live, please remember and keep your sacred promises and covenants, to the Lord, to your family, to yourself.
Dear graduates, as you now prepare to leave Laie, this bit of paradise, you may find encouragement in the words of the great English poet John Milton.
(If you want to see President John Tanner smile, ask him about John Milton. As you may know, President Tanner wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on John Milton, and is a Milton scholar.)
John Milton described Adam and Eve leaving paradise, the Garden of Eden, with these verses:
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solidary way. 
Dear graduates, if you feel you are leaving paradise and going into a world of sticks and stones, if you feel you are leaving the Shire and going into a world of Orks, Mordor, and Nasgulls, please remember the comforting promise, which is true: the world is all before you, you can choose your place of rest, and Providence will be your guide.
The author of The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien, also gives us a commencement thought. His invitation is to remember our true, divine identity, whatever our quest.
“Dear Sir” I said – “Although now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not de-throned,
And keeps the rags of lordship once he owned.
Man- Sub-creator, the refracted Light
Through whom is splintered from a Single White
To many hues, and endless combined
In living shapes that move from mind to mind. 
Tolkien invites us to see Heavenly Father’s majesty and love in this wonderful group of BYU-Hawaii graduates and our families and friends. We are imperfect in grace, but not de-throned. We keep a cloak from our Lord, and our true identity as His sons and daughters.
Another great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins describes a beautiful bird, the kingfisher. In the world’s diverse natural beauty, Hopkins helps us see God’s love and goodness.
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; …
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: …
Cry What I do is me: for that I came…
Christ – for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces . 
Now you are going to ten thousand places:
As you move through this world, please look for and find:
Him in ourselves, and ourselves in Him, not blind
we, in all our spread-out, different, diverse places and faces,
His sons and daughters, in each
our own story and testimony to share,
each part of His gospel-lived fullness.
with stumbles, scrapes, and falls, but standing forward more,
step by step,
grace by grace,
lighter and lighter,
brighter and brighter,
(as they say), inspiration coming as the wagon wheels turn.
Dear graduates, you are now going forth. You have every reason to rejoice, and no reason to fear. Expressing a great truth about the Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ, J.R.R. Tolkien asked this hopeful question: “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” 
Our beloved prophet President Thomas S. Monson often quotes the Lord’s promise: “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” 
Here at BYU-Hawaii you have felt these promises fulfilled. I know they are true, as do you. You will continue to see and feel the Lord’s promises fulfilled throughout your life, especially as you “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.” 
Feast, savor, ponder, delight in the word of Christ. Endure well each day, each hour, each minute – endure to the end –  and behold, thus saith the Father, ye shall have salvation and eternal life, “the greatest of all of the gifts of God.” 
God our Father lives, as does His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Through the love and Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ, we can commence forward with great faith, hope, and charity.
The Book of Mormon is the word of God. Feast each day on the words and doctrine of Christ. As you do so, you will be guided, comforted, and inspired in all your endeavors.
Please remember, in the restored gospel, truth and understanding, faith and learning, go together. The more you can willingly do, the more the Lord can do with you to bless those around you. Always remember “to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” 
Finally, no matter where you are or what you are doing or who you are with or what others may say, “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that many doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.” 
Dear graduates, dear brothers and sisters, may your personal belief in God inspire you to love and learn and serve and grow each day of your life.
As we do so, the great God of Heaven promises to sustain us in all our joys and challenges, and to wipe all tears from our eyes – except today’s tears of gratitude and joy and hope as we celebrate your graduation and commencement.
God our Father lives, as does His Holy Son, our Savior and Redeemer. There is an unbroken succession of restored priesthood authority from the Prophet Joseph to President Thomas S. Monson today. The Book of Mormon and the scriptures are God’s word. How grateful I am to bear this sacred witness, in the holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.
2 Nephi 9:29