If The Salt Hath Lost Its Savour

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Jonathan Durrett
Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

April 3, 2008
President Jonathan S. Durrett
Second Counselor, Hawaii Honolulu Mission

My dear brothers and sisters, Aloha. I count as one of the great honors in my life President Wheelwright's invitation to speak today. My wife Mary-Esther Kamoe first attended BYU-Hawaii in the early 70s and later persuaded me to attend the University after we got married in 1977. Our first daughter was born at Kahuku Hospital in 1978, and we struggled financially as married students like many of you. It is therefore easy for us to have empathy for your circumstances, and we know of your marvelous capacity for service and to be influences for good. I pray that I can communicate a message this day consonant with the tone of spirituality which President Wheelwright is seeking to develop at this very special campus.

Hanapepe Salt Ponds

If you drive from Lihue Airport for about 45 minutes to the west end of Kauai you will pass through a delightful little village known as Hanapepe. Up mauka there are Hawaiian homesteads; center city has a quaint little commercial area; and makai, towards the beach at Puolo Point lies an expansive field of red dirt formerly covered by Kiawe trees and now containing hundreds of salt ponds, sometimes called by the ancient Hawaiians Waimaka o Hi'iaka (literally, tears of Hi'iaka) or Wai-Ku (water pond).

According to legend, an old Hawaiian woman who had taken far too many fish from the ocean to be able to preserve with the salt she had brought with her that morning was distraught over the prospect that a significant portion of her catch might go to waste. Because she had been sternly lectured by kupuna throughout her life that if she ever wasted the bounty of the sea she would one day starve herself, she slumped against a coconut tree and just wept and cried. This, because the fish were already dead and could not be returned to the ocean.

While sitting and crying near the shoreline, she heard the consoling voice of an older woman from the nearby brush. Shortly an old white-haired woman appeared and told her to bring the fish and follow her to a dirt field nearby. The older woman dug with bare hands a hole in the field until water appeared seeping into the earthen well from the bottom up. She subsequently instructed the woman to place the fish in the Wai-Ku or salt pond whose water would salt the flesh of the fish until she left the area. Once the hot Hanapepe sun dried out the water the salt would eventually crystallize, and she would be able to return to gather the beautiful white flakes of salt and make an offering to the sea. One should always return a portion of the salt to the sea, she was taught. This was the beginning of the sacred practice of Hawaiian salt-making.

The older woman, generally identified as Pele by kupuna at Hanapepe, told the woman to malama pono (or care for and cherish) the area, and she would always be able to make pa'a kai or ocean salt in this manner. The salt would then always retain its delicious savor. Today, there are hundreds of earthen salt ponds in the red dirt field at Hanapepe and a group of protectors, lineal descendants of the woman, known as Hui Pa'a Kai is charged with stewardship over the area so that the wonderful, mineral rich sea salt will be a sustainable resource for generations to come.

Salt of the Earth

I begin my remarks by sharing this little known Hawaiian legend to demonstrate the cultural universality of the value assigned to salt. It is what my BYU-Hawaii English professors called an archetype embedded in our "collective unconscious," just a little less significant than the archetypes of fire or water. The Savior himself understood the power of the image salt evokes and taught that His disciples should be the salt of the earth.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the salt of
the earth; but if the salt shall lose its savor wherewith shall the earth be
salted? The salt shall be thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out
and to be trodden under foot of men." (3 Nephi 12:13)

In this verse Jesus Christ likened his disciples to salt--a seasoning distinctive and set apart from the other elements of the earth. They were to give savor (or in the imagery of the Hanapepe legend, be an agent of preservation and sustenance) to the individuals with whom they would interact. Yet, once having lost its savor, they would be good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men. Surely, the Savior had lofty expectations for his disciples.

Elsewhere in the scriptures, we learn another dimension of being the salt of the earth:

"When men are called unto mine everlasting gospel, and covenant
with an everlasting covenant, they are accounted as the salt of the earth
and the savor of men;" (D&C 101:39)

Those who have made sacred covenants with Heavenly Father by the authority of the Priesthood in His Holy Temples are accounted as the salt of the earth. And in yet another passage, we read that "these are they who are valiant in the testimony of Jesus." (D&C 76:79).

In many respects, salt of the earth is the most appropriate metaphor for what our lives as Latter-day Saints should be. And particularly at BYU-Hawaii, this place should be the salt mother lode, a veritable salt mine! And I'm not talking here about the excessive work load your professors sometimes inconsiderately impose, either. This campus is the missionary equivalent of the Hanapepe salt ponds for the State of Hawaii and perhaps the entire Asia-Pacific region of the world.

For example, I asked President Wheelwright's office how many of his student body are returned missionaries. The figure given far exceeded my speculation--807 of 2302 degree seeking students on campus, a whopping 35%! Another 250 or so will depart the campus between now and the fall to accept full-time missionary callings in nearly every conceivable corner of the globe. It occurred to me in preparation for my remarks today, that there exists no larger aggregation of missionary technical experience and knowledge in the State of Hawaii than right here. Indeed, there is certainly no larger pool of missionary talent and expertise in the entire Asia-Pacific Rim, or I dare say, perhaps even in the entire world (except BYU-Utah and BYU-Idaho) than at this wonderful University situated on Oahu's beautiful North Shore.

I would call that salt of the earth, wouldn't you? BYU-Hawaii is a huge Wai-Ku or salt pond, is it not? And wouldn't you also know that my talk today would be focused on missionary work?

We, your leaders understand that you are only here for a brief season, and it is our sincere prayer that your time on this campus will result in your savor being enriched and further extended. But at the same time, the Savior's charge for you to be the salt of the earth does not appear to be qualified by educational respites or internships. He does not say, take a break while you are in school or as you begin your new careers. On the contrary, the scripture seems to imply that disuse results in a loss of savor--good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men.

I testify to you that you will have many opportunities to share the Gospel and lift others, even while an overwhelmed, multi-tasking university student or new member of your chosen career or profession. My life's experiences have taught me that the most fantastic missionary opportunities present themselves during the busiest and sometimes most uncertain periods of our lives. Someone not a member of our faith very wisely taught me long ago that "service will rarely ever be convenient." How you treat these opportunities for service, therefore, will be the measure of your savor as salt of the earth in the eyes of the Lord. And of course, those with "desires to serve God are already called to the work." (D&C 4:3).

You might ask yourself how you or your spouse can participate in this majestic undertaking with all of the pressing daily responsibilities you have. You go to school, you hold down a job to earn a meager living, you study to keep up with a rigorous academic schedule and you give generously of your time to fulfill Church callings. What else could Heavenly Father ask of you? Believe it or not, you may never have so much discretionary time again in your life. In his conference addresses over the past several years, President Monson has recognized our circumstances but continued to cheer us on counseling to always take time "to stand up to serve and reach out to rescue" in life's event filled journey. The following are some examples which might inspire you in your busy journey:

Kahi and his Roomates

My son decided to attend BYU-Hawaii in 2000 after graduation from high school. When I asked him why he had chosen BYU, his answer (at least from a father's perspective) was unassailable. He said that he would probably have the greatest chance of accepting a call to serve a mission if he attended BYU-Hawaii. How could I argue with him? As it turns out he was placed with dormitory roommates from all over the mainland and Hawaii, and every one of these young men ended up accepting mission calls after their freshman year, and a couple shown here even ended up joining the Church, because of the example of these young men. I know that their examples as worthy friends had a tremendous influence on my son as he also accepted a call to Sydney, Australia after his freshman year.

Do not underestimate your capacity to influence your roommates and fellow students towards the path of righteousness. In this small but powerful way you will be the salt of the earth. If the Savior were to meet with these young men today, I am sure He would thank them for their examples of righteousness which impacted each other and touched thousands of lives throughout the world. He would probably next ask what they were doing today to influence others for good.

Law School Days

When I completed my graduate studies in May of 1982, I accepted a job offer from a Honolulu law firm after graduation, and spent evenings Monday through Friday, and all day Saturday, at a licensing preparation class. I spent mornings working at the law firm and every afternoon preparing for the class. I saw very little of my wife and 3 year old daughter in those days, and Sister Durrett was pregnant with our second child.

While in the midst of what seemed to be an extremely arduous schedule at the time, I received late one evening a telephone call from my only brother, whom I had not had regular contact with for over two years. He was seeking information about the Church. He had been working as a professional rock and roll musician in Waikiki, and because of his schedule, our paths seldom crossed. It seems that his girlfriend had expressed a feeling of emptiness in her life, and she was resigned to seeking out and attending a church in the upcoming week with or without him. My brother told her that before they sought out a church, they should "check out" my brother's church. He was calling to receive information about the Church—an answer to prayers I had offered since I was baptized some ten years earlier and a literal fulfillment of my Patriarchal Blessing "that some members of my family would join the Church." Of course, the call had to come in the middle of my preparation for the Hawaii state bar examination. But the Spirit made clear that this opportunity would not present itself again, and that it could not be passed up.

I arranged for the fulltime missionaries to meet my brother and his girlfriend on Sunday evening, the only night I was not in class, and we commenced to share the missionary lessons with them every Sunday thereafter.

To make a very sweet story succinct, they shortly embraced the Gospel, and I was able to baptize my only brother and his future wife at Nu'uanu Ward, as soon as we could arrange the wedding which we did in less than a month with the help of Sister Durrett. Several years later I was able to lay my hands upon his head in the circle where he was set apart as a Bishop of the Ewa Beach Ward. Remember, service of lasting value in the Kingdom will rarely be convenient.

Professional Opportunities

I wish to present some thoughts about sharing the Gospel with colleagues and employees in a professional setting. Any direct proselytizing of these associates is usually ill-advised and sometimes illegal when in an employer-employee relationship. Nonetheless, there will be plenty of opportunities to give factual information about the Church and correct misconceptions as they invariably arise. Many of you will take jobs in organizations where you are the only Mormon, and you will be your associates' sole impression of what a member of the Church of Jesus Christ is. While it may not be appropriate to directly proselytize your associates and colleagues, opportunities to befriend those attracted to your values must not be overlooked. I have often wondered how any missionary work ever gets done by members in the Kingdom if we are always going to Church meetings or only involved socially with other members of our faith. Remember, every convert (and investigator, I might add) needs a friend.

Once in a while the Spirit will dictate that you share the Gospel with a professional associate, even if it results in a breach of the general protocol I have just explained. For example, just last winter while on a real estate development site visit in Hawaii, the President of a California investment bank who would shortly be placed in an adversarial position with my client because of an imminent default I knew my client would commit with respect to a very large loan, mentioned that he had known members of the Church who served as legal counsel to him on other transactions. He showed great respect having previously learned that I was a member of the Church and confessed a genuine curiosity as to what we believed. I felt compelled by the Spirit to meet him the next day before he returned to San Francisco to present him with a copy of the Book of Mormon with my testimony in it. Although he graciously accepted the gift and promised to read it, this meeting ran counter to all of my legal and ethical training. Nevertheless, the Spirit commanded, and I knew I was the salt of the earth in this particular instance and could not live with the thought that I had lost my savor.

You too will likewise feel compelled to respond to unexpected missionary opportunities that will inevitably arise in your careers, because of the sacred covenants you have made to share the Gospel.

The Teaching and Fellowshipping of Jose Cruz

Apart from the awesome resource of technical missionary expertise represented by this student body, there exists a wonderful academic capacity among you that we sometimes take for granted. I speak of the extraordinary foreign language capability of students on this campus. The breadth of foreign languages spoken on this campus is a truly remarkable thing. Because of the international character of the student body, there are many who bring with them their native tongues to the campus, and because of the large number of returned missionaries, there are even more who bring with them a second language facility gained from their missions in the numerous foreign lands in which they have served the Church.

Of course, when I attended the old Language Training Mission at Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) in Rexburg, Idaho in 1976, the mission leaders often commented that you couldn't really tell the difference between missionary Danish and missionary Spanish at the rudimentary stages of instruction. I recall that on one occasion, a missionary who was going to Sweden decided to bear his testimony in missionary Finnish just to see if the mission president would notice. Of course, President Morton couldn't tell the difference, and all of the missionaries got a great laugh. Only after two years of diligent study in the mission field is this language facility refined to the point of being the kind of resource of which I speak.

One spectacular manifestation of this remarkable capability was the use of volunteer translators at the 2004 Winter Olympics hosted by Salt Lake City. I read in one magazine article that this was the first time in the history of the Olympic movement that all of the translation services were able to be performed by volunteers, who were of course by and large, returned missionaries. One need look no further than the Polynesian Cultural Center to see this marvelous resource displayed on a daily basis with student workers acting as tour guides for all of the Asian countries from Korea to Taiwan and Latin America as well.

This brings me to the story of Jose Cruz. The fulltime missionaries in my ward found this agricultural worker from Huahaca, Mexico living with other workers from Mexico in a small apartment in Waipahu last fall. Separated from his wife and four children for over a year to earn additional income to defray the costs of an expensive C-section delivery of his youngest daughter, Jose wanted to find a Church to attend while in Hawaii. His roommates recommended a Pentecostal church nearby, but the missionaries soon appeared at his apartment before he had a chance to make a decision on a church to attend. When they explained to me that Jose was willing to hear the Gospel, but only spoke Spanish, I found a member in the ward who had served in a California Spanish speaking mission, (who was in Hawaii only for the summer while accompanying his wife on assignment as a traveling nurse) to assist the fulltime missionaries on their teaching visits. I later enlisted the help of my nephew (and BYU-Hawaii student) Micah Kamoe, who had just returned from his Mexico City mission to go on exchanges with the missionaries in their teaching appointments. When Jose attended sacrament meetings and Sunday school, there was always a Spanish speaking translator at his side. Another brother in the ward whose mother was Peruvian later came forward, and he regularly accompanied Jose to Sunday school lessons to provide translation assistance.

Because of his regular attendance, Jose was soon befriended by a couple in the ward, the husband of which was serving in Army. Both husband and wife had served missions in Concepcion, Chile, and their children grew to love Jose as the family fellowshipped him. Brother Cruz joined the Church in January, and much of the baptismal program was presented in Spanish specifically for his benefit. It wasn't long before this fellowshipping couple began to reach out to Jose's family in Mexico, and missionaries were sent to his wife Lucelia. His wife had dreamed that Jose had found Jesus Christ in Hawaii while seeking for a church, and was astounded when she shortly received a picture of her husband at the Laie Temple Visitor's Center before the Torvaldsen statue of the Christus. She then knew that her dream had been had come to pass. His wife and three children were taught the Gospel and baptized within two weeks of the first visit of the missionaries in February. Another son fulfilling military service in Mexico has not yet received the Gospel, but Brother Cruz is excited to share the Gospel with him.

Vito Monte, a returned missionary in our ward from Costa Rica, now provides translation services for Jose in sacrament meetings and Sunday school.

I do not think that this Spanish speaking capability in a small ward in Ewa Beach is unique in the Church, but I do believe the willingness of the Church members to reach out to an individual far away from home in such a linguistically miraculous manner exemplifies what the Savior means by salt of the earth. In their acts of individual charity these members had certainly not lost their savor. Those of you with foreign language capabilities can bless the lives of many in your earthly sojourn.

Choices Which Influence Others

As I conclude my remarks, I wish to say something about the choices you make in your respective careers and where you decide to live. Heavenly Father's foremost desire is to deploy you and your own special set of skills in areas of the world that will bring about the greatest blessings to his children. This will seldom be in an upscale neighborhood in a so called "wealthy ward." In such an area you may have little opportunity to serve his children, and your salt could lose its savor without much effort on your part. Over our years of missionary service, Sister Durrett and I have noticed a direct correlation between the socio-economic status of the ward and the paucity of missionary activity. I do not know the reason this is the case; I simply report my observations.

Might I suggest that each of you and your families make the choice of residence within the community you will be assigned to work in with the value of service in the Kingdom of God paramount on your list of priorities? The choices you make which are best for your career or professional development may not necessarily be the choices which allow you and your family to find the deeper satisfaction and joy that comes from being deployed in areas where you can make a lasting contribution to building up His Kingdom. As you receive career and professional assignments in cities around the world, there may be opportunities to put down roots in smaller branches or less affluent wards that will afford you and your family opportunities to serve His children with a deeper commitment to Gospel living. Such choices will require that you heed the whisperings of the Spirit. You will need to find the right balance for your family.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said that the Church is an institution that welcomes saints and sinners alike, and is not a "well provisioned rest home for the already saved." I fear that sometimes our members are looking for the rest home situation when it comes to the Gospel. Do not allow your lives to develop this kind of spiritual malaise, or your salt will surely lose its savor. Remember Madame Pele's admonition to malama pono.

Finally my dear brothers and sisters, we your leaders have grand expectations for you in your lives. Your curriculum at BYU-Hawaii is imbued with a unifying prophetic vision. That vision is the same as the underlying purpose of the Church, to prepare you to serve all of humanity through the restored principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to be even the salt of the earth. My humble prayer is that the net result of your time at this University is that you will all become "worthy friends whose lives proclaim Devotion to the Savior's name" (Hymn 293). In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.