No More Strangers

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Muaina, JohnDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

March 11, 2008
John Muaina
Vice President, Human Resources
Polynesian Cultural Center


President and Sister Wheelwright, President and Sister Orgill, members of the President's Council, faculty and staff, and especially our students, ALOHA!

It is indeed a pleasure to be a part of this wonderful devotional this morning here upon the campus of Brigham Young University Hawaii, our sister institution. I appreciate the opportunity to be here with my wife to express both of our appreciation to this University and members of the faculty and staff for the education we both received here upon this campus. It is indeed an awesome responsibility to all who stand here to impart valued principles and lessons in the circle of life, a life patterned after our Great Redeemer, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

If I may, I would like to begin my thoughts some three-plus decades ago when I first entered the mission field at the old missionary training center near North Temple Street near Temple Square. It was here while during companion study hour my companion and I read a well known scripture among the missionaries, Ephesians 2: 19. I quote:

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.

This particular verse of scripture so affected me that it became the main drive as I entered the mission field and eventually served as a pointer or beacon throughout my life. It has helped me to focus on my relationship with the Lord and my relationship with His people regardless of color, creed or national origin, and, truly help me understand how I fit in the greater scheme of life.

How incredibly marvelous to be considered a fellow citizen with the Saints. How assuring, how caring and best of all how loving that I am "No More a Stranger" but together with you, my brothers and sisters, Saints! Do you understand? Do you realize how a loving Father in Heaven has blessed us in this blessing? The great strifes of the world stem from the reality "you are a stranger here." How cold, how uncaring, how very lonely. All around us people yearn to be appreciated, to be recognized, to be validated, and not the least...to be loved.

Samaritan woman at Jacob's wellIn the New Testament, John 4:3-30, and 39-42, we are familiar with the story of the Savior as he and his disciplines traveling to Galilee from Judea went through Samaria, a place which Jews usually avoided. When they came to Jacob's well, the disciples went into the nearby city to buy food while Jesus sat down to rest.

When a Samaritan woman came to the well to get water, Jesus asked her for a drink. The woman was surprised, asking, "How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.

Jesus answered, "If thou knewest…who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water."

The woman not understanding what Jesus had said asked how he could give her living water when he had no bucket to draw water up from the deep well. She did not know that Jesus was the Savior and could give her living water of eternal life.

Jesus explained that whoever drank the water from Jacob's well would get thirsty again. But whoever would drink of the water he gives would receive everlasting life.

And here, if I might focus a little closer as the story unfolds, the Samarian woman said in the 15th verse, "Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not." Jesus told her to bring her husband to the well, but the woman said she had no husband.

"Thou hast well said I have no husband, Jesus answered, "For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now has is not thy husband." The woman realizing that Jesus knew her as only God or one of his prophets could, said she knew that he was a prophet. Jesus told her that Heavenly Father was seeking good honest people to worship him. The woman said she knew that the Messiah was coming and that he would tell them all things. Jesus answered, as stated in John 4:26, "I that speak unto thee am he."

The Savior set the great example. He mingled with they who needed his fellowshipping regardless of their station or status in life. Might I give here a challenge to all of us to look around to see how many Jacob's wells have we encountered in our life and how many strangers could we have provided spiritual substance?

At the conclusion of my mission I considered my options for education. There was, of course, Brigham Young University Provo campus, but having completed my mission in Samoa I wanted to keep in contact with the Pacific area, having grown up in southern California most of my youth.

I decided to attend BYU-Hawaii after much prayer and consideration. I was actually prompted by the Spirit with no uncertain delay in coming to BYU-Hawaii due to the positive fellowshipping of the students and faculty on my way back to California at the conclusion of my mission.

As almost all students have done before and after me, I worked my way through school at the Polynesian Cultural Center — starting as a dishwasher, which I might add, young brethren and please take note, has proven to be a valuable skill and a prerequisite to my wife saying yes to marrying me. I might add, too, those skills are as sharp as they were when I worked at the PCC and still in good use. Eventually, transferring to canoe guides where I might add is when I met my wife.

John and Luella Muaina at PCC

She worked in the Hawaiian village under Pop Sproat, a revered and respected elder among the Hawaiian students and community. As you might imagine I would push my canoe deliberately slower to explain to the guests on my tour about the beautiful fauna in the Hawaiian village, hoping to catch a glance of one particular Hawaiian flower. Well, as my wife had mentioned previously we were married in the Los Angeles temple and resided in the Temple View Apartments. My wife and I loved our experience at TVA; it embraced the true spirit of fellowship and being with the saints. It would solidify my feels about this BYUH campus of destiny and the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Several years ago the former Director of Admissions here at BYUH and I were on a trip to New Zealand, Australia and Fiji, recruiting future students from these areas. It was a particularly lengthy trip conducting interviews with students and parents. Firesides in the evening made for a very long day, eventually going on to three weeks. As we neared the end of our recruiting with Fiji as our last stop, we had planned three days on the island — two days in Suva and one day in Nandi.

Map of FijiBy the time we had concluded our interviews in Suva, we just wanted to go home. We missed home, our families, and especially our own beds. When we arrived in Nandi we had only one appointment. Quietly amongst ourselves we were hoping the interview would not happen so we could go directly to the airport. The appointment was set for 11:00 in the morning.

When we arrived at the small little chapel in Nandi the gates were closed and locked. We waited for some fifteen minutes and it appeared no one would arrive. We quickly packed our gear, anxiously running to the car. As we headed towards the main road from the chapel, we noticed a young girl and an elderly woman walking with large handbags at their side. I believe both of us hoped it was not the young lady and we tried to focus more on getting to the airport, as we stopped to merge onto the highway, simultaneously together we looked at each other and said, "do you think she is the young lady, we both said "no it isn't her!"

But, the urgency to inquire was too great, I slowly rolled the window down from the driver's seat and inquired with the young lady, "Excuse me, are you here for the interview with Brigham Young University Hawaii?" She appeared perplexed looking back at the elderly woman, stating, "I am sorry sir I did not hear you!" I again repeated my question. With that she beamed in her reply, "Are you from the BYUH campus?" I replied yes! She said, "Yes sir, I am here for the interview!" We drove back to the small chapel, somewhat disappointed in having delayed our departure.

When we returned to the chapel, to our amazement the gates were unlocked and the chapel doors opened. We walked in, being welcomed by an elderly brother, a custodian of the chapel. He apologized for being late, but hoped it did not create a problem; we assured him it didn't because no one was here to be interviewed.

Well, as we sat down with the young lady, we both indicated we can make this interview go fast, with the simple question of why do you want to come to BYUH? I want you all to know we two were somewhat assured anything she would say would not convince us she could come to BYUH.

She began by apologizing to us for being late to her appointment. Then she started to weep. "My mother and I have been walking for three days and nights to come to this appointment. I am the youngest of my siblings and my mother has always desired for me to attend university, but not just any university, but Brigham Young University Hawaii to be with the Saints of the Church."

She paused, and wept some more, always apologizing. As she paused, my companion asked her why did she and her mother walk. She appeared a little embarrassed by the question, but, quietly replied, "We could not afford to pay for bus fare and my mom did not want me to miss this appointment, so we started walking three days ago, sleeping on the side of the road when we could. She didn't want to miss the appointment like last year when BYUH came to Nandi. We inquired did you walk then? She replied, "Yes. We missed the visit of the two recruiters by half-an-hour, so my mother wanted to start earlier."

We two found ourselves looking down on the floor of the chapel, holding back our tears, because we were complaining about our discomfort and wanting to go home, when we forgot the reason why we were on the Lord's errand.

In our mind we could think of no one more worthy than her to be within the fellowship of this University. I heard a quiet rebuke from an example of the apostle's story returning to Jacob's well with the Samarian woman in John 4:31-34, and I read:

In the mean while his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat. But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him ought to eat? Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.

Sometime ago while visiting China, President Moore, former President of PCC, and I were in Jilin, China, with Elder Kwok Yuen Tai, the Area President for Asia. As we were invited to dinner with the provincial governor of Jilin, the governor of the province ask if we would like to bless the food. This was so unexpected it touched Elder Kwok Yuen Tai so much he suggested that President Hinckley should visit China.

While again on another recruiting trip with BYUH in South Korea, I had received an urgent call from Les Moore to plan to travel to Guangdong Province to arrange a welcome for President Hinckley into China after the dedication of the Hong Kong Temple. Feeling somewhat nauseous I quickly left my hotel and caught a flight to Hong Kong and then a train ride into Shenzhen, China, were I was met by a dear friend, Mr. Ed Ngan. Several years ago we had signed an agreement of cooperation with the Shenzhen operation owned at that time by China Travel Service (CTS). The sister organization had actually mirrored an almost exact facility like BYUH and the PCC due to the impression felt by the creator Mr. Ma Chin Ma, upon visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center in spring of 1989.

Their cultural park was built with 26 ethnic minorities represented throughout China. The replicated villages surround a large lagoon — about three time the size of the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Upon my arrival I met with our Chinese associates, reviewing the details of this momentous visit of the President of the Church in China. It was a surreal situation as we met with the officials of China Folk Cultural Village. I on one-side of the table and 15 managers and directors with their Chairman, Mr. Zhang Kin Kui on the other side. Maybe my size evened the table. I shared with them that the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wanted to visit Shenzhen after the dedication of the Hong Kong Temple and how important it was to prepare his visit. Traveling with him was Sister Hinckley, a member of the First Presidency, President Monson, apostles Elder Maxwell, Elder Wirthlin, and the Area President, Elder Kwok Yuen Tai.

The one major concern of the group was how they would position President Hinckley's visit into China, knowing he was the religious leader of a Christian faith which required governmental approval from Beijing.

Unknown unto me within this group arranging his visit was a gentleman who represented the security apparatus from Beijing, Mr. Zhang Zheng Kui. At the height of our discussion he assured me through an interpreter not to worry, "that President Hinckley will feel as though he is coming home."

I thought to myself how an individual of his stature, and political association, eliminated all barriers to this visit. I later told him how much I sincerely appreciated his assistance in this whole matter, because I was almost a total wreck. I didn't show it, but I was. His response to me was, I want to thank BYU-Hawaii and the Polynesian Cultural Center for helping and taking care of my son while attending school here at Brigham Young University Hawaii, and this is my way of expressing my gratitude for the care done for my son. "I feel as though we are family helping another family member," or in my words, "No More Strangers."

At the conclusion of the temple dedication we hopped onto a bus heading northward into China. We were met at the border by associates who quickly expressed our entry through the visa office in record time, from the point of the visa office a police escort of a dozen motorcycles whisked our travel group to their Cultural Center. As we entered the Shenzhen area there were literally thousands of people on both sides of the road waving US and Chinese flags. I would like you to relive with me that event: [Video clip]

President Hinckley in China

This was my first experience with the paparazzi. I next directed the group to visit the adjacent park, Windows of the World. We exited our carts with President and Sister Hinckley leading the way. We walked up the side of a replica of the Coliseum in Rome, some 100 steps from the bottom to the top, with the President almost sprinting to the top with Sister Hinckley. As he and Sister Hinckley got to the top he said, "Wow this is incredible!"

In the evening a large banquet in his honor was held. At the banquet Mr. Zhang Zheng Kui welcomed President and Sister Hinckley. He said this in English and was quite nervous about saying this: "President and Sister Hinckley, ALOHA!

We welcome you and Sister Hinckley to Shenzhen and hope you have enjoyed your travel to China."

He then stopped, he was so nervous. He called for his interpreter. He told President Hinckley through his interpreter this welcoming sign was taken from the road to welcome him. It said, "We welcome President Hinckley, President of the Polynesian Cultural Center." Everyone on his table chuckled. A response from President Hinckley could be heard, "Well, technically that is right!"

No one embraces the fact that the world is a world family more than President Hinckley. I detected no more strangers, but fellow citizens with the Saints.

I will close with this last thought regarding my topic: The beauty about this campus, this campus of destiny we can never truly appreciate the promises laid upon the young people of the Lord, you, you young people.

You are not here by coincidence but were led here by the spirit of the Lord. If you do not know or have not understood your role, take heed. And, to all of us who are in support roles to this great blessing, let's take our charge seriously, whether faculty, managers, supervisors or administrators. Every time I have a student come to my office, I look at her or him as a future leader or even my boss, so I have a serious role.

Final thought: There was a young professional woman whose office reported to the Foreign Ministry, or the U.S. State Department equivalent, who attended BYU-Hawaii in 2002. Her name was Lu Lu. At the conclusion of her studies here I inquired with her what she gained the most from her studies.

She replied, "I have thoroughly enjoyed my studies here, because of the students and faculty. I have never met a more giving and loving people. My studies were excellent, the teachers so nice and thoughtful. I am very sad I am leaving this wonderful campus."

When I inquired even more, she said, "Yes, there is on more thing: When I first came to BYUH my goals and objectives were set, I was focused (because her leader was expecting a lot upon here return to China). For me my professional role was more important than family."

"But, something happened here to my surprise, I could not get over the genuine love and kindness of the people here." It bothered her to the point she and others thought this was a coordinated effort or staged by the Mormon people to show this kind of kindness.

"For the first few months I pushed hard on my studies, while at the same time students and faculty were inviting me to come to their homes and church. My feelings were changing on one item, FAMILIES! I observed how the members around here place their families above their profession, and yet did not see their ability to conduct their business fazed."

"One day while speaking with my husband [on the telephone] at the end of my conversation I found myself saying, 'I love you!' He did not say anything and we continued to talk. The following weeks as I spoke to my husband I would always close with 'I love you!' but it was as before. He would say nothing!

BYU-Hawaii AEM alumna Lu Lu

"As the months rolled forward here at BYUH, I again said to my husband, 'I love you!' and, again he spoke as before without recognition of my affection. I said in a loud voice, 'didn't you hear what I said?' There was a long pause. He said, 'I know I have heard it over and over again. What are they teaching over there?'"

"Somewhat shocked, I replied, 'What do you mean?' 'I mean if that is what you are learning there, I want to come to BYU Hawaii.'"

Since leaving BYU Hawaii I continue to communicate by email. She sent me an email indicating she loves her work but now there is one item which has brought much fulfillment to her and her husband: She is called, Kitty.

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.

I pray we as people will continue to be beacons to those who come to this great University and will feel as fellow citizens with the Saints is my prayer in the sacred name of the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.