Choices and Accountability

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Greg GollaherDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

February 22, 2007
Greg Gollaher
Vice President of Finance & Chief Financial Officer
Polynesian Cultural Center

Thank you Sister Gollaher….someday I would like to meet the person you just introduced. I thought I was the only man in your life…

President Shumway and faculty, I want you to know that it is a great honor to have been asked to address the BYU-Hawaii student body. I hope you feel it was a good choice after I complete my address. In my work at the Polynesian Cultural Center, I have the privilege of working with a number of your students and have felt the wonderful spirit they carry. I am sure this reflects, in part, the tone you and your colleges are setting at the university.

After living in Hawaii for about 6 months, I must confess that my biggest adjustment has been the speed limit. When I first saw a 45 Miles-Per-Hour speed limit on the freeway coming from the airport, I thought the road had been miss-marked, or that was a minimum speed. To my horror, it was the maximum speed. A Mustang GT was not designed to go 45 MPH top end. I could never get out of third gear. From our years in Europe, 45 MPH is the Speed Limit in the parking lot, not on the freeway. Most Germans can safely do 45 MPH in reverse. As a result, I have decided that the best economic decision for our family is to let my wife do most of the driving.

I am trying to make good choices so that I qualify for the blessings. (In this case, the blessing of maintaining my drivers license)

Prior to our coming to the earth, the scriptures teach that God assembled all of his spirit children together in a great council to explain the purpose and the opportunities that would result from earth life. Each of us had been expecting and preparing for this event for millennia.

We were told that we would be recipients of a mortal body and be subjected to influences of good and evil. We were to be given the ability to know good from evil and would have the agency to make choices between good or evil. Associated with those choices, however, were consequences. We were told that choices made in harmony with God’s eternal principles would result in blessings and growth. Choices to do evil would result in punishment and alienation from God.

I would like to believe that all of Heavenly Father’s children were anxious to come to the earth and demonstrate we could do it. Job recorded that we “shouted for joy” at the prospect of mortality. I am sure I thought, “How hard can this be, even with a Veil of Forgetfulness, I am certain, I will be faithful in all things.”

Well, here we are. We should ask ourselves, “How am I doing”? Personally for me, it has been a lot harder than I am sure I believed it would have been. Satan has made incorrect choices look very appealing.

One of the blessings of this life is we don’t all need to experience everything to learn to make correct choices. We have examples all around us. Those who are wise look at the experiences of others and learn lessons that can result in avoiding much pain, disappointment and sorrow.

Let me share with you a personal experience that contrasts how obedience to eternal principles brings blessings; and disobedience results in unhappiness.

A number of years ago I was the controller for Ford Motor Company Operations in Asia. As a result, I spent a lot of time traveling throughout Asia to ensure the financial health of our operations. During one trip, I traveled first to Bangkok and then to Auckland, New Zealand. Little did I know that each location would provide very contrasting experiences relating to this principle.

While in Bangkok, I had been invited by some of my business associates to visit a part of the city where I was told I could buy some “authentic” Thai woodcarvings. When we arrived at the market place, I noticed that the tourist shops were situated in the center of the road and on the sides were bars that I found out later were the center of the Bangkok sex trade. I felt very uncomfortable but resolved to quickly get the carvings I had come for and leave. As I was shopping, I observed young women about 14-15 years of age approaching male tourists trying to lure them into these side establishments. At the time, I had daughters in that age group. I was sickened by what I saw.

The next day on the plane to New Zealand, I continued to be bothered by what I had seen. I thought of these young women, most of whom had been enticed to the city with the promise of fancy cars, clothes and the glitter of "night life." What was not included in the original sales package was their eventual addition to alcohol and drugs, leading to a life of prostitution.

Once their physical beauty faded they would be left as slaves to their habits. Most would contract AIDS and die young in poverty wards of hospitals or on the streets, never having experienced the real joys of life. They made choices where they traded their lives for something that has no enduring substance (see 2 Nephi 9:51).

Now I recognize that many of the unfortunate young women were victims of unwise families and opportunistic men. However, these young women and others were exercising their moral agency to choose evil. The consequences of their choices inevitably result in a destroyed life and eternal shame. Nephi clearly understood this when he warned us of the devil’s tactics towards those who listen to his temptations. Nephi said, the devil…

"…Cheateth their souls and leadeth them carefully down to hell."

The operative word in this quote is carefully…

When I arrived in New Zealand it was a Sunday morning. I tried in vain to find an English-speaking ward. I finally ended up in a Maori ward in the heart of Auckland. This was my first experience with the Maori language and I can truthfully say I understand no more today than I did then. After a few minutes at church, and realizing that I was not worthy of the “gift of tongues” on that particular day, I decided to drive to Hamilton, a city about 70 miles south of Auckland, to visit the temple site. I had no directions except to follow the motorway south. When I arrived in Hamilton I was faced with the challenge of finding the temple. As I drove into the city, I saw the spire of a church and thought it may be an LDS chapel. I wandered through the city and eventually arrived at an LDS chapel. There were only two cars left in the parking lot. I saw a couple leaving the chapel and asked if they could give me directions to the temple. They just said, “Follow us and we will show you the way.” I thanked them and jumped back into my car to follow them to the Temple (which I thought, based on their willingness to direct me, would be quite close). After traveling about 20 minutes through some very rural farm country I finally saw the beautiful white New Zealand temple situated on a rolling green hill. I was so grateful that this couple had driven so far out of their way to help me. I followed them into the temple grounds and was surprised when they pulled into the driveway and the garage of the home right behind the temple. It turned out that the couple I met was President and Sister Domney, the New Zealand temple President and Matron. What were the odds of encountering this couple after flying all night from Thailand? When I thanked them for their help in arriving at the Temple, they surprised me again by asking me to stay for dinner. I was overwhelmed but too hungry to turn it down. While we were waiting for Sister Domney to complete the meal preparations, President Domney asked if I had ever been in the New Zealand temple. I told him no. He asked if I had a recommend and would I like go inside the temple. I readily produced the recommend and President Domney told his wife we would be back in about an hour.

For the next hour we walked through the temple with a quiet reverence. We eventually ended up in the celestial room. Sitting there in that holy place, away from the cares of the world, we were able to share feelings with each other about the blessings of keeping the covenants of the gospel. I have often thought how interesting it was for me to have been in a foreign land, with a complete stranger, and to feel what we both felt. Only through the unifying influence of the Holy Ghost, who knows no cultural or national boundaries, could I have had this marvelous experience.

When returning to Auckland later that evening, I contrasted in my mind the two experiences I had in Thailand and then New Zealand. Choosing good and being worthy of a temple recommended had resulted in a very memorable spiritual experience. How can that result ever be compared to the result awaiting those unfortunate young women in Bangkok?

Often the choices we have to make are not so clear cut as those in the prior illustration. My life, and I don’t think I am atypical of all of you, has been a series of highs and lows. I know that in most cases the lows result from incorrect choices. The challenge is, how do we pick ourselves up during these times and get ourselves back on track.

When we choose incorrectly, we suffer the consequences of those choices but through the principle of repentance and the atonement of the Master we can again experience the good. An example of this comes from an experience I had over 30 years ago. As a young district leader in Cape Town, South Africa, I was asked to conduct a baptismal service for a previously excommunicated member named Jimmy.

Jimmy had been a convert to the church in his teens. Like many of you, he was the only member of the church in his family. When he reached 19-years of age he accepted a call to serve a mission to England. While on his mission he made a serious mistake that resulted in his excommunication from the church. Upon returning home, his guilt feelings, and the non-acceptance of the members caused him to become completely inactive. In an effort to escape his environment, he became a mercenary soldier in Angola. During the war, he was captured and put into prison.

He was not sure why his life was spared, but during this time he began to reflect on the things that were of most importance in his life. He passed the hours singing hymns like "Come, Come ye Saints" to the extent that he could remember the words. Finally, he was liberated from prison and returned to his home in Cape Town. He was determined to return to the church to “pay the Lord back” for preserving his life. However, his fear of the social implications of returning to church soon resulted in his compromising the resolve he had made and he fell into his old ways.

It was about this time that he met a girl who had just arrived from England on a freight ship docked in Cape Town. They met in a bar near the dock on Friday evening and were married by Saturday night. [Now I would not recommend this type of courtship to any of you students…. I know this is BYU-Hawaii but a little longer courtship is probably advisable]. After a few weeks, on a bright Sunday morning, his new wife said to him, "Jimmy, I think we need to start going to church. What religion are you?" Jimmy was embarrassed and told her he didn't have a religion and asked her what church she belonged to. She informed him she was a Mormon and that she would like to find the Church and become active again. The moment of truth had arrived.

Jimmy then told his wife of his story and the fears he had in returning to church. His new, understanding wife just said, “Let’s go back. I'll be with you to give you support.” Thus Jimmy began again to make correct choices that set his feet on the road to repentance and forgiveness.

As I sat in that baptismal service and listened to two sisters sing the primary song "Baptism" in perfect harmony, [the same music we heard sung so beautifully at the beginning of this devotional], I thought of how the Savior taught that the whole hath no need of a physician, but the sick (see Matt 9:12). His grace is sufficient for all. His atonement covers the mistakes of all who humble themselves, who learn of him, who walk in the meekness of his ways... You see, he gives to all men who choose good and come unto him, Peace.

So what can we learn from this experience? No matter what bad choices we have made, there is always a way back through the atoning blood of the Savior. We also learn from the experience the importance each of us plays in helping those in the “returning” process.

Finally, success in our life may not be the result of one big choice but a series of small choices that over time lead to rich blessings. May I share one more personal experience that illustrates this principle – that blessings come into ones life through making correct choices and being obedient to the impressions that come.

Some time after our first year of service in the Recife, Brazil Mission, we received an Elder from Rio de Janeiro named Jose Morais. He was a little shy at first but it wasn’t long before he felt part of our mission family, thanks to the great efforts of Sister Gollaher. During an interview one day we were talking informally about himself and his family and he shared with me the following story.

When Elder Morais was 11 years old his mother died. He had 8 or 9 brothers and sisters and the family had been supported principally by his mother who was a seamstress. The father was only at home periodically because of a drinking problem. They were very poor and lived in the “favellas” (slums) above the business district. Upon the death of his mother, it became clear that their father didn’t have the capacity or the interest to maintain the family. Shortly thereafter, his father called the family together and told them that they would have to find other places to live because he couldn’t care for them. At eleven years of age, Jose Morais was put out on the streets of Rio de Janeiro and told to care for himself. For the next year he begged or raided garbage cans for what he ate and slept on the sidewalk or the beach. After a year, one of his sisters invited him to Sao Paulo to live with her and her boyfriend but because of her personal problems this arrangement only lasted for about 6 months and once again he was on the streets, this time in Sao Paulo – a city of 20 million people. He was now almost 13 years old.

Jose found an open piece of ground in one of the slums outside the city and built himself a shelter of cardboard. Over the next few years he worked at odd jobs to support himself but was not able to attend school. Slowly he upgraded his house from cardboard to corrugated metal but it still lacked running water or sewer.

When he was about 17, he purchased a small business consisting of a portable street cart where he could sell hot dogs and drinks to students as they came out of school. It was during this time that a couple of Sister Missionaries walked by and “felt” that they should stop. After exchanging small talk, the missionaries asked him if he would like to learn about the church. At first he resisted, but later agreed. When the missionaries tried to set up an appointment at his home he was so embarrassed that he was about to withdraw his agreement to hear the discussion. This was the first of his many choices related to the gospel. The sisters however “felt” his uneasiness and offered to teach him at a nearby church. After a couple of months he was baptized. At his baptism, the sister whom he first met told him that she would like to invite him to Rio to visit with her family after she completed her mission. He agreed, but as with most convert/ missionary relationships, after the mission he soon lost track of her.

He remained active in the church (another good choice). About a year later, he was invited to go to the temple with the youth of his ward to do baptisms for the dead. While at the temple he ran into this great sister missionary and her family who were visiting from Rio to do temple work. Once again he was invited to visit with their family in Rio. This time arrangements were made for him to come for one week. He asked a friend to watch his business and journeyed by bus to Rio (about 300 miles away). When he arrived, this great family showed him an unconditional love. They opened their home and their hearts to him. One week passed then two, two weeks then three. About this time he was feeling like he should return to Sao Paulo and resume his life but it was so hard. He said he had never felt this type of acceptance and love before in his life. Finally he announced that he was planning to leave.

Unknown to him, the family had held a counsel that evening to decide what they could do for this young man they had grown to love so much. The next day as he was preparing to leave, Elder Morais was approached by the father for a private chat. He told him that the family had been blessed to have had him in their home. He told Elder Morais that they had met as a family the previous evening to talk about him. He told him that the family had grown to love him very much and as a group had decided that they would like to legally adopt him into their family. He said, “Would you like to be a permanent part of our family?”

At this point in our interview, Elder Morais looked at me with tears streaming down his face and dripping off his chin and said, “President Gollaher, you can’t imagine how I felt to have been asked to be part of a family”. This young man’s life has been eternally altered by a family that opened their hearts with love and invited him in. As a result of a decision to choose the good, good had been returned to Elder Morais to the extent that he hardly had room enough to receive it. A year after his legal adoption, he was sealed to this family at that same Sao Paulo temple where they had first met.

Brothers and Sisters, can you “feel” what I have been saying. Correct choices, in time, will result in blessings that endure to the extent that we will not have room enough to contain them.

The ancient prophet Lehi taught that “men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil” (see 2 Nephi 2:5) and that we each have been given the freedom to choose with the understanding that consequences follow our choices (2 Nephi 2: 26-29). Satan is trying to use that power of choice to destroy us, God is trying to encourage us to use it to grow and develop to become like he is. Some of you may remember that one of the Young Women’s values states: “I will remain free by choosing good over evil and will accept responsibility for my choices”. I personally testify that choosing good and being obedient to eternal principles results in blessings and freedom.

I love a quote I discovered years ago by Elder Packer who taught:

"Obedience to God can be the very highest expression of independence. Just think of giving to him the one thing, the only gift that he would never take. Think of giving him that one thing that he would never wrest from you....Obedience -- that which God will never take by force-- he will accept when freely given. And he will then return to you freedom that you can hardly dream of -- the freedom to feel and to know, the freedom to do, and the freedom to be, at least a thousand fold more than we offer him. Strangely enough, the key to freedom is obedience..."(BYU 1971 DGSM:47:48 Boyd K. Packer).

It is my prayer that these personal experiences will help you increase your individual resolve to keep your covenants so that you can qualify for the rich blessings our Heavenly Father has reserved for the obedient. I have a firm faith in the teachings of Paul who declared:

“Eye hath not seen, neither ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (I Cor. 2:9)

I am honored to share with you this witness and testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.