Elijah in a Different Light
Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii
October 5, 2006
Librarian, Joseph F. Smith Library
In contemplating speaking to you, I turned to the scriptures, spent countless moments praying, pondering, and fasting that I might convey what the Lord would have you hear at this time. I have long considered the role the "Spirit of Elijah" has played in my life. This devotional has helped me reflect on moments in my life where that spirit has elevated me to greater heights. Let me elaborate.
I begin by reflecting on a period of time in my youth. I come from a family of 14: my parents, eight brothers, three sisters, and myself. Included in the family are my paternal grandmother and blind uncle. It was in my early teens that my father Juan retired early from his job at the government run commercial port and started farming. My father's family all come from the southeast of Guam in a village with savannahs, high cliffs, and rolling hills. The savannahs were fertile and good for farming. My father saw an opportunity to cultivate the land with the hope that by cultivating the land he would cultivate his large family as well.
Day in day out, I would watch and help my father clear fields, till the ground, lay pipes for irrigation, line rows with drip hoses, plant seeds, fertilize plants, set up electrical fences to keep the wild pigs out, and on and on. This effort of cultivating brought our family together. We needed our father to teach us how to farm and he needed us to help with the work. Yes, we were cultivating plants that then produced crops but more importantly we were cultivating good working skills, team effort, endurance, and stronger family ties. My siblings and I often reflect on our upbringing and are grateful to a father and mother that helped us through it.
Consider then the scripture found in Doctrine and Covenants 110:14-15:
14. Behold, the time has fully come which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi- testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come.
15. To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse.
Being a convert, this scripture has puzzled me for the longest time. I often hear it referred to as family history work/temple work. I thought to myself how is it that I can cultivate the "Spirit of Elijah"? But even before I can consider cultivating the "Spirit of Elijah", I must learn of Elijah. Who is Elijah?
As is stated in the Old Testament, Elijah was a Tishbite living in Gilead. The very first verse of 1 Kings 17 we find Elijah telling Ahab that "there shall not be dew nor rain these years but according to my word." These are words only a man of God can utter; a man holding the priesthood of God; a sealer; a prophet of God. Here is a man that means business; not his own personal business but the Lord's business. So here's Elijah telling Ahab, "Sorry there will be no rain." I can't imagine how Elijah felt when the Lord first told him to say this to Ahab the king. He probably thought, "You've got to be kidding. You want me to say those words?" Yet the scriptures only reveal a bold Elijah standing up to King Ahab. I for one would have practiced and practiced until I could utter those same words in a bold manner with no hesitation and maybe braced my knees so as not to fall to the ground after doing so.
After pronouncing this famine, the word of the Lord comes to Elijah telling him to hide at the brook Cherith. The Lord promises that he would be fed by the ravens. The scriptures do not elaborate on how Elijah felt hearing birds are going to feed him. Instead, he obeys the Lord and he is blessed. The ravens do come to him with "bread and flesh" in the morning and evening just as the Lord had told him. Then, the brook dries up because there is no rain.
Again the word of the Lord comes to Elijah, telling him to go to Zarephath where he will find a widow that will provide him sustenance. He obeys the Lord and finds the widow. The widow then tells Elijah, "How is it that I can feed you when I have but enough to make our final meal before we die?" Ugh, what would you do if you heard this from a widow? Yet with extreme obedience to the Lord and enormous faith, Elijah reassures her to go and make the morsel of bread. She obeys and as we know there was enough meal and oil that they ate until the end of the famine. During the days with the widow and her son, the son fell sick and eventually had no breath in him. The widow goes to Elijah and asks, "What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? Art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance and to slay my son?" Elijah asks the widow for her son and he takes him into a loft where he pleads with the Lord to "let the soul of this child come into him again. And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah and the soul of the child came into him again and he revived." I am sure during the pleas to the Lord Elijah pointed out how this is just not right that this widow's son die, especially after the great sacrifice the widow has made to accommodate him with food and shelter. His pleas were heard. Life did come back into the child. He takes the child back to the mother and tells her, "See, thy son liveth." The woman in turn says, "Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth." The widow's heart has turned towards the Lord through the works and words of Elijah.
In another account with Elijah we find him taking on hundreds of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel with the children of Israel as witnesses. We learn from the scripture what challenge Elijah put out for the prophets of Baal. He says in 1 Kings 18:21: "If the Lord be God then follow him: but if Baal, then follow him." Or in other words, why are you all of a split opinion on who is God? He further reminds the children of Israel that he is the only remaining prophet of the Lord compared to Baal's 450. The challenge is that they would each dress and offer up a bullock with no fire under it and the god that answers with fire is then recognized as "God." The prophets of Baal take on the challenge and call on Baal from morning until noon. No answer. They even leaped up on the altar and called Baal. No answer. Elijah eggs them on and says, "cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked." And so the prophets of Baal cry out louder and cut themselves till blood was gushing out of them. This continued until the evening. The scripture says there was no voice, nor answer. No evidence from Baal.
Elijah tells them to come to him. He repairs the damaged altar of God, places 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel, digs a trench around it, puts the wood, cuts the bullock in pieces and lays it on the wood. He instructs those assisting to pour four barrels of water not once, not twice, but three times to the point that it filled the trench which he dug around the altar. Then he pleads with the Lord in verses 36 and 37: "Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again." The Lord sends a fire that consumes the burnt sacrifice, the wood, the altar, and licks up the water in the trench. In verse 39 it reads, "And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God." The prophets of Baal are eliminated by Elijah, rain falls on the parched land, and once again the Lord uses Elijah to turn the hearts of the children of Israel to their Father in Heaven. With Jezebel seeking his life, Elijah is scared and discouraged. Actually, he feels he has failed the Lord. He makes this journey to Horeb to the mount of God. During this journey, twice an angel of the Lord feeds him that he might have strength to make it to Horeb. After arriving at Horeb, he hides in a cave and the Lord calls on him and asks what is going on. Elijah then tells the Lord how he is feeling and the Lord responds: 1 Kings 19:10-12.
10. And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
11. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake;
12. And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
The Lord reassures Elijah that despite what may come his way the Lord is still mightier than all the elements combined; yet He [the Lord] will not compel a people to follow him only through patience, longsuffering, and through the convincing of the still small voice that pierces the soul of man.
The bible dictionary gives us more insight on Elijah. "His recorded words are few but forceful, and his deeds are explicit evidences of his strength of will, force of character, and personal courage. He was an example of solid faith in the Lord."
In learning about Elijah, I can make connections in my life as a convert of this church. Let me explain. I left home when I was 18 to further my education at Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona. Many things happened during my brief 10 months in Mesa. The most important was I entered the waters of baptism and received the gift of the Holy Ghost. My bishop thought it was important that I obtain my patriarchal blessing before returning to Guam. Equipped with the gift of the Holy Ghost and my patriarchal blessing, I returned home to Guam to face my family and whatever consequences I had in store for joining the Church. I knew I had to be strong and keep the faith. My father's first words to me were, "How could you do this to your mother?" My response to him was, "Just watch me and you will see." The weeks after that were difficult to put it mildly. Finding rides to church which was about 35 minutes away compared to my old parish church which was just down the road was always a faith wrenching experience. You see, parked at my home at any given time were at least two or three cars. Yet, I hesitated asking to use the cars to go to church. That was difficult. The branch I belonged to was very tiny and so I served as a primary teacher to the sunbeams. The children's example of loving the Lord with all their hearts helped me to endure the challenges I had. Elijah's faithfulness to the Lord and his speaking truth in plainness at times when moved by the Lord is exactly what I did. My responding to my father was in deep humility. I reassured my family that my choice to be a Latter-day Saint was going to change my life for the better. The bold part to my response was, "Just watch me."
At the end of that summer, I walked onto this campus with two pieces of luggage and $45 in hand. I met with Brother Charlie Goo who encouraged me to find a job and to not be picky about it. And so I did. I worked in the cafeteria as a dish room worker in the early mornings and a line server during lunch and dinner. When I left home that summer, my family was very upset that I had converted to the LDS Church and so I did not get any support from them. There was a point in my dorm life that I had only enough money to do my laundry but I did not have any laundry soap. I remember the spirit whispering to me, "Go ask Evie!" and so I did. She gave me a cup of soap and I was able to do my laundry. Once I had to leave my laundry and return to my room for something. When I came back, my new pair of jeans were no where to be found. The Lord told me, go tell Char about this. And so I did. A couple days later, I found my new jeans nicely folded on my bed. I suppose if I had had lots of money and extra pairs of jeans this would not have mattered, but my meager paycheck and no support from home made this difficult. The whole year was such a humbling experience. I relied on the Lord for everything. He helped me. Elijah's reliance on the Lord to be fed by the ravens and the widow helps me to appreciate how I relied and continue to rely on the Lord on a daily basis. I live so that I can have the still small voice guide me.
This was the same year that I decided to go on a mission. I did not know how I would get the support I needed to go on one but I went ahead and turned in my papers. Deep down I felt like I needed to build my testimony and was convinced that serving the Lord on a mission would do it. I entered the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo in September 1983 and three weeks later made my way to Los Angeles. My testimony grew even more. I learned to rely on the Lord even more. I went into the mission field literally with no purse nor script. I might just add and no descent footwear, no coat, etc. I went with complete faith knowing the Lord would take care of me. And He did.
Prior to the MTC, I made a stop in Mesa to visit my "Mormon mom" that I met while she and I were both in Guam. She worked at a bookstore right by the temple grounds. Across the way was a family history center. She encouraged me to go over and check out the facilities. I did. It was there that I met Laura Harper. I told Sister Harper my story and thought nothing of it. I made my way to the MTC and while I was there my branch president called me in and told me that a stake in Mesa was going to support me on my mission. President and Sister Shill were such wonderful people to do this for me. I was speechless and my eyes just welled up with tears. I knew then that it pays to be obedient and to do what the Lord wants you to do. I was appreciative of the support given to me from members of the Church. They gave me a coat when I was cold, food and money when I was short on both because of unexpected moves, and most of all lots of love. Just like Elijah, I appreciated the Lord for strengthening my testimony with numerous experiences.
Nineteen months later, I returned to Guam equipped with scriptures, missionary discussions ingrained in me, an abundance of the Lord's spirit, and two pieces of luggage. It had been almost three years since I had seen my family. My mission was good in that I wrote to my family every week and told them about my mission life. I could tell that my family was more accepting of my conversion. During my 16 months home, I served a district mission. It was in doing this work that I realized that I needed to further my education. And so I returned to BYU-Hawaii after one semester in Provo.
It was here at BYU-Hawaii that I learned to balance my secular life by working on my spiritual life first. Attending the temple was a weekly thing. It got to the point where I was attending twice a week; one day I would do initiatory and another day I would do an endowment session. I also worked on getting names of my family members who have passed on. One set of names that I did while I was a student was my maternal grandparents, Andres and Maria Reyes. I knew my grandfather but I didn't know my grandmother. I knew her through stories my mom would tell us. Getting the birth and death certificates required some research on my part. I managed to acquire these documents with the help of the assistants at the family history center. Taking the names to the temple and doing the work was the beginning of my binding me with my loved ones. Elijah's many attempts to help the children of Israel turn their hearts toward the Lord was difficult and at times discouraging. Despite these moments of despair, Elijah still put the Lord first. I have found that when I put the Lord first I am better equipped to deal with the challenges of life.
It was here at BYU-Hawaii that I knew who I would marry. Mind you that I was keenly aware that I could meet ten different guys whom I could be compatible with and any one of them would make a great husband. As a student, I was busy having fun and marriage was far from my mind until all my friends were getting engaged or married. I asked the Lord, "What about me?" He didn't answer me right away. I remember the day the Lord did answer me. His response to me came in a very subtle way. As I was pondering on the question of who the Lord placed an image of Tulsi in my mind. It was a beautiful image of Tulsi standing with a big smile looking heavenward and behind him was just blue, blue sky. I couldn't believe it. All I remember saying then was, "Oh no Lord, not Tulsi." I was not ready for that answer. The Lord was patient with me until I had enough courage to allow someone else in my life. Once I was ready, He made it possible for Tulsi and me to get together.
Here I am several years later sealed to a worthy priesthood holder, three children born under the covenant and still no one who is living from my immediate family has joined the Church.
But their hearts have softened; they've changed their ways for the better. It used to be a common place at my parent's home to slam the door on the missionaries or sic the dogs on them. That has since changed. While on my mission, my mom would see the missionaries walking around our village and she would offer them a ride. When they come around my parent's or siblings home, they would offer them meals and be more receptive to them.
Sometimes in church, I listen to members talk about grand family reunions and the expressions of strong LDS families and I quietly weep in my heart knowing that this is not something I could ever experience in this lifetime. You see I happen to be a pioneer in the Church; the very first to join the church in my family, the very first to be college educated in my family, the very first Chamorro sister missionary, and the very first of many things. It has been difficult but I remain faithful. So what do I do? I do temple work. Since I can't seem to convince the living, I am working on the dead. I am preparing for a grand reunion made up of family and friends. I am looking forward to that grand reunion in the next life. My family members who have passed on need me to do their earthly ordinances. I need them as much as they need me. And the Lord has blessed me with many sacred moments as I do this work for my family.
In some ways I know how Elijah felt. It is difficult to try and convince a people whose hearts are not ready for the word of the Lord. And yet I benefit from the keys Elijah restored to the prophet Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple. How? Let me share. One night I dreamt about a brother who had passed on. We were in a room. There were three people in the room; Andy, my brother, my mom and me. Andy was speaking to my Mom in Chamorro, "Ma u yu" Translated he was saying, "I am thirsty." Using my gospel knowledge, I interpreted this to mean he was ready for what the Savior described as "living waters." He was ready for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Most dreams, I don't remember but this one stayed with me. I had to do my brother's work in the temple but how. I needed to ask my mom permission to do his work. I kept praying for courage and the ability to say the right words to my mom. When the opportunity came, I asked my mom. I said, "Mom you know how in the Catholic Church you honor your loved ones that have died by offering mass; I want to do the same especially for Andy. We have our own way of honoring our dead. Is it alright if I do this work for Andy?" I told her about my dream and with no hesitation she said, "Go ahead because I know you love your brother." Tears of joy welled up in my eyes and I immediately thanked the Lord for placing words in my mouth. I couldn't have said it any better.
Just as Elijah listened to the Lord and obeyed Him, I strive to do the same. Just as he spoke boldly when moved by the spirit, I've done the same. I don't think I've egged anyone on or challenged them in anyway but I have kept the Lord in my life. He is first. In married life, my husband and I have always strived to live the scripture found in Matthew 6:33, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all things shall be added unto you."