Building Your Own Legacy

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Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

October 21, 2004
Peter & Joyce Chan
Assistant Professor of Instructional Design and Development
& Professor of English

PETER & JOYCE: Brothers and Sisters. Aloha!

JOYCE: When Peter was born in 1967, China was experiencing the most violent period of its infamous Cultural Revolution--a political campaign that became bloody. The country plunged further into chaos and poverty. The future did not look bright for the next generation. During the first six years of his life, Peter had already been politically indoctrinated. For example, when asked whom he loved most, he would answer that he loved Chairman Mao Ze Dong first, second would be Lin Biao (Mao's once appointed successor), and then third would come his parents, and sister. One day, Peter's mother pulled him out of his preschool to tell him that the whole family had been permitted to emigrate to Hong Kong. Peter's response to the news was, I will go only if I can join the People's Liberation Army there. However, there was no People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong at that time, but a thriving robust British colony filled with myriad opportunities for material gains that were not available in communist China then.

PETER: Joyce, on the other hand, was born in the newly founded democratic Republic of Singapore. Although the three-year old nation was still struggling due to racial unrests, and economic upheaval, its young, inexperienced but resilient government promised peace and prosperity to its citizens if everyone worked hard together to build a skilled workforce. The future looked hopeful for the new generation. Singapore was not yet a commercial and financial hub in the 1970s. In fact, Joyce recalled as a young girl, living in a wooden shed, bathing under the only public faucet in the village. Later, her mother had to work two jobs while father had to work full-time as a salesperson and then take care of their three children. Even when she was still in elementary school, Joyce had learned to study hard on her own, while babysitting her younger brother, cleaning the house, and cooking simple meals. She had learned to be responsible, obedient, and independent.

JOYCE: During Peter's teenage years in Hong Kong, his family had to live frugally. To Peter's family, the good thing about being in poverty was that anything beyond the bare necessities became a luxury. One hot summer day, he stumbled into the only visitor center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hong Kong. Lured mostly by the free air-conditioning, but also out of curiosity as to why intelligent-looking young adults would be wasting their time proselyting. He wanted to persuade the Elders to the truthfulness of Buddhism, but at the end, he was the one who got converted instead and found the truth through a sincere and fervent prayer. Peter always says his first testimony was God's answer to his first prayer, but his strongest testimony was God's guidance and blessings in his everyday life since he joined the Church. Life in the Church was a 180 degrees change for Peter. Because of his poor academic background, Peter had to study extra hard to make it through secondary school. His new found faith spurred him on to be resolute in two seemingly impossible goals: obtaining a university education and going on a full-time mission.

PETER: At the age of ten, Joyce was sitting on a bus going home. From the bus, she could see a Chinese Temple with the burning of incense still visible from afar. The bus then stopped at an Indian temple that has a huge Roman Catholic Church as its peaceful neighbor. At the next stop, a Malay Mosque can be seen with its devout followers humbly kneeling on their knees, praying and the sound of Koran recitation can be heard over the loud speaker. When the bus turn the corner, a Methodist Church was insight, and it suddenly dawned on Joyce that Singapore was indeed a country of religious freedom. She then started to contemplate which religion she should commit herself into. Her parents were traditional Chinese praying to many idols. Joyce remembered one particular black-faced angry looking Chinese god dressed like a warrior holding a spear poised for an attack. She shuttered at the thought of worshipping such a scary god.

Then, a face appeared in her mind's eye, and she recognized it to be that of Jesus Christ. It seemed right at that time for her to become a Christian. So, she started going from one church to another desiring to find out how she could become totally committed to Jesus and live his gospel. She asked many gospel questions, but they were left unsatisfactorily answered. Later, she met the missionaries who told her that she was a child of a loving God, and that she did not have to believe what they said but to ask God himself if their message was true. Joyce was intrigued, could God literally answer every sincere prayer? She decided to try. And Heavenly Father did answer the questions of a twelve-year-old girl. When Joyce first stepped into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a powerful feeling came over her, and she knew that she was home, she did not have to go elsewhere to search for the truth. Later, when Joyce was attending an early morning seminary class, the Holy Spirit again overwhelmed her entire being, and she gained a spiritual witness that an important part of her life's mission was to share the gospel with her Chinese fellowmen in China when it would be officially opened for the restored gospel.

JOYCE: There you have it. A life-sketch that is more extensive than what you have bargained for. Why have we told you all these? From Hong Kong to Singapore to Laie, God has guided us in our individual quests for eternal truth. Our different background experiences shaped our perspective of the world which in turned shaped our attitudes and behavior. Differences in our upbringing have helped us appreciate life with varying depths and perspectives about our own culture, people, and country. These understandings would in turn help us work better with other cultures and especially the different ethnic Chinese groups. In addition, life stories are also effective teaching moments, and this can be best explained from Elder Neal A. Maxwell's biography:

(QUOTE) Our own testimonies are true and often powerful stories that capture in vivid detail how the Lord blesses us, protects us, changes us, and helps us to overcome. Nothing brings the Spirit into a conversation or a classroom more than hearing people bear honest testimony, not so much by exhortation as by just telling the story of their personal experience. The scriptures are primarily a collection of stories, given to us because God directed prophets to recount their experiences to His people. In His desire to give us guidance about life, God could have given us a large rulebook or a series of grand philosophical essays. But he didn't, He gave us stories--about people like ourselves. Again and again the Book of Mormon writers tell us about some person's experience and say, 'And thus we see' (CLOSE QUOTE)

(Hafen, B., & Maxwell, N., (2002) A Disciple's Life. Deseret Book, UT: Salt Lake City, p.xiv)

PETER: Each of you has a special life story to tell. Indeed, each of you is building your own legacy of faith. What is faith? The scriptures tell us, "faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true" (Alma 32:21) Faith is intangible because it is a principle that can be seen only through actions as apostle James said, "faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone" (James 2:17). Therefore, true faith moves you into action. In both ancient and modern times, righteous disciples of Christ have been able to do seemingly impossible tasks because of their faith; for example, Moses parted the Red Sea, Nephi builded a ship; the brother of Jared received light for his barges; and the 14-year-old Joseph saw God the Father and the Son. Moroni revealed that you can work miracles only after you have faith (Ether 12:18) What did you do to show your faith in our Savior? It does not need to be dramatic in a worldly sense, but a change of heart or an answer to an earnest prayer may constitute the miraculous alternation of consequences. Take the time to reflect on your experiences as they are learning and inspiring moments that will strengthen your testimony in God. Regardless of how short your Book of Remembrance has been thus far, you have experienced, to a certain extend, the struggle between good and evil. How we choose today will determine how our legacy of faith will unfold.

Part 2: Developing Our Own Legacy of Faith

JOYCE: An essential part of your legacy is to understand that you have an important mission to fulfill in this life. Of all the approximate 6 billion people living on this planet, you are one of the few who possess the full gospel of Jesus Christ that will bring exaltation to others. What have you done with this sacred knowledge? What are you doing in building the Lord's kingdom on this earth? Concerning all those who are called to build God's kingdom, Joseph Smith said:

(QUOTE) "Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the grand council of heaven before this world was. I suppose that I was ordained to this very office in that grand council" (CLOSE QUOTE)

(As qtd. in McConkie, Bruce R. "God Foreordains His Prophets & His People," Ensign, May 1974, p.72)

Even in your premortal life, you were ordained to minister to the people around you because you have the gospel in your life. You are supposed to be the light on a candlestick, set upon the hill that cannot be hid. Your legacy of faith did not start here in mortality. In your premortal life, you had been prepared to build the kingdom of God on the earth. Concerning you, members of the Church, who are descendents of Israel, Elder Melvin J. Ballard taught this important truth:

(QUOTE) "There was a group of tested, tried, and proven souls before they were born into the world, and the Lord provided a lineage for them. That lineage is the House of Israel, the lineage of Abraham, Issac and Jacob and their posterity. Through this lineage were to come the true and tried souls that had demonstrated their righteousness in the spirit world before they came here. (CLOSE QUOTE)

(The Three Degrees of Glory [address delivered in Ogden Tabernacle, 22 Sept. 1922], p. 22-23)

PETER: In premortal life, you were tested, proven, and found righteous--that is the beginning of your legacy. Whatever trials and challenges that you are facing now, know that you were valiant in your premortal life, so be faithful and do what is right. President Joseph Fielding Smith added:

(QUOTE) "[Heavenly Father] knew not only what each of us could do, but also what each of us would do when put to the test and when responsibility was given to us. Then, when the time came for our habitation on mortal earth, all things were prepared and the servants of the Lord chosen and ordained to their respective missions." (CLOSE QUOTE)

(as qtd. in The Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles, "On what basis did the Lord choose His Saints before the world was?" 43-4, p.350)

Our Heavenly Father is an all-knowing God of love. He knows and prepares the best for each of us. Sometimes, the best does not mean the easiest, but it is always the right way for us to learn and grow. As Moses indicated, "this is [God's] work and glory--to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:9). God doesn't make assignments by accident. He has a unique mission for each of us to fulfill. A map of that mission is revealed in our patriarchal blessing. It is also further revealed through sincere prayers, scriptures, talks, blessings, and other spiritual moments when we are in tune with the Holy Spirit.

JOYCE: During the first decade of his ministry as an Apostle of Jesus Christ, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley exhorted the graduating class of this great institution:

(QUOTE) "I hope that those of you who come from other lands will return to those lands and use the knowledge you have received to lift the people among whom you labor to a higher plain of economic stature. . . . I care not where you come from or the land to which you are returning. Your people need your help and your leadership in building toward a new glory, toward the making of a greater people." (CLOSE QUOTE)

(Elder Gordon B. Hinckley May 15, 1969 BYUH Commencement)

One of the greatest challenges that the Church faces today is leadership training. It needs spiritual leaders who are a part of the local culture, who can lead effectively and nurture the people. This university has a unique role in developing strong leaders for the Church in other countries (See BYUH Mission & Goals). It is here that students experience the combination of secular and spiritual knowledge in a multicultural setting. You have teachers who are knowledgeable in their disciplines and peers who have very different upbringing than yours, yet common in them is the conviction of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Your experience in different facets of your life here will prepare you to become leaders in your own countries.

PETER: Those who receive financial support from the International Work Experience Scholarship or IWES Program have the legal and moral obligation to fulfill their side of the contract:

(QUOTE) "It is expected that students will return to their home countries or regions after graduation qualified to provide leadership roles in an international church, in civic and social affiliations, and within their families. Students who attend graduate school or Optional Practical Training are expected to return immediately thereafter." (CLOSE QUOTE)

IWES Agreement

To those who are not in the IWES program, you should still seek the Lord's guidance on how you may best serve your people

Part 3: Returning of the Heart versus the Physical Return

When we graduated from this university in 1995, we returned immediately to Hong Kong. We were so anxious to return home to serve that we did not even consider applying for an OPT (Optional Practical Training). At the time when we lived in Hong Kong, we experienced much of the joy and difficulties that other graduates experienced in getting acculturated back into society and the workforce. Employers, parents, relatives, and even church members had high expectations of us. We were no longer students. We were graduates of BYU. Life was demanding, but amid the frantic pace came something wonderful--we were able to serve the Church in a new capacity with a new understanding that we did not have previously.

JOYCE: Peter was quickly given several callings including Ward Mission Leader and Stake Mission Counselor. Although I had to struggle with a new dialect, Cantonese, I was also called to teach seminary and Relief Society. Nevertheless, amidst trying to support our extended family financially, we did take the time to think of ways to build the kingdom of God. For instance, upon learning Marie Osmond would be in Hong Kong for a performance series, Peter invited her and her family to speak in a fireside which became a good missionary tool for the church.

Later, as we continue to work, we found that we needed graduate degrees to further our career dreams and to better serve the Lord, so we applied and were accepted to BYU Provo. In Provo, we had the choice to attend a local ward where we could relax and hold lighter callings. Instead, we chose to attend the Asian Ward that needed much help and support. Later, we were privileged to help organize a Chinese ward to serve the unique Chinese population there. Both of us were called to leadership positions. I served as the Relief Society President, then the Primary President, and finally the Young Women President. Peter was the Ward Mission Leader and then Young Men President. Our ward had the highest number of convert baptisms in that area. The experience in Provo Chinese Ward gave us a new perspective into how we can serve our people.

Now the Chans are here at BYU-Hawaii because we had our personal spiritual confirmation that this is the place where the Lord wants us to be at this phase of our lives. It has been a privilege and a sacred responsibility to not only prepare our students professionally, but also nurture them in the gospel.

PETER: There are others who also share similar experiences like ours. In the San Francisco Chinese Branch, for example, the entire branch presidency and many other branch leaders were all graduates of this university. We know them. They are great people who have firm testimony of the gospel and a great desire to serve. They have helped many Chinese immigrants in the area to know the gospel and they will continue to do so. Is their service less valuable than those who are back in their native countries? Of course, not. Are they fulfilling a unique role in building up the Kingdom of God among their people? Yes.

In 1994, Elder Richard G. Scott noted about BYU-Hawaii,

(QUOTE) "Some years ago, I had the privilege of coming here to a commencement service. There have been changes since that time. At that time, I counseled those that were graduating to return to their native lands and carry with them what they had learned to build there. My counsel to you now is: The Lord made it possible for you to come here. Live so that he can guide you where he wants you to serve. Some will return to your native areas where you were born and grew up. Some will be carried elsewhere. This is a seedbed of leadership that we need for the Church and to build the kingdom. Let the Lord guide you. He can if you live his commandments worthily and strive in every way you can to be obedient to his teachings." (CLOSE QUOTE)

(Scott, Richard G. BYUH Commencement, June 18, 1994)

JOYCE: We recognize the complexities of returning. Marriage, social unrest, extreme economic situations, and individual circumstances may divert such return. Returning of the heart is a vital part to the physical return. A graduate who disconnects himself from the Church, the university, and the circle of friends that he once embraced in this sweet community, does not fulfill the spirit of returnability. May we strive to be stalwart leaders in our professions as well as in the church. May we be effective tools in building up God's Kingdom. If you are desirous to serve Heavenly Father, humbly ask Him and He will inspire you on what, where, and how to serve.

Part 4: How to prepare to return:

PETER: So, what can you do now to prepare yourself to return? What can you glean from studying at BYUH to be spiritually prepared to serve in leadership positions in the church, progress in your career, and wield a positive influence in your community? We were students on this campus about ten years ago, we knew what it is like to be busy, stressed with the many demands from all facets of your life: family, school, church, and work. It's a delicate balancing act...no wonder you can become eclectic leaders because of your dynamic training here. What can you do in this university to prepare to serve effectively? May we suggest you to focus on both spiritual and secular preparation.

JOYCE: You must be spiritually prepared by building a good relationship with God through serious prayerful study of the gospel. Take the time to feast on the scriptures and excel in your religion classes. I remember one of our highlights as students here was to go to the library and borrow many LDS books to read. Now maybe is the only time for many of you to have before you such a wide collection of LDS works to feast upon and delve further into the restored gospel before you return to your home country. These are important things to do because you are better able to strengthen others, clarify gospel principles, and answer questions when you have a solid knowledge of your religion. Attend church and the temple regularly; magnify your callings. This university has other uplifting activities and events like devotionals, firesides, and gospel forums. These are opportunities for you not only to receive instructions but also to feel the influence of the Holy Spirit so that you can receive personal revelations from Heavenly Father. BYU Hawaii is a spiritual haven, take advantage of it.

PETER: You also need to be secularly prepared by developing your talents and abilities. As Elder Bruce R. McConkie said,

(QUOTE) "It is an eternal law of life that men whether progress or retrogress; they either increase their talents and abilities, or those they have wither and die. No one stands still; there is no such thing as pure neutrality." (CLOSE QUOTE)

(Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:689)

BYUH is filled with myriad opportunities to develop new talents and skills. Here, learning takes place both inside and outside of the classroom. Within your academic discipline, learn all you can to better prepare for your profession. Learn about the market needs; find ways to network with your country's professionals in your field. In addition, you may be able to obtain valuable assistance and resources from our abled Kim Austin and her team at the Career Development Services. You should also seek out in-country internships through your academic departments, the internship office, and your own contacts. Never before have we seen so much effort and resources put into helping you pursue your career after you graduate.

JOYCE: You, students, have many opportunities to learn organizational, communication, and leadership skills. Students not only learn together, they work together and help run the various clubs, organizing Foodfests, Cultural Nights, Gospel Forums, addressing issues and concerns to meet the needs of their fellow students. Opportunities don't always appear in front of your doorstep; we need to be initiative and seek after or create opportunities for learning.

During his mission, Peter realized the important role that media can play in spreading the gospel, so he was determined to be skillful in this audio-visual production. Because BYU Hawaii doesn't offer a degree in this area, Peter worked at the TV Studio on campus so he could learn on the job. He was involved in most of the video productions on campus during this period. On his on initiative, Peter as a student also produced and directed several video productions including one on home-teaching and a national award wining production on recycling. When our family was in Western Samoa, he produced a recruitment video for the Church College of Western Samoa and CES. Peter's talent and skills in TV production did not stop there. After we graduated from here, we returned to Hong Kong. In 1997, prior to the dedication of the Hong Kong Temple, the church asked Peter to film the interior and exterior of the Temple so that it can be broadcasted in the news in Utah and also for future church video productions. Is Peter still passionate about media production? Yes, he is now teaching students who are interested in instructional technology. Always go the extra mile, think of ways and skills that can help you better build the kingdom of God, and He will let you participate in ways you can never imagine.

Part 5: Conclusion (David O. Mckay Experience)

PETER: BYU-Hawaii is like a flagship of the Church in Asia and Pacific. It has a role in building the Kingdom of God. It is founded by a prophet who understood and appreciated the diversity and saw the opportunity for growth in the homeland of its student body:

The day was a Sunday in 1920, the background was a divisive China with warlords ceasing different regions of the country. The Manchurian dynasty has been overthrown for only 9 years, the imperial family was still residing in the Forbidden City. The Japanese has ceased the northeast region. The country of China has been losing every conflict with foreign powers in the last hundred years. For the next 50 years, it will continue to engage in world war, civil war, and devastating political movements. At that time, there were no united central government that people could pledge their allegiance to. Everyman was seemingly out for their own gain.

Unknown to the Chinese at this time, it was in such a backdrop that an Apostle of the Lord came to this ancient land. Upon arrival, he and his companion stroll aimlessly the next morning and reach the cypress garden of the Forbidden City. As they entered the garden, others started leaving and soon they found themselves alone in the garden. It was then the Spirit of the Lord impressed upon them to dedicate the country for the preaching of the gospel. The apostle comprised and gave a beautiful dedicatory prayer that pleaded with the Lord to bless the people that they may come of their superstition and the young men and young women...preach in their own tongue.

Two days later, they took the train from Beijing to bustling Shanghai and from there, they took a multiple-day voyage to Oahu. When they arrived in Laie, the Apostle witnessed a flag-raising ceremony that eventually inspired the building of this Holy institution. He is, of course, the same President David O. Mckay who later prophesized that "from this school, I will tell you, will go men and women whose influence will be felt towards the establishment for peace internationally." Such proclamation did not come from one who learned about the world from print or others' experience, but from a prophet of the Lord who have seen the world. What we have said about the Chinese can be presented in the same way about the Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans, Japanese, Koreans, and many other people. Indeed, President Mckay has seen you. Indeed, he has seen us.

As we go about seeking knowledge that will equip us for life, remember your legacy of faith which began in premortal life. Let us counsel with the Lord in all we do. Let us seek His guidance and promptings of His Spirit. Remember, God hears and answers every sincere prayer. May WE have the humility to heed and the courage to act. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.