Relying on the Lord

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Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

June 12, 2003
Ken Wagner
Head Basketball Coach

As a young boy I grew up in the Mormon colonies in Mexico. Our family lived in Colonia Dublan, Chihuahua, Mexico. We lived in a big two story brick house surrounded by all sorts of trees and flowers-my mother's family called the home Tanglewood. Tanglewood was a kid's dreamland. We had huge trees all around that were fun to climb, one of them even had a woodpecker living in the top. We had great games of hide and seek in the big yard-with all the trees, bushes, and structures, including an old barn, chicken coop, we even had our own outhouse! Most of these old structures were connected with tall adobe fences. What I remembered most was running around the big yard and spending time running through the big barn behind the home. Everyday we spent hours running around on the adobe walls connecting the barn and other storage buildings. As children we would jump from the barn to the walls, and race each other around the walls-seeing who could combine speed and balance! When I was six, someone started the barn on fire-fortunately the fire was stopped early and there was not a lot of damage. After the fire, I started to have nightmares, dreaming every night that the people who had started the fire in the barn were after me. They were chasing me around trying to catch me and I was sprinting on these narrow walls. It was terrible, I couldn't sleep at all. As young children my mother had taught us about prayer. She use to say that in her father's patriarchal blessing it stated that he had the faith of the brother of Jared-the power to move mountains, control the elements, and raise the dead. My brother and I use to say to each other, wow our grandpa must be strong if he can move a mountain! Many people remember times when the community needed rain and they would call on my grandfather to pray " even as he started to pray, the weather would change, and the rain would come. My mother told us numerous stories of my grandfather and others to help strengthen our testimony of prayer. As a six your old, these bad dreams were a big issue to me. My mother had told me to ask Heavenly Father to have good dreams and not bad ones, and I would be able to sleep without having bad dreams. I followed her council. To this day, I always pray to have good dreams and I always do. My testimony in prayer was never questioned after this point in my life. No matter what trials or help I have needed, I have always felt I could turn to the Lord. Russell M. Nelson recently said, "Prophets have long told us to pray humbly and frequently."

Obert C Tanner said the following: "Prayer is the release of Divine Power in our lives, so that we gain clear direction and determination to do God's will-that which is right. Prayer is the way we put ourselves in relationship to God, not to do our will, but so He may do His will in and through our lives. Much of prayer is a form of egotism, with ourselves at the center-our will, our plans, our needs. And prayer is this supplication. But the heart of great supplication is not that God do our will, but that we adjust ourselves so He can do His will through us. And this is what we most desire, that God may be in alliance with us giving unity and direction to our noblest aims."

We need prayer to help us get through lives experiences.

I was shocked recently, when one of my daughters came to me and my wife and said she did not believe in prayer-she said that no matter what she prays for, she never gets an answer. We were surprised and hurt, feeling that we had done a terrible job as parents, if after all this time our daughter did not believe in something we thought was the most important part of our lives. I really began to examine my life and how I learned about prayer. My whole life had been filled with beautiful examples of prayer-personally, in my family, and in our community. I am sometimes a private person and do not express my feelings, and I thought maybe it was my fault for not sharing more of my experiences with my daughter. How could she face lives challenges without having the Lord's help? I started to think back on some of the events that helped strengthen my confidence in the Lord.

I don't know how my daughter would be able to face life without the help of prayer. We needed to create an environment to teach her and let her experience the ability to rely on the Lord. All of you are here at BYUH in a perfect environment to increase your testimony in prayer and the gospel because you have so many positive examples around you.

I was fortunate to grow up in a family and an environment like we have here. My father was the director of the church school in Mexico and we lived on campus. Similar to the way President Shumway and his family live on campus. (Story about Gehrig-candy bar and the food) What a great blessing to be surrounded by so many good people.

My father was asked by the church to start the church school in Mexico City, The Benemerito de las Americas. To start the school they needed a Mexican citizen who had a degree from Mexico. At the time there was nobody in the church who qualified. My father had a masters degree and we moved to Mexico City so he could begin work on his doctorate. To receive a doctorate he would need to be competent in two foreign languages. My father assumed he could use either English or Spanish as one of his foreign languages, and then he would learn Portuguese or Italian, which are closely related to Spanish. We fasted and prayed as a family, and he was able to pass the Italian test after studying for six weeks. He had one of his foreign languages and expected to be able to use one of his other languages. Much to my father's surprise he was told he would not be able to use English, Spanish or Portuguese, and he would have to be able to pass one more test within a week in order to get his degree completed. These tests were not easy, you were competing against students who had studied the language for years, and only the top percentage of the class was allowed to pass. Completing the degree was critical for my father to be in a position to start the church school. Many people were counting on him, they were building the school and no one would be able to use the buildings unless they were able to start. Once again our family fasted and prayed. My father studied hard and went to take the test-He said he still does not know any French, but during the test he felt all the answers come to him and he was able to pass. What a great experience for us to have as a family to learn to rely on the Lord-although my father said he hoped it didn't happen very often where the children had to pray for their parents to pass a test, it should be the other way around.

Another faith promoting experience I remember during this time period was trying to get water for the school. During the first year of operation, they had to truck in all the water because even though they had a big supply, the government would not give them a permit. Everyday, this big water truck, much like the big gas trucks that deliver fuel to the service stations, would make trips all day long between the pump and the water tank at the school. The church had purchased a ranch to build the school, and the water could only be used for the ranch. One of the church authorities was soon visiting to decide if they would be able to continue and even be able to have a church school. All the school workers and all the students decided to have a special fast and have everyone pray for the permit to be granted. The government had never granted this type of permit, and yet after the fast they gave the church permission to use the water for both ranching and for the school. On the way out of the government office building one of the government workers asked my father how much he had to pay as a bribe to get the permit. He was stunned when my father told him nothing had been paid. When he arrived back with the good news a young girl who was a student came up and asked if it would be appropriate to hold another fast and thank the Lord. What a beautiful feeling for everyone to be a part of this experience. This school has provided the church leadership for hundreds of stakes and missions-at the time the school was built there were only two stakes in the country, one in the Mormon colonies, which had been organized when the church moved to Mexico in the 1800s, and one had been organized in Mexico City in 1961. About 20 years later Mexico became the first country outside of the United States to have over one hundred stakes. Students here at BYUH need to provide this same type of leadership for the church growth in Asia and the South Pacific.

Another experience that had a big impact in my life was towards the end of my freshman year in college. I was trying to make a decision to go on a mission or stay home and continue my athletic career. I had never received a Patriarchal Blessing because I felt everyone in Mexico knew my parents, and I would rather get it from someone that didn't know my family. I decided to get my Patriarchal Blessing from the patriarch in our student stake. I decided in my mind to make a decision about my mission according to the words in the blessing. If the patriarch mentioned the mission casually, I would not go-If he emphasized it more than the norm, I would go. I was pretty good at rationalizing in those days. It was a beautiful cool morning in Provo and after fasting and praying I went to the patriarch's office. He gave me a beautiful blessing; said some positive things about a mission, but nothing unusual. In my mind, I was thinking that I probably would not go on my mission. I quietly shut the door behind me, and walked into the hallway. After taking only a few steps, the patriarch walked out into the hallway and called for me to come back. Surprised, I returned to his office and sat down. He said, "Young man, I couldn't let you leave without telling you I have never had a stronger impression in my life- You need to be on a mission as soon as possible." I know how Alma the younger felt when he was struck dumb (Mosiah 27:19) I felt so weak, I could hardly walk back to my dorm.

We always think Laman and Lemuel were pretty hard headed because even after seeing Angels, they would turn against the Lord. I was not much better. Even though I had decided to go on a mission after my blessing, once I arrived home and was waiting for my call, I decided to stay home and get married. My mother was devastated, and later said she had never prayed harder in her life.

My youngest sister wrote the following: Our family was living in Mexico City when my oldest brother, Ken, was preparing to go on a mission. He had just become engaged to his high school girlfriend. The night before he was to meet with the stake president, he told my parents he had decided not to go on a mission. This was unthinkable to my parents who had come from families that had given up everything several times for the gospel's sake, and who were themselves willing to sacrifice anything that was required by the Lord. My mother prayed and in the morning a terrible storm was unleashed by Heavenly Father in answer to her prayer. So much water fell from the heavens that the entrances to the school where we lived were flooded. (description of the school) No one could come in or out. Ken wasn't able to meet with the stake president that afternoon. The storm gave Ken time to feel the workings of the Spirit. He decided to serve a mission. He went on to fill an honorable mission, he was blessed, our family was blessed, and the people he taught were blessed. He has always been thankful for his opportunity to serve. I feel that my mother's prayers made a difference. We can't always change people, but the Lord certainly can work miracles. Alma teaches this when he tells the story of his son, Alma. He couldn't change his son's life, but his prayers opened the way for the Lord to help him. As a family and as individuals, I know we have been blessed by Mother's prayers for us. I know when I am praying about something really important I call Mom and Dad so they can help me pray about it. End of Quote.

We all grow through experience and I always enjoyed the following story my father use to tell. I will tell the story in my father's own words.

My grandfather, a man of many talents, sometimes did blacksmith work. We lived on a farm and sometimes blacksmithing was necessary to fix farm equipment or to provide necessary tools for our work. The making of chisels was one of the things he did and this process was always fascinating to me.

A chisel to cut iron must be very hard. The process of making one was difficult. The piece of iron destined to become a chisel had to be heated until it was red hot. This was done by turning a bellows which blew air under hot coals, where the piece of iron rod had been placed. Turning the bellows was my job. Most of the time this was tedious work, but not when we made chisels.

When the iron was red hot, Grandpa would hold it on the anvil and pound it with a hammer to shape the chisel. Usually it had to be heated to or three times before it could be completely shaped. The next step was to file the end of the chisel into a sharp edge so that it could cut iron. Finally came the last step. After the chisel had perfect shape and a sharpened blade, it was replaced in the fire and heated until it was white hot. At this point, Grandpa would take it from the fire and rub it quickly in sand placed on a board. He would then watch the blade, which had been rubbed in the sand. It would begin to color—yellow, pink, red, green and then blue. The colors looked like the sky in the west before sunrise. When the end of the chisel turned blue, Grandpa would plunge it into a bucket of cold water. The chisel then would have perfect hardness if each step had been executed exactly right. If not, the iron would be brittle and the process would have to be repeated. Grandpa called this process the tempering of steel.

As difficult experiences have come to me in like, I remember the making of a chisel—the tempering of steel. The Lord is the blacksmith. It takes heating, pounding, shaping and tempering to make character in an individual. We have to continually communicate with the Lord. Sometimes we are stubborn and this process continues until the Lord makes us into useful and tempered instruments to do his work. Many times the process makes us brittle and useless. We become rebellious. With prayer, our response to the experiences in this life may be as the response of the chisel to my grandfather's treatment. We become real steel, true blue in character, and strong and constant as the sun in its mission, if we have met each experience in the tempering process successfully.

We all need the Lord's help in our tempering process. We are in a position here at BYUH to be able to practice prayer and also learn from the examples around us in order to go out and fulfill President McKay's prophecies for the students of this school.. I have had some tremendous examples working with some of our athletes. Hopefully, the athletes and myself will be able to use these experiences to help us, and others as we go through life. I would like to relate the following experience that happened several years ago-to illustrate what BYUH does for all of us.

President Shumway has used this story previously, but I felt it was a great example of the type of experiences happening continually here at BYUH.

We were playing a Division I school, Idaho State, in Pocatello, Idaho. It was a very close game and all of the sudden Barry Hardy, a young man who later played for the Harlem Globetrotters, went down with a knee injury. Barry had won two national slam dunk championships, and was an incredible athlete. I have never seen anyone jump so easily. His dunks were so spectacular that many times when we played another school on the road, and we would take him out to rest-their student crowd would start chanting: "We want Barry!  We want Barry!" I remember right over here on the court, someone went to shoot and Barry jumped up to block the shot and jumped right over the player's head. The player was so surprised and shocked, he did not take the shot and Barry had time to recover and come back in front of him. Back to the game at Idaho State, Barry was hustling for the ball on the opposite side of the court from the bench and was injured in the process. Our team doctor, Dr. Nielson, went over to check on Barry, he came back and told me that Barry had been injured seriously and would no longer be able to play. We were all a little apprehensive. They carried Barry to the end of the bench and Doc checked him again. The game continued and I remember Doctor Nielson whispering to me shortly after that Barry would probably be out for the season. His knee was very loose and the preliminary tests indicated he would have ligament damage-the medial collateral and probably the anterior cruciate and the meniscus - they sometimes refer to this injury as an unhappy triad, one of the most feared injuries for an athlete; especially an athlete that relied so heavily on their jumping ability. (Description of the game.) Dr. Nielson's assistant, Alan Frampton, was our point guard and hit a shot at the buzzer in the first overtime to win the game. This is one of those moments in sports when everyone should be happy-we had just won the game against a Division one opponent on their home court, but all of us were concerned about Barry.

We ate and went back to the hotel and Nnamdi Okonkwo was walking in with me and I asked him to go to Barry's room and see if he would like a blessing. Darwin Russell, another non member was his roommate, and when Nnamdi approached Barry about a blessing, Darwin said, "Barry, I'm not a Mormon, but those blessings work, I've seen other people receive them." What great examples the students here had been for Darwin to feel this way! The team all gathered in their room and Jeff Shumway anointed Barry and then the whole team laid their hands on his head and David Reeves, one of our captains, sealed the anointing. All of the adults, including President Shumway, who was then a vice president, myself and the others were crowded in a small area by the door. David blessed Barry that his knee would heal and that it would heal in time to play the rest of the season. What an opportunity for all of us to seek the Lord's help and to see a young group of students have so much faith. The next morning when the doctor checked his knee was much tighter as if the injury had not been so severe. The doctor said, "this is not the same knee, I don't know what happened." Dr. Nielson looked at me as we were leaving and said, "We know what happened, don't we?" Barry was able to come back and play about two weeks later and helped us reach the Final Four.

This was a tremendous learning experience for all of us-the adults, the players, and the non-members we had on our team. This experience helped tremendously in changing the life of Barry's roommate, Darwin Russell, who was later baptized. When we rely on the Lord we become like the chisel.

Stories on Scott and CJ.

My daughter attended an especially for youth conference here a few months back and one of the speakers motivated her to get her patriarchal blessing. She set up her appointment and we went to the patriarch's office at 6:00 AM. He gave her a beautiful blessing and promised her that the Lord would always help her in her decisions-she would just need to read the scriptures for any answer and when it was right she would have tears come to her eyes. My daughter is not normally sentimental, but when she walked out of the office she had tears in her eyes and said, "I felt the Spirit, I know what it is." My wife and I were thrilled to see her have such a positive experience-hopefully we can provide many more opportunities for her before she has to face life's challenges.

All of us need to feel the Spirit constantly or we will lose it and not be able to carry out the mission of this school-to educate men and women who will go out and help create peace internationally. We need to take advantage of this great environment to strengthen ourselves and those around us.  We all need to rely on the Lord and become as chisels, and be examples for the world.

I know God lives and if we do his will we will be blessed.