Remembering

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Norman EvansDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

June 14, 2006
Norm Evans
Department of English Language Teaching & Learning

It is hard to imagine that my family and I have lived in Hawaii for 25 years. We have experienced one half of BYU Hawaii's history. When I was first approached about giving this devotional address I thought this would be a perfect time to reflect back on the lessons life has taught me during my time at BYU Hawaii there have been many. Oh the things we have seen and experienced in 25 years in Laie, everything from the insignificant to the sublime.

How could I ever forget something as seemingly insignificant as finally getting a real grocery store in Laie to replace the Village Foodmart. No longer did we have to spend Saturdays shopping in Kaneohe to take advantage of the weekend specials at Times, Star Market, and Safeway. And how can we forget when Laie finally made it on the map? What an event when we finally got our own McDonalds right here in this little community. Laie has never been the same since.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, how unforgettable was the birth of our child in Kahuku hospital. I will never forget our reactions when my wife and I first stepped into Dr. Heder's "office" a few days after arriving in Hawaii. It was nothing more than an old three-bedroom plantation home that had been converted into a doctor's office. Talk about culture shock! I remember looking in at the babies in the Kahuku hospital nursery when our daughter Jamie was born. There was no risk of the hospital getting Jamie confused with any of the other babies there that day. Her fair skin made it very clear whose daughter she was. Each of our children was baptized at Temple beach. What a symbolically beautiful place that is to become a member of the Church. What powerful memories those are.

I certainly cannot forget Iwa and Inki, the two hurricanes that crossed our paths while we were here. Nor will I forget seeing Laie twice inundated by flood waters.
My travels to many of your homelands: Japan, Tonga, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kiribati, Tahiti, Fiji, Cambodia, Samoa, Korea, to mention a few, have left me with indelible memories.

Of all my travels, none was more memorable than my first trip to the South Pacific. You see one of my fond childhood memories was when my grandparents came home from their building mission in Samoa and Fiji. I enjoyed listening to them talk about the islands and how much they loved the people. When I finally got to visit those countries, my first stops were the high school in Mapusaga, and the Suva chapel. What a feeling that was to stand in front of buildings my grandfather had helped build thirty years earlier. It was a sacred experience.

Unforgettable were the wonderful years serving in the 13th ward here on campus with the single students. And the eight years serving the married student stake were nothing less than extraordinary. How much I learned from the leaders and members of that stake. And of course, I will never forget the thousands of students that have blessed my life and taught me in so many ways. As I was walking to the devotional this morning, I heard someone in Hale One playing the hymn "Each Life that Touches Ours for Good." How appropriate, I thought. For so many whom I have known here have touched my life for good.

I could go on, but my memories will likely not serve you, for life's "stretching curriculum" as Elder Maxwell once called it is also a customized curriculum. Our experiences and memories are for our edification and good. We can and should learn from others, but a significant part of life we must learn from our own experiences.

Learning from our own experience is an interesting notion when you stop to consider one simple fact: in order to learn from experiences, we must remember them. We say that we will never forget, but we do; we are sure that we will remember, but we don't. We are forgetful by nature; as mortals, we can't avoid it. I am sure that I have forgotten far more than I remember, and as the years pass, memories will continue to fade. It is a fact that many of you will soon forget what I have talked about today. Can you remember who spoke at the last devotional? What did President Shumway speak about in the devotional three weeks ago? Did you even remember that he spoke?

I admit that we are selective in what we remember, and some things seem more important and hence more memorable than others. Yet my central point this morning is this: remembering is vital to our physical and spiritual well being. I beg your indulgence as I share one more personal experience to set the context for the remainder of my remarks. This is a vital lesson learned from one of my students. I share this with her permission.

It was the fall semester of 1985 in my advanced English Language Institute reading class. We were reading several works by George Orwell, Animal Farm and his novel 1984 . We had finished Animal Farm and were well into 1984. For those who are not familiar with the novel, this is a story of a country that is run by a government with absolute power. A person's every action, even thoughts are monitored by the government. "Big Brother" as it says in the novel, "is watching."

Even though this was an advanced reading class, the language proved to be challenging for these ESL students. We had reached the part of the story where Winston Smith, the main character, has been captured for his "crimes" against the state and is being "reoriented" which is just a euphemistic (Newspeak as it is called in the novel) way of saying he was being tortured by the Ministry of Love. At the end of a class session, one of my students came up to me and explained that she could not read the novel.

Missing her point entirely, I began to explain that I knew the book was challenging but that I would do everything I could to help her understand. Yet I was the one who needed to understand. For you see this student, Chanrithy Him, was a refugee from Cambodia. More to the point, just six years earlier, Chanrithy had been living under some of the most horrific conditions a human being could ever experience—conditions far beyond my capacity to even imagine. She was ten years old when her family was evicted from their home in Phnom Penh to the country side and the government's forced labor camps. For over four years, she had witnessed and lived through the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge. It is estimated that nearly five million Cambodians lost their lives during this awful time. Both of Chanrithy's parents had been killed, half of her 12 brothers and sisters died in child labor camps of starvation or disease. She was lucky to have survived. After I finished reading her memoirs, I wondered how she survived physically or emotionally.

Chanrithy was not telling me that day in my reading class that Orwell's novel was linguistically too difficult; it was emotionally tearing her apart. The novel was so close to her own memories of Cambodia that it was emotionally more than she could bear. It was causing her to remember the horrific childhood that she had not yet resolved in her own mind.

Chanrithy only spent several semesters at BYU Hawaii. She would later recount of her time here, "Memories seep back to me in ways I hadn't imagined. A stay in Hawaii stirred a sensory memory: moist, green smells, blossoming mango trees, dangling clusters of coconuts, the dance of palm trees at the airport, the humid breeze. The senses awakened the long-forgotten." This line comes from Chanrithy's memoirs, "When Broken Glass Floats." She told me when she was in my class that she would someday write about her terrible past so the world would remember what had happened to her family and millions of Cambodians.

But the story does not end there. Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Cambodia for the first time. While there, I made a point of visiting the Tuol Sleng museum which was the high school in Phnom Penh that was used as a prison by the Khmer Rouge. It is estimated that of the 15 thousand who were detained behind the wired fences, only a few survived. While standing in a room filled with photographs of many who had been kept and tortured in this horrible place, I came to understand what Chanrithy had tried to tell me many years earlier. The world must not forget what happened here. Yet we do forget. Time and our mortal limitations, and sometimes our choices cause us to erase events from our memories. This may seem impossible, but history tells us otherwise. We need look no further than the Book of Mormon for multiple examples. How often as I have read of the Nephites tragic history do I ask, "How could they have forgotten the painful lessons from their recent past?" The phrase found in Helaman 4:26 is characteristic of the problem: ". . . and thus had they fallen into this great transgression; yea, thus had they become weak, because of their transgression, in the space of not many years." Their natural tendency as people was to forget and return to their old ways. They had forgotten the Lord. Yet, as I noted earlier, the ability and desire to remember are crucial to our physical and spiritual wellbeing.

Elie Wiesel, author and Nobel Peace Prize laureate suffered similar horrors to those experienced by Chanrithy. Wiesel and his family were taken by cattle cars to the unspeakable concentration camps of WW2: Auschwitz, Brikenau, Buna, Buchenwald . He was separated from his mother and two sisters at Auschwitz, never to see them again. He witnessed the death of his father. So horrific were his experiences that he swore a vow of silence for ten years before trying to describe what had happened to him and 6 million other Jews.

In a 2002 interview, Elie Wiesel was asked to share his thoughts on the events of September 11. He notes,
"The most efficient remedy to fanaticism—memory. The fleeing memory of an ancient joy or defeat is proof that nothing is definitive, nor is it irrevocable. To live through a catastrophe is bad; to forget is worse. . . .
And so as we move forward. . . , let us continue to remember. For memory may be our most powerful weapon against fanaticism."

And it may well be that our most effective implement against our own downfall, our own spiritual death is our capacity and willingness to remember.

When I think of, and I often have, the incredible price Nephi had to pay to obtain the Brass plates, I get an idea of how important it was for Lehi and his posterity and ultimately us to have that record, that sacred reminder of spiritual roots. Without the Brass Plates, many and much would have been lost.

We get a glimpse of what would have been lost when we see what happened to the people of Mulek in the Book of Mormon. At the time that Mosiah and his people were commanded to leave the land of their inheritance and flee into the wilderness, we read of their finding a people not part of Lehi or Ismael's families. It was, as we know, the people of Mulek. We begin reading in Omni verse 14.

14. And they discovered a people, who were called the people of Zarahemla. Now, there was great rejoicing among the people of Zarahemla; and also Zarahemla did rejoice exceedingly, because the Lord had sent the people of Mosiah with the plates of brass which contained the record of the Jews.
15. Behold, it came to pass that Mosiah discovered that the people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon.
16. And they journeyed in the wilderness, and were brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters, into the land where Mosiah discovered them; and they had dwelt there from that time forth.
17. And at the time that Mosiah discovered them, they had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator; and Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could understand them.
Omni 1:14 - 17

Note in verse 14 that there was great rejoicing when these two people met. What was it that caused this excitement? That "the Lord has sent the people of Mosiah with the Plates of Brass." Verse 17 tells us the consequence of not having any records or memory of their past. Their language had become corrupted even incomprehensible to those who spoke the same native language. More importantly, they had lost their testimonies, their spiritual roots, ". . . they denied the being of their Creator. . . "Author and historian David McCullough makes this same point in a different context. He relates the time he was asked to teach an honors course to 25 history majors at Dartmouth.

When he asked how many in the class knew who George Marshall was, not one could respond. One student finally asked if George Marshall had anything to do with the Marshall Plan. Stunned by this lack of historical sense, McCullough makes the following point. "We have to know who we are if we're going to know where we are headed. This is essential. We have to value what our forebearers — and not just in the 18th century, but our own parents and grandparents—did for us, or we are not going to take it very seriously, and it can slip away. If you have inherited some great work of art that is worth a fortune and you don't know that it is worth a fortune, you don't even know that it is a great work of art, and you are not interested in it, you're going to lose it."

So it is with us. If we do not constantly remind ourselves of important, eternally significant things, we will lose them. It was Enos, the Book of Mormon prophet, who noted that he had to "continually remind his people" in order to keep them from falling into destruction.

Several weeks ago, we were studying the book of Judges in our Gospel Doctrine class. The central question asked by our instructor was, "How is it that the children of Israel had forgotten the Lord?" How did they slip away from their spiritual moorings? Judges chapter 2 gives us important insight to the question.

10. And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.
11. Å› And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim:
12. And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger. Judges 2:10 - 12

Verse 10 tells is quite revealing. A new generation had arisen ". . . which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel." It is absolutely amazing how much can be lost in just one generation — "in not many years." I am astounded for instance, at how distanced my children's generation is from the Viet Nam war—how very little they know about that conflict, its causes and consequences.

We see this same pattern over and over again in the book of Mormon. For example, All those who were old enough to understand the admonitions of King Benjamin in his final sermon to his people and who had taken upon themselves the name of Christ lived out their days in peace, prosperity and faithfulness to the Lord. But just as soon as those who were too young to understand Benjamin's words had reached adulthood, they fell into wicked, and selfish ways. Note what they lost in just one generation:

1. NOW it came to pass that there were many of the rising generation that could not understand the words of king Benjamin, being little children at the time he spake unto his people; and they did not believe the tradition of their fathers.
2. They did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did they believe concerning the coming of Christ.
3. And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened.
4. And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.
Mosiah 26:1 - 4

I shall be eternally grateful for my parents making sure that I knew my spiritual roots while I was growing up. They never wearied of teaching me who I was and what my destiny could be. They were constantly teaching me by word and example the truths that directed their lives. My mother used to say to me back during my teenage years as I was on the way out with friends; no long sermons or lecture, just a simple sentence: "Remember who you are." In that short injunction, my mother was reminding me of the manners and behavior I had been taught all my life, to remember my parents' examples, that I was a member of the Church, that I was a priesthood holder, and that I was expected to act accordingly.

In the process of preparing this talk, I have started to see just how important it is to our Father in Heaven that his children be given every opportunity to remember who they are. A veil of forgetfulness was placed over us that we might not remember our life in the Preexistence, but we have been given much to bring us safely "home", to help us remember.

Consider for a moment what we have to remind us: covenants, temples, weekly meetings, general and stake conferences, home and visiting teachers, Church magazines, lesson manuals. Indeed every aspect of the Church's curriculum is in place to keep us focused on who we are and where we are bound. We also have callings and assignments. Elder Charles Didier once noted, "There is always a relationship between remembering, doing and happiness or forgetting, not doing and unhappiness." My experience in Church leadership and my own experiences suggest that there is a direct correlation between our level of activity in the Church and how much we remember our spiritual underpinnings. And of course, most important of all we have scriptures, and living prophets to help us. In many ways, prophets and the scriptures are the same. Consider the power that the scriptures can have in helping us remember if we will but use them.

I seldom teach a class that I don't come away having been taught by my students. Such was just the case several years ago in a Book of Mormon class I was teaching. We were studying King Benjamin's sermon in the first few chapters of Mosiah, when one of my students raised his hand and said. "You know my mission president once taught me that the most important word in all of scripture is remember."
I have thought much about that statement since. The more I think about it the more convinced I am that it is true. In fact the very purpose of having scriptures is to help us remember. Nephi states, "And I, Nephi, have written these things unto my people, that perhaps I might persuade them that they would remember the Lord their Redeemer." (1 Nephi 19:18)

We see the word remember and its various forms 600 times in the scriptures; faith by comparison appears 623 times. Consider the following examples from the Book of Mormon.
Moroni, a young man barely 25 years of age had been entrusted to lead his nation's entire army. He is occupied in battle with the Lamanites only to discover his country is destroying itself from the inside. Nephites are rebelling against the very freedom Moroni is fighting for. Moroni's response to this problem seems to echo Wiesel's admonition to remember.

11. And now it came to pass that when Moroni, who was the chief commander of the armies of the Nephites, had heard of these dissensions, he was angry with Amalickiah.
12. And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it: In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children; and he fastened it upon the end of a pole.

Alma 46:11-12

Moroni clearly understood the power and importance of remembering.

Nephi speaking to his brothers directly but to all of us indirectly noted a painful fact of life:

45. Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder, which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder.

1 Nephi 17:45

Despite many powerful reminders, Laman and Lemuel ultimately forgot the Lord and went their own ways.

Nowhere is the importance of remembering more noticeable in the scriptures than in the sermons of Jacob. He is teaching his people not long after his family divided after Lehi's death. In his first full sermon in the Book of Mormon, Jacob asks us to remember 13 times.

39. O, my beloved brethren, remember the awfulness in transgressing against that Holy God, and also the awfulness of yielding to the enticings of that cunning one.
Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal.
40. O, my beloved brethren, give ear to my words. Remember the greatness of the Holy One of Israel.
41. O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.
52. Behold, my beloved brethren, remember the words of your God; pray unto him continually by day, and give thanks unto his holy name by night. Let your hearts rejoice.
2 Nephi 9

Helaman admonishes to his sons Nephi and Lehi to remember 14 times.

6. Behold, my sons, I desire that ye should remember to keep the commandments of God; and I would that ye should declare unto the people these words. Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good.

He further admonishes his sons:
12. And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

14. And they did remember his words; and therefore they went forth, keeping the commandments of God, to teach the word of God among all the people of Nephi. .

Helaman 5:6, 12, 14

Perhaps the most powerful scriptural reminder is read for us each week in Sacrament meeting in the form of the sacrament prayers. The principal purpose of the sacrament is to renew, remember, the covenants we have made with our Father in Heaven. Four times in the two sacrament prayers we are asked to remember.

77. ....that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments....

Doctrine and Covenants | Section 20:77

Surely there is no more powerful reminder of what is important than the voices of prophets through the scriptures. In conclusion, I turn to the words of two prophets, one present and one past.

President Hinckley is fond of the following words of Rudyard Kipling and has quoted them several times as a General Conference is concluding, hoping perhaps that we will remember.

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart.
Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget.
("God of Our Fathers, Known of Old," Hymns, no. 80)
And finally, the last admonition of King Benjamin to his people serves as a fitting conclusion to my remarks. He strikes a powerful reminder to us all:

30 But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.

Mosiah 4:30

May we do all within our capacity, may we take full advantage of all that our Father in Heaven has given us to remember who we are and what our potential is. For it is eternally important.