Heavenly Father's Divine Design

Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

March 24, 2009
Elder Won Yong Ko
Area Presidency First Counselor, Philippines
Second Quorum of the Seventy

Aloha! My name is Won Yong Ko. I am honored to have an opportunity to visit to BYU–Hawaii and to speak in a devotional with President and Sister Wheelwright and many wonderful faculty members and students.

I am a Korean, but I am now living in the Philippines. I am serving in the Philippines Area Presidency. Before moving to the Philippines I served in the Asia North Area Presidency, covering Japan, Korea, Guam, and Micronesia. I am so glad to see many familiar faces.   I have learned a number of different languages, especially in the Philippines where there are many different dialects. This gives me a great challenge, but it is also fun to learn an assortment of dialects. For instance in English we say, “good morning,” but we say, “magangdang umaga” in Tagalog. In Cebuano we say “maaiyon buntag”; in Hiligaynon or Ilongo you would say, “maaiyon aaga.” In Ilokano, “na im bag nga bigag,” in Bicol, “marahi nga aaga,” and in Waray waray, “good morning” is said, “maupai nga aaga.” Then, my previous friends in Japanese would say, “o-haio-go-zaymas,” and in Chuuk, “nesor annim.” But in fact, I do not know how we say “good morning” in Korean. I forgot. Actually I am glad Koreans do nothave different greetings to use for the different times of the day. Koreans say, “annyong haseyo” all day long. What a beautiful and simple way!

I have visited BYU–Hawaii several times in the last 30 years. One time I visited the school with several Korean newspaper reporters. They enjoyed the trip and were quite impressed with the school, Polynesian Cultural Center, and even more impressed with the students and the people. After they returned home, they put many complimentary stories in their newspapers. Recently, in January, President and Sister Wheelwright visited us in the Philippines, and they invited my wife and me to come see them in Hawaii at the university. We are thankful for the Wheelwrights and appreciate their hospitality to invite us.

I have been interested to watch the growth of BYU–Hawaii, and, particularly, I have been pleased to see that in recent years the school has been commissioned to take a more expanded role to help the countries and the Church in the Pacific and Asia.

And, also, President Wheelwright gave us an update regarding the recent progress being made with the new initiatives here, including the new school calendar system and the new approach to assist international students financially. We were favorably impressed and were pleased with this new mission which is in keeping with the vision described by President David O. McKay when the school started more than 50 years ago.

This splendid vision cannot be realized without the support and participation of the students. Or in another word, as students, what should you do when the school is moving into a new dimension and building a new vision? But before we make our thoughts about that, we need to do one thing, that is, we should know what Heavenly Father expects us to do in this circumstance. Even more, we each should try to know what His divine design is for us. This is what I want to discuss with you today—Heavenly Father’s Divine Design for each of us. Before talking about you and the school, let’s first talk about our life.

One time Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught us about the plan of salvation. He said that the Lord’s Plan of Salvation is the plan of happiness. We secured our first estate, and as a blessing we came to this earth, which is our second estate. And the veil also stands between us and that which lays ahead, our third and everlasting estate.

We are blessed to know this wonderful Plan of Happiness, to be promised to enjoy eternal life. However, Elder Maxwell also warned us,

"Even yesterday’s righteous experience does not guarantee us against tomorrow’s relapse. A few who have had supernal spiritual experiences have later fallen. Hence, enduring well to the end assumes real significance, and we are at risk till the end. That is why [as Elder Maxwell taught us] the Lord has created this planet—our customized schoolhouse—so carefully, in order that it would be environmentally inhabitable. Likewise, God has carefully designed the curriculum to be used therein to be strictly consistent with his proving purposes."

I love his insight when he says that this planet is a customized schoolhouse. God prepared the purpose and vision of this schoolhouse so it could “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” and He fashioned the curriculum to achieve His goal and vision. All of us as students in this school are supposed to be diligently studying all the subjects during this school period—this period which is our lifetime in this world. And I like the word “customized,” which means that even though we are living in this world, by attending God’s schoolhouse we all are studying different curriculums fitted to our own individual situations.

If we follow this concept, we can understand many scriptures much more clearly. For instance, Doctrine and Covenants Section 88 verse 118 says, “As all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” What a wonderful counsel that is for us who are living in the customized schoolhouse!

In this special school of life, most teaching is being done through workshops and laboratory work, not just by simple lectures in the classroom. And there are many wonderful teachers. But also there are bad teachers. Heavenly Father even allowed lousy teachers to teach some bad curriculum so we could use our own agency. The curriculum is chosen totally by each student. Clearly, it can be seen that this improper curriculum will not give any positive points to your school record. But some foolish students think they will have enough time later in life to catch up their lost points, and they waste their time by choosing a detrimental program of study. Now, I hope you understand what I am trying to say. What a great teaching Elder Maxwell gave to us. I am grateful for this great Divine Design organized by Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as explained by Elder Maxwell. That is why Amulek testified in Alma, chapter 34 verse 32, “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.”

Now we will talk about your school in this context, your curriculum here at BYU–Hawaii. What is the Divine Design for you at this school? What kind of curriculum provided by Heavenly Father is for you here in BYU–Hawaii? Of course you have the school’s established curriculum in your major subjects. But we are talking about the curriculum provided by the Lord for you during this period of your customized schoolhouse of life in addition to the academic curriculum you are studying now.

I can think of several things—things which you may think the same as I do. First, one of curriculums provided by Heavenly Father is to understand all different cultures in the world and mix all of those together, to internalize the good things from each. Please look around. How many people from different counties do you have? Doctrine and Covenants Section 42 verse 58 says, “[… the Gospel] shall be taught unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people.” Today, here in this place, we confirm that this has been realized. So many different people get to study together here. You do not have to spend a lot of time traveling all over the world to learn the different cultures of people. You can learn diverse cultures and languages and customs from each other here. And then you come to understand one another and to become as one brother and sister under the Gospel culture of Christ.

From the scriptures we know that the happiest people who ever lived in the world might well be the people described in Fourth Nephi. Fourth Nephi Chapter 1 verse 16 says, “… surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.” A similar statement can be found in Alma chapter 50 verse 23, but the time of Fourth Nephi is much later. So what is the status of these happy people? In the same chapter at verse 17 we read: “There were no robbers, no murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of –ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.”

Now we here have a similar situation as the people of Fourth Nephi. In the culture of Christ, many different people from different countries get together at this beautiful campus. The school is nourished by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the Divine Design of Heavenly Father. How will you do that? Will you become like people of the Fourth Nephi, or will you be like the people outside? Making this choice is what we are being asked by the Lord.

I learned wonderful cultures from many different people. Filipino people are humble and kind and always are smiling. Japanese people are sincere and polite. Polynesian people are happy, and relaxed, and kind. Korean people—I am not sure what is the good nature of them, but anyhow they are all right. The American and Canadian people—you are forthright and industrious; I appreciate your contribution. Actually you are the majority of BYU–Hawaii even though the school is so focused on students from the Pacific and Asia. The school expects those of you from North America not only to study your own major subjects but also to help the people from other countries learn English and the North American culture. You are the ambassadors of American and Western cultures.

Of course, I know that I am talking about the positive aspects of each culture. Some of you may see it differently for people from some countries. We are not perfect and we won’t be perfect until we go into the Celestial Kingdom. That is why we try now to do our best to become perfect. Do you think the Lord would love us only if we were perfect? Why did He sacrifice himself to save us, we who have many weakness and troubles and imperfections? What kind of love do you want to develop, either an egocentric and closed love only among your country people or the Christ-like love to embrace all different cultures, even though they are not perfect? This is our curriculum which we should study diligently. Then we can develop the attitude of learning and loving different cultures and becoming like the people of Fourth Nephi. So we should constantly do our best to make no “–ites,” such as “Filipino-ites,” “Japanese-ites, “Korean-ites,” “Tongan-ites,” “Samoan-ites,” or “American-ites,” but we are children of Christ who are Christian. If you do this, all of you will get an A grade in your customized curriculum from the school master, who is Heavenly Father.

Second, this BYU–Hawaii is not an ordinary academic school. The school has been focusing on increasing student academic performance for many years and has built up a great reputation. But academics are not all which we get from this school. Another mission of this school is to help students integrate spiritual and academic learning. We want to see that your faith and testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Gospel will become strengthened and more firmly grounded while you study here. This is another Divine Design made by Heavenly Father for you.

As you may know, the First Presidency and several Apostles and General Authorities are members of the Board of Education for BYU–Hawaii. We have incorporated ecclesiastical organizations on the campus, such as stakes and wards, led by strong, capable, kind priesthood brethren. What a great blessing you have compared to students at other universities in the world! Again, how are you responding to this Divine Design?

This is a wonderful opportunity for you to develop the Christ-like attributes and in other words holy habits because you have many resources to help you. You are surrounded by many faithful leaders and members. You can get full understanding of many deep doctrines of the gospel by studying and discussing each other. I hope that you can become Captain Moroni in the Book of Mormon. We can find out his personalities in several verses in Alma Chapter 48. "Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man of perfect understanding. … Yea, a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God. … A man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people. … Yea, and he was a man who was firm in the faith of Christ. …"

Later in the same chapter verse 17 says, "Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men." However, following verses say that he is not the only one who had such a wonderful nature but also there were many others like Ammon, the son of Mosiah, and so on. I want to see that all of you would be added to this group of people because you develop such wonderful attributes as Captain Moroni did.

Why has Heavenly Father set up this design for you? This is not only good for the Church, but it will also be good for the companies or organizations where you will work after being graduated. When you look at the criteria to recruit employees in many corporations and institutions, you will find they are looking for someone who can be trusted, who is sincere, and who is cooperative among peers. In the thirteenth Article of Faith it says,” We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men. … If there is anything virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” Where can employers find the best candidates than at this school where students are taught these principles? If you are faithful in keeping the commandment and pursuing all the virtues taught in the Gospel, you will not only be blessed by the Lord Jesus Christ but also will be highly competitive in your professional career. You will become a person welcomed by any organization in the world.

Please think of the Divine Design set up for you when you sometimes do not like to go to church or when you get tired reading the scriptures late at night.

I want to take one example how this gospel principle gives us great benefit in our professional career. We believe that our criteria for success are different from people outside. Our success of life is not limited to this world but goes beyond to the eternal world. We care for this world, but this life is not all there is for us.

When I worked in the business field before I was called to be a General Authority, often people asked me why I did not seem to get any stress from work. They would ask me, “Why are you always smiling? Don’t you have any stress at all?” Of course, I did. I got stressed when my business performance was below the target. I got stressed when the customers seriously complained about something. But those did not hit the bottom of my heart. Those were problems, yes, serious problems, but those situations did not change my life. My life goal is much higher and much beyond those problems. I did my best to solve those challenges, but those situations were not my end of life. This kind of mentality gave me more room and composure in my mind. I could look at the matter more objectively and could solve the problem better because I did not have to worry about myself much. When we conduct ourselves based on the gospel standards, we will always be respected and welcomed by the people around us, either by the boss, or by colleagues, or the people working for us. This is a part of my testimony.

But we need to develop a confidence and an unshaken belief on the gospel principles through these school years and continuously after we finish school. This, then, is another Divine Design for you in this school.

Now, I would like to talk about our life with Heavenly Father’s Divine Design after school. When President David O McKay established this school he declared, “From this school, I’ll tell you, will go men and women whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally.” Along with that prophecy by President McKay the school’s mission statement says, “[To] prepare students with character and integrity who can provide leadership in their families, their communities, their chosen field and in building the kingdom of God.”

So far, we could achieve most of this mission statement using the two Divine Designs we already discussed. But we feel that it is not all. President McKay said this school will contribute to building peace internationally. The mission statement says “…their communities, their chosen field and in building the kingdom of God.”

Now you are building your capability and personality very well both academically and spiritually. You will be a great asset for the Church and for organization for which you work. But where? Where should you go to build the kingdom of God? That is a question I want to consider with you now. What is Heavenly Father’s Divine Design for you in this regard? This is a question you should discuss with the Lord yourself. This may be a sensitive topic, and nobody wants to impose on you what you must do. The school provides you with the best support system to help you. It is not entirely a matter whether you need to go back to your home country after school. I would like you to think about what you need to do to comply with this mission statement. This statement does not say you need to decide just for you and your families. You need to help the community and your chosen field in building the kingdom of God. But please think about where is the best place for you. Please ponder about where the place is designed for you by Heavenly Father.

I want to tell you two aspects regarding this from my personal observation:

I do not know how much I have been blessed by staying in Korea since I joined the Church. One of the great privileges was to accompany personally many leaders of the Church. I do not know how many times President Kimball kissed me on my cheeks. I had so many personal experiences with President Hinckley. I can say that I have had personal relationships with almost every apostle either by their coming to my home or in some other way. This could be possible only because I stayed in a small country like Korea.

I see some members who came back to the country after they finished the school here. Many people did not understand why they came back home leaving many opportunities for jobs and comfortable living behind. Yes, they struggled and are still struggling, but they are happy and blessed. Sometimes we worry about ourselves too much. After we diligently do our portion, we may leave the remaining portion to the Lord so he can take care for us. I see that kind of attitude from them, and I am very touched, and I am sure the Lord must have been touched also. As a member of the Area Presidency I often travel and visit diverse places. Wherever I go I observe there are great needs for capable, qualified leaders of the Church to help the Church and the country grow. Wherever you go, you can make a difference; you can be an influence for good. We should think about this from all points of view such as how it will affect your family, your professional career, the community, and the Church. I would like to suggest that you think of one more thing when you are pondering this need. That is the mercy of the Lord. Whatever direction you go and whatever decisions you make you should invite the mercy of the Lord to go with you by touching His heart. And He will bless your life and fill in all the gaps you may miss because of your decision to follow Him. Of course, I cannot promise all the gaps will be refilled during this lifetime. This is because our ultimate destination does not end in this world; our lifetime will go on and on. I believe the Lord will never forget what you have done for Him and for other people, such as those in your countries and members of the Church, by sacrificing your own personal benefit.

This is what we should think about as our own Divine Design.

All in all, I suggest you to take everything you learn not just within yourselves, but take it all as a relationship with Heavenly Father. And think about what things Heavenly Father expects you to learn from this curriculum in His schoolhouse, which is our life in this world. It gives us great understanding of His plan, which is a Plan of Happiness, and when we follow His Divine Design, our lives will be more blessed, and we can be close to Him. And more importantly we feel more joy and happiness, and we can always enjoy aloha smiles.

Brothers and Sisters, I know this gospel is true and this gospel is designed for our happiness, for our eternal happiness.

Today is the 47th anniversary day of my baptism in 1962. One small high school boy was introduced to the Church by his classmate. I did not know much about the gospel and church when I was baptized but I developed the testimony and faith in Jesus Christ and became to like the Gospel. I have been blessed in so many ways except for my physical height. It was not a problem at all because still I was able to marry a beautiful woman who is taller than me and now my wife. I love this gospel because it always gives me hope and helps me get the positive thinking and attitude. I always try to serve “with an eye single to the glory of God.” I like this scripture, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” And I testify that this is a true word of God.

I know Heavenly Father loves us and knows us, and He sent His only Begotten Son to save us. I am so thankful for His atoning sacrifice. We are led by our living prophet, President Thomas S. Monson. I love you, and I pray that all of you enjoy many blessings of the Lord while you study in this school. May you fulfill your Divine Design. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.