God's Pattern of Service


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Devotional Talk Given at Robert Gay
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

November 11, 2008
Elder Robert C. Gay
Area Seventy, North American Southeast Area

Brothers and Sisters, Aloha! 

What an honor it is for me to be here and to be able to share a few minutes with you. I am especially grateful because Laie is like home to me. I first came here when I was eleven years old when my father accepted an assignment from President Howard W. Hunter to be a founding member of the Board of Directors for the Polynesian Cultural Center. This was an assignment that would last for thirty-five years and one that brought me to this campus many, many times in my life. When I was fourteen, I experienced one of the most critical and important teaching moments of my life- right here at this campus.

At the start of the summer of my fourteenth year I had just finished my middle school. I had done extremely well in my schoolwork. My father asked me what I would like for my graduation. I boldly asked him if he would let me go and spend my summer vacation in Hawaii. He agreed to do so on the condition that I would agree to earn my Eagle Scout award. My father loved scouting and was involved in its service for over 50 years of his life. He was their national treasurer and received their highest honor, the Silver Buffalo award.

I readily accepted his condition and made a commitment to him that if he would let me spend a summer in Hawaii, I would earn my Eagle Scout award. My father arranged for me to stay at this campus in the university dorms and also arranged for me to work as a grounds keeper to help pay for my living expenses. It was an idyllic summer, one that I fondly remember to this date. I made little progress that summer on my Eagle Scout but returned home to Los Angeles very tan and with much improved surfing skills.

Over the next few years my father gently reminded me of our agreement. I initially worked hard at getting most of my required merit badges. But then as I got more involved in High School and its activities, I grew less and less interested in scouting. I decided I really did not like my scoutmaster and that I had better things to do on scout nights. Now in scouting you have until your 18th birthday to complete your work for the Eagle Scout. By the time I was seventeen I had all but a couple of the necessary 21 merit badges. I kept telling my Dad not to worry, that I would honor our deal.

To this day I can't fully explain what occurred. I completed and earned all the necessary merit badges the summer before my 18th birthday, but became too busy or involved in other things. All I had to do was go and get a couple of final signatures and have the final required interview, but I never did it. That was the only time in my life that I remember that I ever broke my word to my father. But it was more than my word, I broke his heart also. And I let myself down. It took years for my father to ever really forgive me for this breach of trust. As I look back on that time I find it hard to understand why I ever let my character be compromised by such avoidable indifference. And how I let things like sports, girlfriends, and social activities take priority over honor and commitment.

Now you may ask why do I share this with you? I do so because I believe not one of us in this auditorium this morning is here by accident. Each of you has arrived at this point in time and to this very campus for a purpose. Each of you has made promises to get to this point. It may be a commitment to get the best grades possible, or to get prepared to go serve a mission. Or it may be to attend college among Church members and to be where so many live the gospel. It may be to find a righteous companion or to get a degree that will allow you to find work or to get further education. Or it may more likely be some combination of these things.

May I suggest that among all the reasons for being here there is one very important one. You are here to answer a call to service, to embark upon a journey to sanctify and honor the education you receive here by returning and impacting the homelands and world from which you come. You are here to prepare yourselves to become an active participant in bringing about the temporal and spiritual salvation of our Father's children around the globe through Godly service. Ponder for a moment the following words of President Gordon B. Hinckley, who said:

"I invite you to look beyond the narrow boundaries of your own wards and rise to the higher vision of this, the work of God. We have a challenge to meet, a work to do beyond the comprehension of any of us ... to work for the salvation not only of those in the Church, but for those presently outside, wherever they may be. No body of people on the face of this earth has received a stronger mandate from the God of heaven than have we of this Church."

My deep concern and message today is that it's paramount that you do not, like me and my scouting experience, allow yourself to be distracted from this purpose by the beauty or comfort of the setting, by the commotion of the times, or as in the language of the Book of Mormon, by the whisperings of the Adversary who stirs men "to anger against that which is good" or who pacifies and flatters others into a false "carnal security" (see 2 Nephi 28: 19-22). You must avoid these calls to indifference because any such indifference leaves people standing and hurt.

Nobel Laureate Elie Weisel once said:

"If there is one word that describes all the woes and threats that exist today, it is indifference ... the opposite of faith is not heresy, it is indifference."

Years ago on this very campus where he once received an honorary doctorate I heard my father speak. He said:

"In the world of faith you always stand at the crossroads. Ours is a choice if we will take the talents, the resources and opportunities God has given us and blaze new paths to realize His purposes or sit on the sidelines content in our successes or failures."

I believe my father's words imitate one of the great scriptural patterns found in the Book of Mormon. The pattern of going into the world in faith and revolutionizing it by serving and saving souls through righteous service.

You may recall how the sons of King Mosiah who, after receiving the grace of the Savior, "refused the kingdom which their father was desirous to confer upon them" (see Alma 17:6). They rejected their familiar home territory and the comfort of their kingdom and elected to go out and bless the lives of their enemies. Their mission according to the Lord was to "show forth good examples unto them in me, that I make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls" (Alma 17:11). With that charge one of the brothers, Ammon, went and asked to become a servant to the Lamanite king, Lamoni. He could have been king in his own homeland but elected to be a mere servant in the homeland of his mortal enemy. Ammon was assigned the menial task of tending to the flocks. These flocks then came under attack by men who were desirous to steal them. As a servant, Ammon stood up and defended the king's flocks from the rustlers and preserved them at the peril of his own life. He stood alone while the other servants of the king wept, paralyzed by fear.

Now the thieves did not fear Ammon, "for they supposed that one of their men could slay him according to their pleasure." (Alma 17:35). But Ammon knew differently. Like David who slew Goliath, Ammon stood with joy and courage in his heart because of his faith in the Lord. For he knew he had been brought to this very moment so he could "show forth [the] power" given him of the Lord "in restoring [the] flocks unto the king" so that he could "win the hearts" of his fellow servants and "lead them to believe." (Alma 17:29.). Ammon's defeat of the attackers was so one-sided and complete that it caused both the servants of the king and the thieves to be "astonished at his power" (Alma 17:36, 37). This is something you must always remember as you engage in righteous service to bring about the Lord's purposes that you too will be given the power to astonish the hearts and souls of man.   These scriptures further tell us that when the servants reported back to the king about Ammon's heroism "and also of his great power in contending against those who sought to slay him, [the king] was astonished exceedingly" (Alma 18:2). It is worth noting that after his great act of service Ammon did not return to tell everyone about it, but returned to the stables to feed the king's horses-something that the king had previously asked his servants to do. When the king heard of this act of "faithfulness," it caused the king to be even "more astonished" (see Alma 18:9-10). Now there is nothing very notable in the world's eyes about being a laborer, but through that simple act of lowly, but Godly, service Ammon was soon able to touch the king's heart and bring him the blessings of the gospel. He was then able to revolutionize the world of his enemies-all because he rejected the easier path before him and engaged in service to his fellow man, to a group that most others feared or had written off.

Again I want to testify to you that you are here so that you can go forth and bless the world. This is not an easy assignment-it may mean going back home to villages or distant lands and taking work that earns less than what you can earn here. But think about why you are really here. The world is hurting. We need to bless it both spiritually and temporally. As agents of the gospel of Jesus Christ you, more than anyone else, are uniquely qualified to do that. Why? Because when you take the skills, learning and training you receive at this university and combine them with the power of faith and the covenants of God, which you have also been taught here, it endows you with the means to change the world. No wonder the Lord has proclaimed in our day, "For unto whom much is given much is required" (D&C 82:3). This is the essence of the very promise and covenant we have entered into. In modern revelation the prophet Joseph referred to this covenant as an "imperative duty that we owe to God, to angels ... to ourselves, to our wives and children who have been made to bow down with grief, sorrow and care ..." (D&C 123:7). Alma described this as part of the fundamental promise we make to be numbered as one of our Father's children. In the Book of Mosiah we learn that in order to be called his people we must be:

" ... Willing to bear one another's burden, that they may be light; yea and [be] willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times in all places ... even until death..." (Mosiah 18:9).

The very foundation of our great nation is now being threatened as never before. Not because of a debt crises, but because we have evolved into a secular nation. We, as a people, have translated the founding father's principle of freedom into an unchecked and unilateral right to self-aggrandizement, whether that be in things or lifestyles. Nations, causes, families and peoples will never be saved through vanity or privilege. They can only be nurtured and preserved through selfless sacrifice and service.

Our pioneer forefathers profoundly understood this mission. After being driven from their homes, the Church came to the Salt Lake Valley. What some of you may not know is that Brigham Young, who led the first party of Saints into the valley, did not tarry there. As he arrived in Salt Lake he was very ill, even too weak to stand. Yet, within a month, he organized the initial plans for the settlement and then left Salt Lake with a small group to go back to Winter Quarters to help bring all the families left behind. Interestingly, on his return trip eastward, a little ways out, he ran into a group of Saints headed towards Salt Lake led by Jedediah M. Grant. Brigham Young camped with them overnight. That night Indians stole all of the horses that belonged to this westward group. After being made aware of the situation Brigham gave his horses to those Saints and invited the brothers journeying with him to "take a walk" of 1000 miles to Winter Quarters. Upon arrival at Winter Quarters he called all the saints to go westward. Not having the money needed to bring them, he asked everyone to sacrifice what they had, and help those who did not have funds for the journey. In the course of this charge, Amassa Lyman, one of the members of the Twelve, was called upon to speak. He said the following:

"Some men when getting a little farm let their whole soul and entire manner be swallowed up in 160 acres of land at the footstool of the Almighty. Men do not appreciate unto what they are called, this people are called to revolutionize the world. You have to turn the world inside out. Let us wake up. If you are going to be latter-day saints, wake up, and don't be swallowed up in a little patch of 160 acres."

That is it. We can't let ourselves get distracted by our little patch of the world, by our comfort zone. We are to move out and turn this world upside down. We are to take a walk of 1000 miles. We are to become submissive instruments in astonishing kings and their subjects like Ammon. Do you see and understand that your mission is not here? This university time is but a gift and training ground for you. With all my heart I believe that our Father in Heaven expects you to leave here and go have impact back home and throughout the world. Ours is a world that is desperately seeking your touch.

In this regard let me just make a couple of simple observations:

First, there are many out there who think they are forgotten and our Father in Heaven needs you to be the instrument to answer their cries of despair. A few weeks ago the Church received a call from Martin Luther King III to assist in a rescue mission to the Houma Indian nation tribe in southern Louisiana. They had been devastated by hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Floodwaters had raised 5 or 6 feet into homes and buildings in their area. Their chief approached Martin and his "Realizing the Dream" foundation. Martin then called our Church and asked for help. He said he could reach out to others and that while others might volunteer, the LDS Church was one that he knew which could be counted on to assist him. As a Seventy over this area, I was called upon to help organize this relief effort. We were given just one week's notice. We immediately called the stake presidents in the surrounding areas. Within a couple of days they reported back that they had secured nearly 2,000 volunteers to come and help. We could not use that many and turned back 500. On the weekend of September 27-28, 1500 LDS members showed up and went to work.

We were taken to a community center in Dulac, Louisiana. Dulac lies along what is called Shrimper's Row, on one of Louisiana's remote bayou waterways. Dulac, is a very poor area, and had been largely wiped out by wind and flood. At its community center there was a young 27-year-old Native American woman. She ran the center and was the first in her family to have ever graduated from college. When she graduated she decided to come back to her small town and help. She could have made more money elsewhere, but she built a library there and was helping a group of several men and women who had dropped out of school to get their high school GEDs. Now the library was gone. Homes were gone and all the residents had lost hope. They needed food and supplies and had come to the community center for assistance. The center was scheduled to receive a large truckload of supplies from the government but a local pastor got a local town official to divert these supplies to his parish. As we spoke to her she broke down in tears. She said she did not know what to do. She said, "Nobody knows we are here." What a blessing it was for us to say, "God knows you are here and has sent us." Since that time the Church loaded up its trucks and sent a multitude of supplies and foodstuffs. I was also able to get a friend of mine to have his company donate a truckload of bedding materials. For another three straight weekends hundreds of Church volunteers continued to help clean up Dulac.

Now this area of Louisiana is very anti-Mormon. Interestingly, we were able to get a local minister- who had just a month or so earlier brought in people to instruct his congregation on how to combat Mormonism- to let us use his building as our staging center for the relief effort. After seeing our people at work and realizing the goodness of the Church, he opened his new church building (which was not yet finished) to our Church members so we could have a sacrament service there. It will probably be the most spiritual service ever held in that building. In this process, this anti-Mormon minister' heart softened. At the sacrament meeting the local Parish president who also attended broke out in tears as he felt and heard the message that day. He agreed to take the missionary lessons. He told us when the storms came he felt like he needed to resign because he did not know how to help or respond. He simply had been overwhelmed by the magnitude of the damage. He said he had never seen anything like what our church members had unselfishly done for those in his area. He was astonished by our service and his soul and heart were pierced to the core. Everywhere we cleaned up we heard, "We didn't know anybody knew we were here." But God knew and because some of our Church members left the comfort of their homes, a tiny part of this world was touched and revolutionized. That is what you are called to do, that is the vision.

Second, some of you may say, but who am I? I do not have any special talents or skills or I am just one person. Do you remember how the Savior, after coming from the Mount of Transfiguration, went to be with His disciples and found them arguing with the scribes. A father had brought his son to the disciples for a healing blessing. The scriptures tell us that the son was in convulsions, foaming at the mouth. The disciples blessed him but could not heal him. The father told Jesus that the disease had been with the boy since he was a child and that it often caused his son great bodily harm saying, "ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters to destroy him." The father then implored Jesus:

"If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us and heal us" (Mark 9: 22).

To those around him The Lord asked: "O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you?" To the boy's father he said, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." The father with "tears" in his eyes replied, "Lord I believe; help thou my unbelief." (Mark 9: 19, 23-24).

With that expression of faith the Savior healed the son who had suffered for years. In the Lord we are never without sufficient resources to change the world. He has all power. Ours is a mission of faith. To His disciples He said:

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:12,13).

May I share one personal experience with you in this regard. About eight years ago a handful of us, all Church members, gathered around a conference table in Orem, Utah. We challenged ourselves to see if we could help lift one million people out of poverty. We had no extraordinary insights or resources, just a desire to bless our fellow man and great faith. Today the organization we founded is currently helping lift over 5.1 million impoverished people around the globe. Never did such impact ever cross our minds. Yes, in a deep way I know as the Savior said, "all things are possible" to those who believe-even great works.

Third, some of you may be worried or fearful of the times in which we live. Do not let these times paralyze you. May I remind you of something that occurred some 15 years ago at BYU-Provo. As President Howard W. Hunter was standing up to speak, a man claiming to have a bomb jumped onto the stage and threatened to explode it right then and there. President Hunter did not flinch but showed great courage. He helped the security guards subdue the assailant. He then walked to the podium and spoke: "Life has a fair number of challenges in it-as demonstrated. Indeed, You may be feeling that you have more than your share of problems ... These concerns may be global difficulties, such as devastating famine we see in Africa ... or the incessant sounds of war ... these past few years we have seen our fair share of economic difficulties and recession in every nation. Sometimes these economic difficulties get translated into very immediate problems for college students and those trying to earn a living, and perhaps start a family ... Contrary to what some might say, you have every reason in this world to be happy and optimistic and to be confident. Every generation since time began has had things to overcome and problems to work out ... I promise you in the name of the Lord whose servant I am that God will always protect and care for His people" (BYU, February 1993).

Do not fear because of the commotion of our times, do not be discouraged for all things are possible to those who believe. Keep the commandments. Pay your tithes, stay out of debt, and stay morally clean. Pray and repent daily and ask for the powers of Heaven to steady and support you. As Neal A. Maxwell once observed: "The glorious resurrection is guaranteed to us all unconditionally… the inevitability of the second coming is not affected by the unpredictability of the stock market… All that matters is gloriously in tact. The promises are in place. [but] it is up to us to perform." We must come to, in Elder Maxwell's words, "the development of a special willingness that is described to us in a soul-shivering verse-a willingness "to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict" upon us…" ("Notwithstanding My Weakness," pp.56-57)

With this perspective in mind, let me now conclude with this final thought on Godly service. When I was in Africa serving as a mission president, one day I received a call from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. He asked if I would speak to a woman by the name of Helen Whitney. He told me she was doing a special PBS television special on the Church. He said he wanted me to speak to her because she needed to know why I would leave a powerful and influential position in the business world and go serve a mission for the Church. He said not to worry about what I said, just do the best I could, be honest and open-and then he said, probably sensing a little trepidation from me: "Again don't worry. I've already said everything that could be said. I spent five hours in interviews with her and I will probably be a made a Methodist preacher after this."

Soon thereafter Helen Whitney called me on the telephone in Ghana. We had about an hour and a half telephone conversation. Sometime during that call she asked what she really wanted to know. She inquired, "Have you ever had any regrets about leaving behind everything and going to Africa?" I honestly answered and said, "Yes, there was one time." I knew immediately I had put my foot in my mouth. In my mind flashed the thought--national television-- "Mission president regrets having been called." Over the course of time, I had a couple of lengthy calls with Helen and ultimately her film crew came to Ghana to tape an interview. During that taped interview I was asked again if I had ever regretted putting aside my position and coming to Ghana for the Church. I told them that one day I had traveled to Sierra Leone for an assignment. To get there I had to travel on a local airline, which had been rated, I believe, the least safe in the world. After the flight you then had to take a short helicopter flight. This helicopter service also was a little problematic. One of their aircraft had once dropped out of the air, killing all on board. After finally arriving in Freetown, my assignment required that I next drive for four hours on what was then some of the very worse roads in this world. These roads were not only dirt roads but also they were heavily populated by some of the deepest and largest potholes you could ever imagine.

As we were driving on that dirt road I received a telephone call on my cell phone. At first I was startled because I couldn't imagine how in the middle of the African bush I got reception. Nevertheless, it rang. On the phone was one of my former business partners. He was in London. He was calling to tell me they had just closed a new $10 billion investment fund. I was taken aback by the size of the deal. I immediately congratulated my partner on his success. But as I was saying those words, I was also calculating in cold hard dollars how much I had just given up. In the partnership that I had left to come on my mission there was no shareholder larger than myself. I knew exactly what my percentage ownership would have been in this investment fund and in seconds I had flash into my mind exactly what I left behind. It was and is a staggering amount of money. I was caught totally off guard and all the wrong thoughts began to race through my mind like, "Why did the Lord want me here right now?" "Would it really have made any difference if I had left this year or some later year?" "Surely I could have done great good with this money." I am sad to say I began to feel a little sorry for myself. At this time I was traveling in a truck, which one of our senior missionaries was driving. Everybody wondered why I suddenly went so silent for the next couple of hours during the trip. It was then that things took an even worse turn.

We were on some very loose gravel when our truck hit a very deep pothole. It threw us off course and in a moment we were sliding into a wall on my side of the auto. We bounced off that wall and were thrown across the road into a wall on the other side. That impact caused the truck to spin and ultimately propelled it into a triple somersault. Our truck came to rest on the side where I was sitting. It slid along the loose gravel for at least 100 feet. The glass in the window where was I seated had shattered and as the truck slid the gravel acted like a file and ground off much of the skin and flesh on my forearm. When the truck came to rest the four of us inside were on top off one another. I was on the bottom. We climbed out. Miraculously no one was seriously hurt. Still I had glass pieces embedded in my skull and a few minor gashes along my forehead. Then I looked down at my arm and saw that it was bleeding profusely. I also saw that I had a big gaping hole and could look down to my muscles or tendons. Now we were in the middle of nowhere, on a small dirt road in the heart of the bush. Villagers came running and started wailing at the sight of the blood and gore. My assistants grabbed a white shirt and made a tourniquet bandage to stop the bleeding. The only thing we could do was sit and wait for some other car to come by and hopefully take us to a hospital.

Now I was really beginning to feel real sorry for myself. Here I was, in who knows where, just having barely escaped a fatal accident and the thought flashed through my mind, "What are you doing here?' "You're going to die from infection!" Fortunately, a car came by within about 15 minutes and agreed to take me and one on my assistants to the medical center in Bo, Sierra Leone, about 35 minutes away. When we got to Bo the doctor looked at my arm and said there was nothing he could really do because I didn't have any skin to stitch up. However, he said he could clean up and dress the wound. So I went into the quote, unquote, "operating theater." It was a small wooden table with a light bulb over head. The doctor administered some anesthetic to deaden my arm before he began to scrub and clean it. He also found a little skin and stitched a part of the hole in my arm. As he began this process he asked me a question I wasn't expecting. He asked me if I would like to know where he had gotten the instruments he was using, the gown he was wearing, the bandages and medicines he was using. I said, "Of course." He had seen the missionary tag on my shirt. Through the bumps and flips of the accident I had not lost my nametag though it was pretty scratched up. He said he was familiar with the Church. He then said that some time ago a senior missionary couple from our Church had come by and donated these medical supplies. Without these supplies he wouldn't have been able to treat me in the way he was able to that day. Because of those supplies I had the needed medicines to stave off infection. And then I heard the still small voice whisper; "You have been spared because two missionaries who you will probably never meet or know gave of their time to go serve unselfishly into the African jungle."

I told PBS this story and said something to the effect, "Today on my right arm I have an ugly scar that this accident gave me, but to me it is a beautiful African tattoo-a gentle reminder that each of our lives owes itself to service of someone else. Yes, there was a moment when I felt some small reservation but then I was taught to never look back, and no, I have no regrets."

I hope that each of you too may come to understand that what King Benjamin taught is as true today as it was when he spoke it:

"I say unto you, my brethren that if you should render all thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you ... I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will ... I say if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants" (Mosiah 2:20-21).

Please don't ever consider the cost of the sacrifice the Lord asks you to make. Everything we have we owe to him. Our assignment is to take, as my father said long ago at this campus, the tools, the talents, the resources and the opportunities and bridge the crossroads and revolutionize this world. This might mean being a simple servant for a season like Ammon. That is the sacred obligation of your degree from this institution. I have an acquaintance who worked side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King as his right hand assistant in the Civil Rights movement. He is a very gifted lawyer by training, and when King first asked him to give up his work as a successful entertainment attorney in Los Angeles, he turned him down saying King's work was "not my problem." After this rejection King invited him to church and then delivered a sermon where he talked indirectly about that rejection, saying that after receiving the blessings of education and privilege, "I'm afraid this gifted young man has forgotten from whence he came." With those words Clarence Jones gave up his practice and went to march with Dr. King.

Never forget from where you came. You are children of the covenant. Let it burn and stir within you. If you have to change yourself, if you have to forsake the smooth roads for the dirt roads, if you must, in the words of Christ, forsake "houses, or brethren…or lands" for his namesake you, in His words, will "receive an hundredfold and shall inherit everlasting life" (see Matthew 19:29). In so doing, you will have lifted your soul to an important part of the pre-mortal covenant made with your Father in Heaven. I leave with you my witness and testimony that as you move beyond yourself and rise to the vision of the Spirit within you and heed its call to go forth to bless your fellow brothers and sisters who are feeling lost or not remembered in these times of great commotion and confusion that you will be engaged in God's plan and pattern of service. As you do so, I promise you as an ordained servant of His Gospel that you will know no loss that shall not be made up, again in His words, a " hundredfold," -for I have so experienced that in my life. Elder Dallin Oaks has instructed us to remember that "in contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ [and this institution that you now attend] challenges us to become something… It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. What is important in the end is what we have become by our labors… Our model is not the latest popular hero of sport or entertainment, nor those who accumulate property, prestige, or expensive toys- our model, our first priority is Jesus Christ."

I know that Christ is real; that He lives and speaks to all who will listen; that His Atonement is what gives us all hope and life. I testify to you that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true and living Church of our Savior. My prayer for each of you is that you may return to Him with your own African tattoo. I so pray in His name, amen.