Living Up To Our Legacy

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Debbie Hippolite WrightDevotional Address Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

September 15, 2005
Debbie Hippolite Wright
Associate Professor of Social Work

Brothers and Sisters Aloha,

This year is BYUH's Golden Jubilee. Milestones like these give us cause to reflect on where we came from, where we are now and where we are going. As an alum and faculty member, this year's Jubilee celebrations have prompted me to reminisce on my experiences here. The campus has had many physical changes, in my day as a student the dorm units were comprised of eight small cubbies partitioned off by heavy orange curtains. There was no Cannon Activity Center, Snow building, computer labs, or a beautifully refurbished swimming pool. A few here will remember watching the Seasider basketball games on the hard wooden bleachers that lined one side of the old gym. Back then it always seemed like the air conditioning unit was "on-the-blink," over-taxed by the crowd which packed the bleachers and spilled out into the "out-of-bounds" areas at each end of the court. Some things have changed, but the excitement of a Seasider win remains the same. BYUH has seen a great deal of change in terms of physical facilities but the mission of the university and how it is a vehicle for the Lord's purposes in an ever growing worldwide church remains unwavering.

My first experience with BYUH wasn't typical to what one might think. When I was 16 years old I was invited by my older sister to come to paradise and babysit her toddler during my six week school holiday. When the idea of going to Hawaii was proposed to me by my parents my teenage imagination began to conjure up images of long leisurely days at the beach, mild tropical evenings, and the chance of meeting "those good looking Hawaiian boys." My brother in-law was a student and my sister worked part time at the PCC business office to put him through school. When her supervisor gave her the opportunity to increase her hours for a limited time she jumped at the chance, facilitating a need for a babysitter.

The reality of my situation quickly set in upon my arrival at their cramped one bedroom, non air conditioned TVA apartment. Soon after, I had my first encounter with a cockroach-- one I will never forget. I jumped so high I lost my balance tripped, with my arms flailing about, I fell backwards landing next to my little niece who had been playing quietly nearby. Upon seeing this she threw back her head and burst out laughing.

My holiday consisted of cleaning the apartment and watching a very curious and active toddler—quite an eye opener for a young girl, far from home, who wasn't used to the isolation, heat and humidity. The only social life I had was to have lunch with my sister. My niece and I followed a daily routine which consisted of making our way past the beautiful entrance of the school, through the Aloha center which was always bustling with students and to enter the PCC through the back gate. (They let anyone in back then). Following lunch we would make our trek back to TVA until it was time to meet my sister after work. My dream of relaxing days at the beach seemed far away. For most 16 year olds, friends and a social life are very important and so by the end of my tenure as nanny, I yearned for home-- my friends, family and a familiar climate.

When my vacation was up, I had no intention of ever returning to Hawaii. I'd had enough! However, an interesting thing happened to me on my trip home. After fastening my seatbelt and waiting for take off, I was looking out of the airplane window at the lights of Honolulu, when I had a strong impression that grew until it permeated every part of my body and mind. The impression was that I was to return to BYU Hawaii and that this campus would play a pivotal role in my life. I didn't understand it, yet I couldn't I deny it. I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer asking the Lord to guide and assist me. In the few months that followed I graduated from high school, applied to BYUH and was admitted as a full time student all the time feeling determined and settled about my decision.

Here are three things that I learned from that experience. First, we receive promptings and direction from the Spirit and we are blessed if we recognize and act upon those promptings. Second, we have defining experiences in our lives which have eternal ramifications. Third, we must be open to the Lord's will for us.

Let's take a closer look at each one of these points.

The first point, we receive promptings and direction from the Spirit and we are blessed if we recognize and act upon those promptings. I suspect that like me, many of you are here because you were prompted by the Spirit to come to this institution at this time in your life. President Hinckley said, "promptings are a personal message from the Lord to you." Throughout my life I have had numerous examples of being blessed when following the promptings of the Lord. When I was a missionary in the Philippines Davao mission there was a great deal of political furor over the desire by separatist groups wanting Mindinao, the largest island in the Visayan island group, to secede from the Philippines and become an independent Islamic state. On our P-day my companion and I were shopping at the only large department store in Davao when I heard a clear emphatic voice whisper to me saying, 'sister leave, leave now." I turned directly to my companion and said, 'sister I think we should leave," to which she responded, "yes you're right," there was no further discussion, we both put down the goods we had in our hands and left the store immediately. On our "jeepny" ride traveling back to our area we heard on the radio that a bomb had exploded in the department store we had been in less than a half hour earlier and according to initial reports there had been loss of life. Later we found out that 13 people were killed in that explosion. We were blessed by heeding the promptings of the spirit. D&C 84:47 states "every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God . . ." There was, and is no doubt in my mind that the Lord was watching over me and my companion. Heeding the Spirit brought us physical safety and brought us closer to the Lord through our enriched testimonies of the power of the Spirit.

The scriptures are full of examples of people who have heeded the promptings of the Lord and were blessed because of it. One example is found in first Nephi chapter One, Nephi recounts his father's marvelous experiences of seeing a pillar of fire and receiving visions. These were forceful and direct promptings. In verse 18 Nephi tells us how his father responded. He stated "behold he went forth among the people, and began to prophesy." Lehi did this cognizant of how other prophets had been treated and, like the prophets of old the people tried to kill him as well. The Lord then instructed Lehi to leave Jerusalem because the city was going to be destroyed. Some years later recorded in 2 Nephi 1: 4 referring to his father, Nephi writes, "For, behold, said he, I have seen a vision, in which I know that Jerusalem is destroyed; and had we remained in Jerusalem we should also have perished." Lehi's blessings for heeding the promptings of the Spirit was that his seed was saved, they were led to the promised land, given the true gospel and they received an assurance that the resurrected Savior would visit their descendants in the promised land.

Another example of heeding the promptings of the spirit and being blessed because of it is found in 1st Kings, we read there was a severe drought in the land and the Lord instructed Elijah: "Get thee to Zarephath; behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee." Here we see that the Lord prompted the widow to expect and assist the prophet. When Elijah met the widow he asked her to prepare food for him. Elijah's request was a test of her faith. "And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah." It is probable that this woman had past experience listening to and following the promptings of the Spirit, thus developing the ability to incorporate the promptings from the Lord into her everyday life so that when this critical test of faith came she was prepared. Remember the Lord told Elijah about this particular woman, the widow woman. He knew she would obey-- he would then bless her by replenishing her supplies and restoring her son's life.

The second point is we have defining experiences which have eternal ramifications. Elder Dallin H. Oaks in the latest BYU Magazine tells a story about his friend who is a pilot with a major airline who told him that if he made an error in course by 2 degrees on a 4,500 mile direct-line flight from Chicago to Hilo the slight miscalculation would result in missing the Big island by more than 145 miles. Elder Oaks makes the point that the paths we choose set the direction for our lives. Decisions we make and the way we respond to experiences define the type of people we become. These experiences become spiritual benchmarks which either help solidify our commitment to the Lord or set us on a path of what Elder Oaks calls "destructive deviations." Here's an example of a series of defining experiences which became spiritual benchmarks and ultimately had eternal ramifications. Joseph who was sold into Egypt was a slave in the house of Potiphar, a commanding officer of the royal guard and a very powerful man. Joseph served his master to the best of his ability and with great integrity. Eventually he became a trusted overseer of Potiphar's household. When Potifer's wife made inappropriate advances towards Joseph he responded in no uncertain terms that he was not interested. He said "how can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" [Genesis 39:9] Potifer's wife then accused Joseph of trying to take advantage of her. The outcome of these accusations was that Joseph was put in prison, quite remarkable because a slave accused of such a crime would probably have been executed. But because Joseph did not deviate from what he knew to be true he developed a reputation of being an honest forthright man of God. It was likely that Potifer believed Joseph would not do what he had been accused of.

Even though Joseph was rejected by his brothers, sold into slavery, accused of a crime he didn't commit, and cast into prison he never blamed the Lord, he wasn't bitter over being unfairly treated, he held to what was right and he never got discouraged by his situation in life. Joseph stayed true during each of these defining experiences which solidified his commitment to the Lord. We have the advantage of seeing the outcome of his faith. It's easy to see why the Lord chose him as a prophet to bless the lives of his family and the Lord's chosen people.

The third and final point is we must be open to the Lord's will for us.

This perhaps is the most difficult of the three points for people to live by. Sometimes we don't want to do what the Lord wants us to do as it might not make sense given our limited human view. Here are some suggestions about how to be open to the Lord's will. First we must develop faith by acknowledging that the Lord is in charge. "For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith." (Either 12:12) It's seldom that the Lord tells us everything about the direction he gives, or shows us the final destination. For example, the Liahona worked according to the faith of Lehi and his family but it didn't give specifics such as "twenty more miles to the promise land or 30 more days at sea," this could be very difficult for a generation accustomed to asking "are we there yet?"

The next attribute we need to develop is humility which is to have an unassuming nature and to be meek and teachable. Alma 32: 16 says "therefore blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they would believe." I want to share a story that sums up all the points I've addressed today. My great-grandmother Wetekia Rukuku Elkington was born and raised on a small island called Rangitoto Ki te tonga or more commonly known in English as D'Urville Island. When Wetekia was about 14 years old she had a dream and in the dream she saw two Caucasian men in top hats and black coats and when they prayed they raised their right hand to the square. She said, "I was standing on a very wide and beautiful plain. Around me were many people standing in many small groups. They appeared to me to be very sad. I wanted to know the cause of their sadness but could find no answer to my question because none would speak to me. While doing this I heard a voice far away but I couldn't understand the words until the voice was almost over me. Wetekia heard a voice in Maori say "O house of Israel, how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings and ye would not—I will gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me. [3 Nephi 10:5]. When I heard these words I looked up and saw a white dove flying over me saying these words. I clapped my hands and looked up and said, "Yes Lord, I will repent and turn unto thee." The white dove then turned into a book, a book with the pages opened out towards me. I woke up then shouting those words, I was so happy. My father rushed over to me and asked what was the matter. I told him of the dream and he said to me "It is a good dream, you are blessed of God."

Some time later a cousin returned from visiting the main island and shared with his relatives that a new religion was being taught and the missionaries of that religion traveled in pairs and taught from a new book of scripture. Upon hearing this, Wetekia immediately recognized the new religion being described as the one from her dream. Her father sent for the LDS missionaries to come to the island and teach the people about the new religion. In 1892 Wetekia, her father and several relatives were baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For Wetekia her dream had such a profound impact on her it was a defining experience in her life. Because of it, she was convinced that the Lord wanted her and her people to hear the message of the gospel and to follow the savior by joining His church. This decision has had eternal ramifications for not only her and her own posterity but many others. Today the Ngati Koata tribe is known as predominantly LDS, five and six generations of her posterity are members of the church. Hundreds of her descendents have served missions, been married in the Temple and served in various leadership positions in the church. Truly the results of her being open to the Lord's will and following the promptings of the Spirit are hard quantify over 100 years later. The impact of her decision still continues. I'm happy to say that two of Wetekia's great-great grandchildren are current students at BYUH.

All of us connected to BYUH have many righteous and faithful examples that we may follow. Each of us has a grand legacy that we can learn from but we need to be mindful that as we strive to be faithful by following the Lord's commandments we will set a pattern for the rest of our lives and by so doing, will also leave a grand legacy for others to follow.

2 Nephi 2: 4 "And thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory; wherefore, thou art blessed—for the spirit is the same, yesterday, today, and forever." I pray that we will live up to our legacy by heeding the promptings of the spirit, being open to the Lord's will for us and may we make our experiences here at BYUH defining ones for our spiritual growth.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.