Commencement Address given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
December 17, 2010
Elder L. Tom Perry
Quorum of Twelve Apostles
Thank you, Roger. For seven years, I had the opportunity of being the Chief Auditor of the Church. I used to audit Roger. I found out that the Department of Education in the Church was the best operated of any of the other departments because of this noble man who gives so much time to this great service. I appreciate him, and I appreciate the work that he is doing all of the time in helping the education systems be properly managed in this day and age.
President Wheelwright, it's a delight to be with you in this beautiful country. I just enjoy coming to Hawaii; however, I never enjoy the assignments they give me to come and speak at graduations. You know, we have three university presidents in the Council of the Twelve. I go to them and say, "What do you do at a graduation?" They can never give me any good advice. It's all over my head, so you would expect my talk to be a little different than you would receive from one of the members of the Twelve who have spent their life in education.
I do have the privilege of working with President Packer in making assignments to the General Authorities on their travel. A few weeks ago, the Brethren approved the creation of a stake in the island of Guam. I couldn't believe my ears! I spent a year of my life in the Mariana Islands. When we met to make the assignment for a General Authority to attend to this duty, President Packer was familiar with my history, and he said, "Tom, wouldn't you like to create the stake in Guam?" I jumped at the opportunity. Barbara and I have just returned from that assignment.
One of the wards we created in this new stake was on the island of Saipan. I spent a year of my life on the island of Saipan. After the work of creating the stake was over, I couldn't resist the temptation of going up to this little island. We spent a whole day on this beautiful little island. Being on the island brought back so many memories of the time that I spent there. I'd like to share with you just one memory from the time that I was on this very special place.
Following the invasion of Saipan and the securing of the island, except for an occasional air raid, life was rather normal. We would go to work at 8:00 in the morning and get off at 5:00 in the afternoon. There were a good number of LDS men on the island from the Air Force, the Seabees, and of course, the Marines. We obtained permission from the island chaplain to erect a tent to hold our church services. It served us well until the infrequent air raids caused several holes to develop in the tent.
As days on the island became months, we noticed the attendance at our Sunday service starting to diminish. Members started to drift off into other activities. The boredom of waiting around for a new assignment started to wear on our minds. I had been blessed to be on the island with one of my missionary companions, my first missionary companion. We served ten months together in Marion, Ohio. We both had the great rank of corporal in the Marine Corps, which isn't very high even in the Marine Corps. We decided that what we needed was an activity to unite these service men in a way to help them be more faithful in their Church attendance.
Since the tent had several holes in it (the tropical rains were rather frequent), it was not the greatest place to hold religious service. So we decided that what we needed was a chapel to hold our meetings. We called a group together and proposed the idea that we build a Mormon chapel on the island of Saipan. It was a pretty outlandish proposal. We had no experience, no tools, no materials, but we knew that a group of Mormon priesthood holders working together with a common purpose and united could accomplish anything.
From the different branches of service, we set about to gather materials. We were surprised at the response we received. The Seabees supplied us with all the tools we needed. The Marines and the Air Force contributed most of the building materials. Now the problem was, who will design the chapel? We checked all of the servicemen. None of them had built anything, except we found a farmer from the state of Idaho that had helped his father build a barn. We made him the design and construction supervisor, and we started about the process of building our chapel. Each evening after our day's duty was over, we would go to the construction site and begin our work. Truck after truck would arrive with men anxious to help. Day after day, one nail at a time, a beautiful chapel started to arise. More impressive than the building itself was what was happening to the spirits of the men who were working on the building. The less-actives and some non-members joined us in the project. Our church service had a renewed spirit, an increased attendance. One evening as we were just finishing the roof, the whole harbor came alive with tracers being shot into the air. We thought we were being invaded again. Soon, word came up that the war was over. We had a short celebration and continued to work on the chapel. We completed our chapel and held our dedication one beautiful Sunday evening.
We had learned again that priesthood holders working together with a purpose and unity could accomplish anything.
We were only able to hold one church service in our building. The next morning, Monday morning, we loaded our sea bags, boarded ship, and headed to Japan. More impressive than the building itself was the number our building project had brought back into activity in the church. Pounding nails on the roof had a special way of creating and strengthening a brotherhood. We discovered that what King Benjamin had taught his people was a true doctrine. When we're in the service of others, we are only in the service of God. You'll remember that King Benjamin realized that he was becoming old and could not continue to lead his people. He wanted to leave his witness, a testimony as a lasting legacy for the benefit of all he served and loved. He had been a good leader in a time of relative righteousness and prosperity. He decided to speak to his people one last time. He sent his sons out to gather the people around the temple. Early in his address, King Benjamin spoke of service. He said, "I say unto you that as I have been suffered to spend my days in your service, even up to this time... And even I, myself, have labored with my own hands that I might serve you... I have not done these things that I might boast, neither do I tell you these things that thereby I might accuse you; but I tell you these things that ye may know that I can answer a clear conscience before God this day. Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God. And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God" (Mosiah 4:12-17).
King Benjamin was able to connect with his people because he was one of them. As king, he might have been the head of his people, but his people were of one body in Christ, and he recognized that all parts were important.
That great pilgrim leader and the first governor of Massachusetts, John Winthrop, spoke to his people about the body of Christ as they were docked in the Massachusetts Bay aboard the ship Arabella. Winthrop said, "Christ and his church make one body. The several parts of this body are considered a part before they are united. But when Christ comes and by his spirit and love adds all these parts to himself and to each other, it becomes the most perfect and best proportioned body in the world." Then quoting from scripture, "Christ by whom all the body being knit together by every joint, the ligaments thereof being Christ are his love. For Christ is love."
Alma the prophet said a very similar thing over 1750 years earlier when he instructed his people "their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another" (Mosiah 18:21). I believe that Alma also knew the love of Christ is the key to peace and unity among the children of God. I love the image of Christ being the ligaments of the body of Christ. It is his love that holds us together. I believe it is also the same lesson we learned when we built a chapel on Saipan. Priesthood leaders working together with a purpose and unity can accomplish anything. Men who had been less active for years and whom we could not otherwise motivate to attend our church meetings rallied around with a common mission. Building a meeting house with which to worship the Lord brought them together. By exercising their love of Jesus Christ by pounding nails, they quickly found themselves part of the body of Christ.
We gather today to honor the investment you have made in an education here at BYU-Hawaii. You join an elite group of educated individuals. The road has not always been easy, but you have achieved one of your life's goals, so today you will receive a diploma from this great institution. As a graduate of BYU-Hawaii, please recognize the immense contribution that the Church has made to you for your education. I speak for President Monson as well as the other Brethren for whom I am serving that we expect a return on the investment the Church has made in you to increase the body of our Savior here on earth. I implore you also to remain connected to each other through his love for you and your love for him.
Today, I invite each of you graduates to examine the example of King Benjamin. He fully exemplified the words of Section 50 of the Doctrine and Covenants, where the Lord taught, "He that is ordained of God and sent forth, the same is appointed to be the greatest, notwithstanding he is the least and the servant of all" (Doctrine and Covenants 50:26). Earlier in Section 50, the Lord also taught us about the power of the spirit, connecting teacher and learners together into a common understanding. About this, the Lord said, "Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together" (Doctrine and Covenants 50:22). Yes, both are edified and rejoice together. In Saipan, we built an edifice and were edified together. We joined the pieces of building materials with nails, and our hearts were joined together as we rejoiced about the end of the war and the completion of our meeting house. It all happened because we were inspired to reach out and invite others to come and sit on a rooftop and pound nails with us.
Please remember now as you go to the four corners of the earth that you can be missionaries in so many ways. There are many people in the world who will not accept an invitation to come to church, but they will be willing to pick up a hammer and join with you in a building project. You ultimately will really be more concerned about building them that what you're building together. You don't have to tell the people what you're doing, but they will understand. When people serve side by side, their lives are changed. When you are connected to someone, they become connected to the body of Christ. And where many of the brethren who helped us to build a church in Saipan, they returned home to become valuable Church leaders and community leaders. They became the one who invited someone else to come and sit on a rooftop with them and pound a few nails.
There was a picture that was in "BYU Universe" some time ago that really caught my attention. Let me describe it to you. It pictured five students together. Two were conversing with each other on cell phones. One was listening to music on an iPod. Two were using their laptops to read emails. I'm certainly not one against electronic devices. I have an iPhone, an iPod, an iPad, and a laptop, and I love all of them, but I wonder sometimes if we are too reliant on these devices.
When we are holding in our hands these instruments, we do not have a free hand to pick up a hammer, or put our arm around a friend, or invite them to pound a few nails with us. When our eyes are focused on the screen, we are not making eye to eye contact with someone who needs to be our friend - the old adage, "out of sight, out of mind." We are not going to think about making a connection with someone if we are never looking up from an electronic screen. I would suggest that you take a break from these devices more often so you'll think more about being connected to others and communicating face to face. I know from personal experience that there is a tremendous difference when I'm delivering a talk to a camera and not to a live congregation. Perhaps I can take some solace in the fact that the message is going by satellite with thousands of Saints throughout the world. But I miss the people. I miss the nod of their heads when they agree with something I've said. I miss them smiling back when I smile at them. Again, technology is a great blessing, but we did not build a chapel on Saipan by pounding virtual nails into a virtual roof. We built a real brotherhood by having a real conversion by working together.
Amos, the Old Testament prophet, lived at a time when Israel was in disunity. There was a great division separating the tribes in the north from the tribes in the south. He pleaded for unity among the Israelites. He asked in verse three of chapter three of Amos, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" Only a few verses later in verse seven, Amos taught about prophets and he said, "Surely the Lord God will do nothing but he revealeth his secret unto the servants the prophets."
Here is the counsel from one of the Lord's prophets that is an eternal truth: There must be some common ground, a point of reference between two parties when they walk together, work together, and serve together. Common ground is established by prophets who speak for God. Prophets learn to gather people around the temple. A prophet is one of us who stands at the head of the Lord's Church here on earth. A prophet is ordained of God, not to be the greatest, but to be the least and the servant of all. I know our prophet emulates the Savior with the love he has for each and every member of the Church. May we heed President Monson's admonition to rescue our brothers and sisters by serving them. May we take time to sit on a roof and pound a few nails with one of our Father in Heaven's children who needs to be rescued. May we bear the living witness to them of the blessing that comes of being connected to the body of Christ. Faithful women and righteous priesthood holders working together with a purpose and in unity can accomplish anything.
God bless you wonderful graduates. May your influence spread throughout the world. May your service to your fellow men find a place in our Heavenly Father's kingdom that unites them in this great Gospel plan he has given us to live here and to enjoy and to enjoy the love of Christ each day we live is my humble prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Photo by Monique Saenz.