Be Not Afraid, Only Believe
Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
September 24, 2013
Elder Gerrit W. Gong
Of the Seventy
President and Sister Wheelwright, stake presidencies, and student leaders, dear brothers and sisters, aloha!
In all the world, there are only three locations where we find in the same place a House of the Lord, a Brigham Young University campus, and a community of love, learning, and service – and only in Laie do we speak of ohana (family), lokahi (unity), pono (balanced and true), not to mention ono, hukilau, and poi.
Years ago, even before I became a deacon, I came to visit Char relatives in Honolulu. Everyone was kind, but one night I became homesick. I hid under the bed and would not come out until my aunt coaxed me out to go get french fries.
Perhaps you have felt so homesick you wanted to cry and hide under your bed. Perhaps you felt that way when you first came to campus. Laie is called paradise, but the language can be different, the food unusual, the customs and people unfamiliar. Perhaps you felt frightened or uncertain when you first arrived in the mission field, when you returned from your mission, or when you think about what you will do after you graduate – or perhaps you wonder if you will graduate.
At times, we feel alone, unsure, apprehensive. We may feel ill or wish we could do something over.
In such moments, which we each feel, our Savior says, “Be not afraid, only believe.”
There are many ways and many reasons we feel uncertainty, doubt, or fear, or are lonely or afraid. But each is an opportunity to grow: fear and faith do not exist at the same time, just as light and darkness do not. Believe our Lord Jesus Christ: Be not afraid, only believe.
This morning I would like to share three ways our Savior’s invitation to “be not afraid, only believe” can help us in our daily lives. First, His invitation to “be not afraid, only believe” can help us make important life decisions regarding faith, spouse, education and career. Second, His invitation can help us see marvelous, modern-day patterns of deepening conversion and establishing the restored Church through real growth across the world, including through online missionary service. And, third, our Savior’s invitation to “be not afraid, only believe” can help us understand the precious scriptural accounts where our Savior teaches He can, and will, make us whole and clean.
We begin with life decisions. A wonderful man, my father said we make three great life decisions – faith, spouse, and education and career. Each life decision offers opportunity to set a course early where we can choose to be not afraid, only believe.
The decision of faith.
I am grateful that with us here today is Sister Jean Char Gong. As a young Honolulu teenager, she met missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recognized gospel truth, and was baptized, the only member of her family to join at the time.
Sister Gong married in the temple, raised and nurtured three children, 11 grandchildren, and now five great-grandchildren. She has served faithfully in Church callings, including arranging flowers for the chapel and typing patriarchal blessings for her husband who served many years as a patriarch. A beloved schoolteacher for 35 years, Sister Gong taught hundreds of elementary school students and even some of their children. Mrs. Gong exemplified that each child, his or her parents, and their classroom teacher can learn as a team.
Jean Char Gong is, of course, my mother. Her lifelong faith, hope, and charity make her a pioneer in our now four-generation gospel family. She has walked with faith in every footstep on a journey of 87 years.
When we embark on life’s journey, we do not know where it will take us. Nor may we know exactly where we will want to go. But if we will not be afraid, only believe, we can be happy at home, sealed in our generations, grateful to the Lord for a lifetime of tender mercies.
Brothers and sisters, spiritually create a future where you become a true and strong link in our eternal family chain. Leave aside that which entices but brings no lasting satisfaction. Live right today, whatever the challenges.
No one attaches a U-Haul trailer behind the hearse to take his or her material possessions to the cemetery. And the answer to the question, “How much did they leave?” is always “everything -- they had to leave everything.”
Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can keep every good feeling, every good relationship, every good deed, and leave behind every sorrow, worry, and care.
Next, the decision of eternal marriage and family.
I am grateful Sister Susan Gong, my dear wife, is here and introduced me so kindly.
I first met Sister Susan Lindsay when she was preparing for a mission to Taiwan, and I was teaching Chinese culture classes at the Provo MTC. After Sister Lindsay returned from her mission, our first date included climbing trees. We went out every day for 30 days – simple, fun things like flying kites, playing racquetball, having a picnic. After that, I returned to graduate school in Oxford.
With Susan in Provo and me in England, I say our trans-Atlantic courtship was distance education of the best kind. It is why I can honestly say I earned a Ph.D. in international relations.
When we sought the Lord’s confirmation about marriage, we learned an important lesson. When I asked, “Dear Heavenly Father, should I marry Susan?” I had warm feelings but not confirmation. It was when I acted in faith, when I said, “Dear Heavenly Father, I love Susan and want to marry her, and I promise I will be the best husband I know how” – and I meant it – that I received the clearest, sweetest confirmation.
We are to act, and not be acted upon – to study things out, ask and act in faith, and be grateful we can know in our mind and in our heart.1
When I was a BYU student stake president, a group of faithful returned missionaries invited me to join their cookout in the mountains. One young elder asked, “President Gong, with so many beautiful and capable women in the world, how can you ever decide to get married? How do you know you will not meet someone you like better tomorrow?”
He was serious and sincere. I imagine sisters asking a similar question. With respect to marriage, how do we not be afraid, only believe? We are to be wise, meet and become acquainted with possible marriage partners, learn to share openly and deeply things which matter most. Then we make a choice. We commit. We covenant with each other and with Heavenly Father. Life’s circumstances can and will change. But our sacred commitments and covenants only grow stronger. We will never meet someone we like better tomorrow because we choose to like, and love, our eternal companion best each day.
When Sister Gong and I were married, we did not know we would have four sons. We did not know we would live in Oxford, England, Washington, D.C., Beijing, Taipei, and Provo. And we certainly did not know we would now live in Hong Kong in our current calling and circumstances.
That is life’s adventure. In a meeting with Elder Neal A. Maxwell, I learned the promise in Doctrine and Covenants 90:24 requires two conditions to be true. The verse reads, “Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.” For this verse to be true, the person making the promise must know how all things work together and the person must know how they work together for our good.
God our loving Heavenly Father and His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, can promise all things can work together for our good because they know how all things can work together, and they know what is good for us.
In fact, They know us better, and love us more, than we know or love ourselves.
In decisions relating to marriage, family, in a sometimes uncertain future, we can be certain of God’s love for us and of our love for each other. We can thus not be afraid, only believe.
Choosing to be not afraid only believe can also help in decisions about education and career.
Life is too short to choose an educational or career path simply because they may seem prestigious or pay well. Supporting a family is of course important, but we become what we think and do. Guided by good sense, discussion, and your patriarchal blessing, choose education and a career that you enjoy, that draw on all your faith and talents, and that allow you to contribute in unique ways you may barely imagine now.
The world needs men and women of integrity, character, experience, and skill in every field – most importantly in our homes, neighborhoods, communities, and countries. So, dream a little, let the Spirit inspire you, then work really hard and really smart.
In vital life decisions of faith, marriage and family, and school and work, our Savior invites us be not afraid, only believe – our first theme today.
Our second theme today is that magnificent broader patterns of deepening conversion as His restored Church is established across the earth also give us every reason to be not afraid, only believe.
Prophecy is being fulfilled as the stone cut from the mountain without hands fills the earth.2 As you may know, there are now congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 189 of the world’s 224 nations and territories.3 While the Church is found in almost every country, there are also “centers of strength” where many LDS Church members live, both within countries and among countries.
For example, did you know there are now three countries each with over one million LDS church members – the U.S., Mexico, and Brazil?
And 21 countries each with 100,000 or more LDS Church members – three in North America, 12 in Central and South America, one in Europe, four in Asia, and one in Africa (Nigeria)?
The establishment of His restored Church in these countries reflects a similar pattern –- gradual building of a strong member foundation, then an inflection point of accelerating real growth. Conversion deepens as we follow the doctrine of Christ and endure to the end. The family and the Church are strengthened by the Priesthood. Preach My Gospel missionaries serve, then return with honor to raise second, third, and fourth generation Church families.
Individuals become families. Families gather in groups and branches, then become wards and stakes of Zion. Stakes become places where Zion increases “in beauty, and in holiness”; places “for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm”; and places “for our baptisms for your dead.” Each of these verses reminds us of the close connection between stakes and temples.4
Deepening conversion can occur weekly as we renew sacramental covenants – baptism by water (which washes from outside) and baptism by fire (which burns from within to purify and sanctify).5
The gospel going forth to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people fulfills prophecy, in two ways. First, every day, across the world, the gospel is literally going forth. Second, every day, right before our eyes, nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples come together – on a campus, in a ward, in a family home evening group, in an apartment. If you want to help the gospel go forth to every nation, be a good example of the believers to your roommates and classmates.
The work of salvation is hastening, including through digital and online missionary work.
My son Elder Matthew Gong recently returned from the England London South mission, where missionaries come from over 40 different countries – a melting pot, like Provo, Rexburg, or Laie. Elder Matthew Gong and online or digital zone missionaries in the Asia Area are discovering online missionary work is real missionary work. Communities are gated but inboxes are open. Online proselyting can reach many and one – at the same time.
Missionary work has never been just about knocking doors or street contacting. Missionary work has always been about bringing people to Christ. Today, this includes talking to people where they are – including online.
Members become good online examples by sharing gospel-centered messages on social pages and answering questions when asked.
Members and missionaries help each other learn to be polite and appropriate, no matter what others say, and to engage and open positive and constructive chat and online conversations.
Online missionaries can reach hundreds or thousands of people, have an impact in their lives, and help bring them to Christ. Many people reluctant to share their home address or phone number will give their email address.
Double opt-ins get messages to those who want them. Individuals click to subscribe and click to receive gospel messages. They can also click out. In one mission, 5,600 people receive weekly gospel messages, each based on LDS.org and Mormon.org.
Mail Chimp and other online analytics can indicate which gospel messages elicit the most positive responses and greatest resonance to personal lives and concerns.
Those of you preparing for missions will recognize online missionary work has other unique dimensions. People often openly share online personal thoughts and feelings they might never share in a face-to-face conversation.
At the same time, some people use being anonymous online to say things they would not say in person.
This means online or chat conversations often get to the point faster and more directly.
Thank you, elders and sisters who are learning how to use every worthy way to invite investigators; new, established, and returning members; and all others to come unto Christ.
Thank you, returned missionaries for your service, and thank you each student and friend of BYU–Hawaii for realizing your Facebook page or online presence reflects you. Photos and what and how you post, directly and indirectly, can invite others to come to Christ.
Finally, the third theme of our discussion today is to place our Savior’s invitation to “be not afraid, only believe” in scriptural context – to understand that He can and wants to make us whole and clean.
In the New Testament, Mark 5: 22, we read, “There cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw [Jesus], [Jairus] fell at his feet. And besought [Jesus] greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death; I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live.”
Jairus loves his little daughter and wants her to live. In faith, this Jewish synagogue ruler implores the Savior to “lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed.” Brothers and sisters, have faith in Priesthood blessings. Priesthood brethren, be worthy at any moment to administer to the sick if called upon.
Later, “while [Jesus] yet spake, there came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house certain which said, Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further?”
Imagine the father’s pain at that news. He was hurrying home with faith that Jesus could save his daughter – but now his precious little girl, his little lamb, had died.
Yet, “as soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue,” the now-grieving father, “Be not afraid, only believe.”
[Jesus] taketh the father and the mother of the damsel, and them that were with him – in other words, he took the parents and Priesthood leaders Peter, James, John the brother of James – and entereth in where the damsel was lying.
“And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise.”
“And straightway” – please notice it was immediately – “the damsel arose, and walked, for she was of the age of twelve years.”6
Among us, or in our circle of family and friends, are those who are, figuratively or actually, in a kind of spiritual sleep. Perhaps our parents, spouse, or other family member do not yet understand the wonderful gospel we have found. Perhaps a dear friend or former missionary companion has temporarily lost his or her way. Perhaps a roommate is going through the motions of attending Church but inside is uncertain or doubting.
In all these situations, our Lord says, be not afraid, only believe.7
Belief and faith are principles of action. They are also principles of love.
The principles by which this wondrous creation operates reflect their Creator – our loving, living Heavenly Father and His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.
In the Holy Land, perhaps “in his own city” of Capernaum8 in Galilee, our Savior first declared his ministry, fulfilling prophecy, with these words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal [emphasis added] the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”9
Our Savior desires to heal us physically and spiritually—and physical and spiritual are closely connected. “Whole” and “clean” are the terms the scriptures often use to describe Jesus’ healing. The atonement of Jesus Christ heals us from the “awful monster” of death and hell – death (the physical death of the body) and hell (the spiritual death which separates us from Heavenly Father).10 Our Savior wants to make us whole. Our Savior wants to make us clean. He can and will mend our bodies and spirits. In due course, he will remove every sickness and infirmity. In due course, he will cleanse every repented sin and misdeed. As we repent, He will help us forgive others, including ourselves.
Brothers and sisters, it is by faith and belief, by being clean and pure in purpose, by the desire and strength of goodness and compassion, and often in the case of ordained brethren, by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood, that our spirits can be taught, and when appropriate, can be commanded to heal our physical bodies.11
“The same light that quickeneth your understandings, … Light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space, the light … is in all things, … giveth life to all things, … [and] is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God.”12
Brothers and sisters, be not afraid, only believe.
Believe God is our loving Heavenly Father. Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer.
Believe the family is the most important unit in time and eternity. Act with faith and commitment to become the eternal companion you want to marry. Wherever you are on the path of marriage – getting acquainted, dating, engaged, newly married, married for many years – please remember eternity is created a day at a time. Make yours a happy, forever family, not simply a happy family or simply a forever family.
Believe moral agency and individual responsibility are key. Truly where much is given, much is required.13
Believe the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I am a witness that those who ponder in our hearts the message the Book of Mormon contains, and then ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true will gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon’s truth and divinity by the power of the Holy Ghost.
I also witness those who gain this divine witness from the Holy Spirit will know by the same power that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is his revelator and prophet in these last days, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the second coming of the Messiah.
Believe the mercy, merits, and grace of God. Believe also the law of the harvest – today’s decisions and actions bring tomorrow’s blessings. “When we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”14
Finally, when you are uncertain, lonely, undecided, embarrassed, ashamed, angry, or otherwise afraid, as we may each feel at times, please remember our Savior. He is always here with us, inviting gently, powerfully, lovingly, be not afraid, only believe.
In the sacred and holy name of Jesus Christ. Amen.