Snapshots and Vignettes: Exploring Our Legacy


Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

October 28, 2004
President Eric B. Shumway
President of BYU-Hawaii

My dearest brothers and sisters, university family, and guests and members of our President's Leadership Council, aloha!  We gather today almost on the eve of our 50th anniversary as a campus.  Most of us here are familiar with President David O. McKay's prophecies and blessings concerning this campus, the temple, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and the community of La`ie.  There is a continuing and glowing fascination for these prophetic utterances as we see them unfolding in living realities. Certainly one of the objectives of the Jubilee year will be to capture and celebrate as many instances as possible in which the hand of the Lord has been manifest among us in great mercy.

Today, I would like to take a different tack from the dramatic moments of dedication and prophecy. Rather, I would like simply to reminisce, to recall what can be identified as golden threads woven into the tapestry of our prophetic legacy. Certainly there is a panoramic sweep to our history from 1865, and before, to the present day. But it is often the tiny snap shots of people, their personalities and faith and courage with which we resonate most deeply with gratitude and awe. These are people and moments from which I personally have been profoundly blessed. Much of what I share with you today comes from my own personal journal. Some of these I have shared before.

A few weeks ago, Dr. Jerry Loveland, one of our original faculty, passed away. Jerry came to La`ie in 1955 with his wife Delores. His memory will always be a tender one for those who knew them best. For sheer brain power Jerry was formidable. He studied at some of the finest graduate schools in the world. He was instrumental in founding the Polynesian Cultural Center. He did found the Institute for Polynesian Studies and launched the highly respected quarterly journal, Pacific Studies, which we still publish.

Jerry was intimidating to many of us younger faculty.I'm sure it was due to my own securities, but it seemed that in my early years, I would sweat every time I was around Jerry Loveland. That is, until in a personal sacred moment he shared with me a temple experience that I shall never forget. He said he was performing sealings for a deceased family, mother, father, and children. In his words he said, "I suddenly became aware that this family was actually in the room. And when the sealings were over I watched them file out of the room. The last person was a daughter who smiled, leaned down and kissed me on the cheek. I saw them and I felt the kiss."

A few months ago, Dr. Loveland confirmed this experience and gave me permission to tell it. Brothers and sisters, I have never entered the La`ie Hawaii Temple without a confirming testimony that when you enter the house of the Lord you come into the company of God, angels and witnesses; and that there is a special interaction between people, the children of God, on both sides of the veil.

When Jerry's sweet wife Delores passed away, we all worried about Jerry because we knew how much he loved her and how well she cared for him. In another sacred moment he described for me his overwhelming loneliness and depression in the weeks following Delores' funeral. As he put it to me, "I did not want to live. Nothing about me or my family seemed worthwhile, without Delores. I asked my bishop to please give me a blessing. During that blessing, Delores appeared to me, dressed in wonderful white. But her appearance was not as she looked when she passed away, frail, wrinkled, and gray. She appeared to me in the prime of her life, a brunette with the sweetest smile of love. My loneliness and depression were swept away."

Jerry Loveland later met and married a wonderful woman named Edna who cared for him until he passed away.

The memory of Dr. David Chen is indelible in the minds of all who knew him. David grew up in northern China, attended a military academy and served in Chiang Kai Chek's army. When the army collapsed and were scattered by the communist forces, David suffered immense privation as he fled south, living from hand to mouth, and scrambling for his life. He was helped along the way by kind peasants.

At great risk to his life he swam across the bay and found his way through fortifications into Hong Kong. At first, he lived on the streets, but met Mormon missionaries, was converted, served a mission in Hong Kong, then came to BYU-Hawaii on a work study scholarship. He studied under Dr. Jerry Loveland, went on and got his Ph. D. at the University of Utah, and came back to teach.

David married his wife Nallie, served as mission president in Hong Kong. He later became a traveling elder for the Church to accompany general authorities back to China. Before he passed away he was a highly regarded and frequent lecturer back in universities in northern China and in Beijing.

I had the privilege of standing with some of you here at the baptism of Wong Yue in which David, dying then of cancer, bore a powerful testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel. He truly was one of the remarkable Chinese pioneers in the Church. At his funeral David was likened unto the apostle Nathaniel in whom Jesus said was no guile. He was greatness unaware of itself. As the great Pharaoh of Egypt said unto his servants about Joseph Can we find such an one as this is, a man in whom the spirit of God is. Such was David Chen.

The faculty had another mighty Chinese stalwart in the person of Tsai, Shen Leung. Brother Tsai was a convert and served on the BYU Stake High Council. He was a man of great intellect but at the height of his career at BYU-Hawaii he was stricken with cancer of the tongue. In my journal I recorded the following

January 26, 1983

I experienced a special moment in high council meeting today when Brother Shen Leung Tsai bore a stirring testimony and offered strong admonition to us. The surgical scars on his face and neck are barely visible, his features all intact. Speaking between his clenched teeth, but making every word intelligible, he described his transformation [as a result of his fight with cancer], his rebirth. He said

Before my illness, I was simply a dutiful member of the bureaucracy, politically minded and conscientious to a fault. I was motivated by duty, and a sense of competition, not love. I have seen and felt the deep love people have for me[now]. Being totally helpless, dependent upon other people for my life, made me realize how frail and how vulnerable life is, and therefore how important it is to fill on's life with service, motivated by that same kind of love that was extended to me.

Ten months later I recorded:

November 16, 1983

I met Brother Tsai in the Business Office. Three more tumors have appeared. The doctors are telling him to accept death, forget about any further heavy treatment. It is all futile. His response to me was, "I must fight." My family must know I want to fight for them. If I give up, they will think I don't love them. My habit has been to never give up in life. My attitude in death will be to never give up until there is no more strength to fight.

As he spoke his eyes shone with determination. He does not look like a dying man. His movements are quick, almost cat-like, his conversation energetic. So much life, talking about imminent death. I saluted Brother Tsai for his courage, for his commitment to the Church, his devotion to his family. He died a few months later.

A similar kind of faith and courage was exhibited by a student many of us remember. She was Brenda Law from Hong Kong. She was stricken with a malignant brain tumor and languished for months in and out of therapy. She had no family remaining in Hong Kong that she could go to. "BYU-Hawaii is my family," she said. Students from campus would go into the hospital to be with her during the agonizing days and nights of chemotherapy. One student who stayed up all night comforting Brenda through attacks of nausea and vomiting, wiping her forehead, face and mouth, told me, "It was such an honor for me to do that for Brenda because it seemed like I was doing it for the Savior."

Brenda came back to school when she felt strong enough. The last time I talked with her was just before a last resort, high risk surgery. "I am so happy," Brenda exclaimed to me. "The surgery is on Tuesday and I am so excited."

"What are your chances," I asked.

"Oh the doctor says it'll be a miracle if I survive, but it's a last chance," she said smiling.

"You do seem very happy and upbeat," I said.

"Oh yes, if I live I come back to friends, if I die I go into the arms of Heavenly Father. It's a win-win."

Brenda did not survive the surgery, but the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this campus and among our Chinese students seemed unprecedented in many of their lives.

We have seen Brenda's kind of faith and miracle reversed. About eight years ago we were informed that Eric Anderson, who had suffered since babyhood from Cystic Fibrosis, was in the hospital, his lung capacity almost gone and had only days, perhaps hours to live. Carolyn and I thought we must go see this living miracle once more before the miracle yielded up the ghost.

You see Eric was told when he was little that he would never participate in sports, never go a mission, never go to college, never get married or raise a family. He survived on priesthood blessings. When Eric first went to college his doctor wrote on his application to BYU-Provo that he was living on borrowed time. But Eric's faith and the faith of others sustained him. He went on a mission to Florida South Mission, but fell desperately ill and was given 72 hours to live. He recovered miraculously because of faith and the help of a world renowned Cystic Fibrosis specialist who treated him very aggressively. He completed a successful mission, married Arlene in 1986 in the Manti Temple, and became the proud father of four beautiful children all the while literally fighting for life and breath from day to day.

I shall never forget going into the hospital room. Eric was sitting on the bed, emaciated and struggling for breath, albeit he was serene, almost heavenly. He said to us "I'm so glad you came because I have just at this moment reached a milestone in my life."

"What milestone is that?" I asked.

Just this morning in my prayers I was able for the first time in my life to say to Heavenly Father, "Thy will be done" and really mean it. I have always held back that complete and final offering to the Lord, that He take my life if it is his will. I was completely and totally eager to do what He willed.His will was my will. I am free and at peace now.

Carolyn and I felt like we were on sacred ground when we walked out. We were sure we would never Eric Anderson alive again. How delighted and surprised we were when we heard that Eric was sustained in his effort to go back to the doctor in Florida that had saved his life on a mission. When he went to Florida he was only 108 pounds and was on four liters of oxygen. Three months later, he returned home running down the concourse, weighing 130 pounds and totally off the oxygen. He is truly a walking miracle. Eric is still walking and has served in several Church positions, continuing to be a light and an example wherever he goes.

Another golden personality and intellect in our legacy as a campus was Doctor Nephi Georgi, also a member of the original faculty. A man of tremendous ability, he rose quickly to top administration of the campus. Fastidious in his dress, articulate in his speech, and strong in his opinions, Brother Georgi seemed to be destined to be the president of the campus. He had the support and admiration of both faculty and students. His wife, Hedi was his match in elegance.

Not only was Brother Georgi not selected as the new president, he was removed from his post as Academic Dean and later fired by the new president. For three years he and Hedi had no permanent position or home. When the new president left the school, Nephi was hired back to teach, a different man, perhaps a better man.

In 1980 when we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the school, all the previous presidents came back as guests of the school, including the man Brother Georgi felt had mistreated him. It was at that time I witnessed in the Hawaii Temple one of the grand moments in time and eternity when forgiveness is offered in the presence of God, angels and witnesses.

This night in the temple Brother Georgi's former employer stood at the head of the prayer circle where each member must have "no negative feelings toward other members of the circle." Brother Georgi suffered inner conflict. He wanted, indeed he needed, to participate in the prayer circle, but his old boss was there. How could he stand in God's presence and forgive the man who had caused him and his family so much sorrow. I watched the conflict play out on his face, but then with a gesture of strength and finality he stood, took his wife by the hand and walked into the circle. For me, the shock of surprise was accompanied immediately by the powerful sense of relief in the room. I could not stop the tears from my eyes.

We didn't know it then but Brother Georgi was already stricken with colon cancer which would eventually take his life. In an interview a few months before he died, Brother Georgi not only conveyed an air of full forgiveness and aloha for the former president, he even praised him. Of his being dismissed he said:

I know it was personally good for me . . . I got much too apathetic in my position. I thought "Georgi, you know you've got everything. You just got everything. You got positions from town on various strong committees; you're going to be appointed a member of a cable television outfit next year . . . I was top dog in the Army Reserve and also on several mayor's committees with some zing to them . . . things were going great and I just got too complacent. I think the Lord saw that and I think he just figured, "This is it, Georgi, you need a change; you've got to find out that you can fail and come back." Anyway it was that kind of a reflection, I think, that finally made me realize that [the role of the president who fired me] was a very positive one in my life and not a negative one as it appeared.

Over the years this campus has been blessed with other men and women who lived extraordinary fruitful lives in the face of incredible adversity. Lance Chase, Professor of English, History, and Religion served a full term of bishop of the La`ie 2nd Ward while he was fighting cancer. During his tenure he and his wife Londa comforted three other ward members who were afflicted and eventually died from the same disease. During that time Brother Chase taught a full load and published extensively. Others passed away while they were in full harness at the university and left a legacy of devotion and goodness as well as high professional service, Ronald Jackson, Michael Palmer, Jane Garside, Joseph Nichols.

One of the amazing legacies of this campus is the hundreds of employees and the thousands of students who are guided here by direct intervention of the Lord. Their stories read like something out of scripture, miraculous, compelling. For many years BYU-Hawaii was considered by some as a dead end to a university teacher's academic career. It was seen as a nice place, but hardly a serious institution that would advance one to the top of one's profession. The special mission of this school and the spirit of God have brought some of the finest people in the Church to serve and teach in this place.

Bruce Bowen, former Dean of Admissions wrote that the thought of taking a position at BYU-Hawaii turned his wife Debbie's world upside down. They had just moved into a brand new home they had built. Debbie had just delivered their eighth child. The thought of moving the entire family to a island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was overwhelming, crazy. But once the idea was deposited, like the seed of faith, it grew and swelled and filled their minds and hearts. He says "It seemed that [once the seed was planted] everywhere we went we met someone who had lived in Hawaii or heard someone speaking about Hawaii or saw something that reminded us of Hawaii, we couldn't get away from it. Bit by bit our hearts were softened as the Lord's will was made known. When we came to the campus for interviews, we had another witness of the spirit while touring the Polynesian Cultural Center. . We moved to Hawaii in June of that year and embarked on the most wonderful experience of our lives . . . we are not the same people that we were before moving to Hawaii, and we will forever be grateful for the way our hearts and lives have been touched by the spirit of aloha." Bruce Bowen is now the Dean of Admissions at Weber State University.

Likewise, thousands of students offer similar narratives of their journey here by divine guidance. The story of Keith Jefferies, a current student, is typical. He first came to Hawaii as a visitor, not a member of the Church, saw the Mormon temple from a tour bus and heard from the driver that there was a Mormon University here and that even a non-Mormon could go to if he just obeyed the rules. Keith remembers the temple, "Blazed [white] as if the heavens themselves opened to pour down light upon it."

Keith returned to tell his parents about a Mormon University by a glorious temple. Back in Canada, the family was anxious to find out about the Church. They discovered from the phonebook that there was a branch of the Church in their town. The whole family decided to attend Sunday services for Keith's sake, so they could find out what the rules are to attend BYU-Hawaii. There were young missionaries present anxious to tell them. The whole family received the missionaries and their message and joined the Church after one month of investigation.

One year later the family was sealed in the temple and Keith left on a mission to Peru. There he was instrumental in bringing many families into the Church. In Keith's words, "The wonderful way our family came into the Church diverted my attention temporarily from my plans to attend BYU-Hawaii. At the close of my mission I was finally able to pursue my educational vision at this school." Keith is now married himself in the temple, his younger brother is serving a mission, and the family is fully active. Keith plans to graduate this December.

Many of our present students are children and grandchildren of students who were here in the 50's and 60's. Their faithfulness in the Kingdom reflects the heritage of righteousness created here at BYU-Hawaii. That faithfulness is part of a personal as well as a collective legacy of BYU-Hawaii.

For example, an especially dramatic moment occurred in the mid-70's when Semisi Ha'unga, a student, died as a result of a neck injury in a pick up rugby game in the front field. His death left his wife `Ahoika and four little girls alone in a foreign country. The sadness was almost too much to bear, but `Ahoika remained faithful and optimistic. Eventually she had to return to Tonga with her children, receiving a small salary from a Church school where she worked. A widow and single parent with several children, `Ahoika eked out a living.

Mele Ha'unga, the youngest daughter recently graduated from BYU-Hawaii. I heard her speak about her mother's amazing faith, hard work, and full-souled devotion to the Church, especially in keeping the law of tithing. Mele said, "I remember one day in Tonga, Mom called a family council and told us children that we had just enough money from that particular paycheck to pay our tithing and the monthly bills, but there was no money for food. I remember complaining to Mom, "Why can't we use the tithing money for food? Heavenly Father has plenty of money. Your tithing is so small compared to what He has. Does God want us to starve to pay tithing money He doesn't need?"

"But Mom was adamant. `It's His money, He may not need it, but we need to pay it back. It is our need, not God's, to pay tithing."

Mele spoke of the prayers of her widow mother and the anxiety of the children, when suddenly a man appeared at their home. It was their father's brother, not a member of the Church. He was laden with foodstuffs from his garden pot, yams, sweet potato, green banana, and a roasted pig. Their was corn beef, bread. The sight of all this food made a deep impression, but it was their uncle's story that moved them the most. He said,

"I was working in my plantation today. At noon I lay down to rest under a tree. I slept and I saw your father walking toward me. When I saw him I knew instantly why he had come to me. You were hungry and without food."

Thus, the widow's faith was vindicated in front all of her children. `Ahoika, still a widow, represents the millions of devoted latter-day saints over the world whose faith and trust in paying their tithing makes this school possible. As faculty, students, and alumni it lifts our stewardship, collectively and individually, to a higher level of consecration and promise before God that we are worthy, committed; that you and I are accountable before God, the Church, and all widows.

Much of our public reputation as a university comes in and through the high visibility of our athletic teams. But for me the win-loss records, the national championships, the tremendous thrills of watching championship play are not as valued as the spiritual dimensions within athletic programs. I recorded this journal entry on December 7, 1996:

I joined the volleyball team at the national tournament Wednesday afternoon just in time to see their second match in pool play. They beat Hastings and Point-Loma in three sets. On Thursday, against Peru State, I saw something I had never experienced as a participant or as a spectator. Our girls crushed Peru State 15-1, 15-5 in the first two sets. Then, as if some powerful bewitchment came over them, they let down everything and they became as sheep at the slaughter. They lost miserably the next three sets and the match, the only loss of the season, breaking a string of 52 consecutive victories. I was traumatized, stunned and I could feel the humiliation of the girls who came to the tournament with such confidence and fanfare. The news of our defeat created shockwaves of disbelief back in Hawaii. BYU-Hawaii was beatable. The ladies collapsed. Fortunately, the defeat happened in pool play which was still double elimination. We would have another chance. The girls, to their credit rebounded from the defeat and won the rest of their matches and the national championship in straight sets. It was a thrilling comeback. Yet I was touched most by the sweetness of the sisterhood of the team. Coach Navalta told me he gives priesthood blessings periodically to players, including non-LDS players. It was a thrill to be in the devotional/testimony meeting after the final victory. Each person in the room expressed thanks and bore testimony. We knelt in prayer holding hands. A moment never to be forgotten.

I have spoken several times of the sacred moment in which eight worthy elders of the Church who played on our basketball team in 1992. This was one of the greatest teams in our history that went to the Final four in the National Tournament. But I will remember them as faithful, worthy elders of the Church. One of their team members, Barry Hardy, an African American and not a member of the Church, who had world class jumping ability that later took him into the professional ranks, was injured in a game. Some thought it was a season ending injury, perhaps a career ending injury. I was present with Coach Wagner and others and watched as eight worthy priesthood holders, fellow basketball players put their hands on Barry Hardy's head and blessed him that he would play again with them. It was an electrifying moment. There was almost instant improvement to the injury. Two weeks later Barry was back in his top form. Nothing is more indelible in my memory than the circle of worthy priesthood holders in love and harmony blessing a fallen companion of another race and another religion.

The university is equally well served by wonderful performing groups that are also sustained by a powerful spiritual force. And this largely because of the quality of leadership in our music program. I recorded the following on December 12, 1981.

Last night the community enjoyed a powerful experience in music. The Honolulu Symphony performed in the Cannon Activity Center with the BYU-Hawaii Concert Choir and the La`ie Choral Union directed by Dr. James Smith. Carolyn and our two daughters Merrilli and Angela sang with a 125 voice choir which had practiced for several months pieces from the Messiah and Hodie. According to Carolyn, the practices were discouraging, even ragged. It was embarrassing that the choir stumbled so badly even in the main practice with the main orchestra on Friday.

But our prayers and the great need of the people brought about a miracle of beauty seldom experienced. . . The choir sang brilliantly, one hundred times better than ever before in practice. I was stunned.

Afterwards Carolyn mentioned to me several times that as they sang she heard strong beautiful voices, not the choir's, blending in, strengthening and magnifying. She saw no angels but she heard them. She could even pinpoint in the choir where they were standing. Certainly the impact was heavenly, for the choir was resonant, in tune, responsive to the orchestra. They were magnificent as was our wonderful Dr. Smith. Dr. Preston Larson of our Music faculty came up to me afterward bubbling, almost jumping up and down with enthusiasm. The angelic support was manifest abundantly in an eighteen voice choir which sang in the Celestial Room of the remodeled Hawaii Temple in 1978. The rich beauty of that choir is unforgettable. When Dr. Smith retires at the end of this year, we hope that he does not take his angels with him.

Well brothers and sisters these have been only a few golden instances and people who make up the rich and vast tapestry of this unique and miraculous institution, with its twin sister the Polynesian Cultural Center. I have heard President Orgill speak about the Polynesian Cultural Center being a place of miracles, almost daily miracles. I believe it is true of both institutions. I define a miracle as any instance or happening in which there has been some intervention, some involvement, some outpouring of the spirit of God manifested in sincere love, kindness, mercy, love and joy.

What is your miracle? I would invite each of you to write your own "Jubilee"? journal. Fill it with remembrances of gratitude for the blessings and for the miracles of those special moments and those special people who have given solace and or strength to you. I bear testimony, etc.