BYU-Hawaii has had a lot of missionary influence on non-member athletes from all around the world, according to Sports Information Director Spencer Shamo. He estimated 11 athletes playing for BYU-Hawaii have been baptized into the LDS Church from 2010 through 2016.
Current BYUH athletes and alumni, who joined the LDS Church during their time in Laie, said their coaches and team members led to their conversion. Shamo said non-member athletes are also influenced by the LDS culture and exposed to the church, which leads them to ask questions. He added, “It is sad to see [the Athletics Department] go. Sad to see that influence stop.”
Shamo recalled an experience with the men’s basketball team when they played in South Korea in 2014. For the entire week they were there, the team played several professional teams and was featured on national news. Shamo said the team was interviewed and able to discuss what BYUH represents.
Coach Ken Wagner, the previous athletics director and basketball coach, said he estimates the basketball team had averaged one baptism per year. “Not only have the coaches seen the blessing of baptizing non-members, but also they have seen the blessing of strengthening the testimonies of a lot of young men,” he added.
Lucas Alves, a 2010 graduate from Brazil, was quoted in the book “BYU-Hawaii Prophetic Desitny” by Alf Pratte and former BYUH President Eric B. Shumway. Alves said, “Through basketball, I was able to receive an education, become a member of the church…and get married in the temple. My experience at BYU-Hawaii was the start to my eternal progression back to my Heavenly Father.”
Alves added, “Knowing very little English and being far from home, my adjustment to BYU-Hawaii was relatively easy thanks to the aloha spirit on campus and the generosity of many people.”
Alves said he had felt alone after tearing his ACL and prayed to ask if the church was true. He says he received his answer and was baptized on Nov. 21, 2009.
In 2012, Shamo said Jia Yuan, a Chinese student on the tennis team, was baptized. A year later, her mother was also baptized.
Brad Jones, director of the Athletics Department, said, “I grew up seeing the influence that college athletics had over non-members and even members.
“People cannot believe that we are closing down because of the success we have had here. Schools would kill to have the type of success we had here with national championships.”
Sinamona Tonga, a junior from Hawaii majoring in TESOL and a previous team captain of the volleyball team, said, “A lot of athletes who come here are non-members and feel a difference here. This campus holds the spirit. A lot of my teammates ended up becoming members because of the standards we hold here and the examples we set for them.”
BYUH 2014 graduate Hsu Erh “Ariel” Fang, a volleyball player from Taiwan, was baptized while playing at BYUH and has been married in the temple. She recounted, “I knew when I came here [as a non-member] that this was a church school, but I didn’t really think about it.” Two weeks after Hsu arrived to BYUH, she said she came into contact with the missionaries.
On top of feeling peaceful while meeting with the missionaries, Hsu said she could feel love and peace from her teammates when they shared their own personal beliefs. She also noticed how her teammates would pray before and after every practice.
Hsu said she is grateful for the Athletic Department for recruiting non-members and for the opportunity to be able to learn about the LDS Church.
Dalton Stanger, a junior from Utah majoring in psychology and team captain of the BYUH golf team, said, “A kid on our team who was not a member of the church got baptized last year and is going on a mission after this year.”
Shamo and Jones both said there are a few potential baptisms for this year as well. Shamo said for the last six months, about six different athletes were taking missionary lessons.
Chen “Michelle” Ying Chun, another volleyball player and BYUH graduate from Taiwan, shared about how both of her coaches applied gospel principles within the team and influenced her as a non-member. She said her coaches’ efforts helped her understand the principle of family coming first, and brought her to the realization that there is more to life than volleyball.
Chen said, “I think this program brings a lot of opportunities for those who are international students. I feel that this program not only brings non-members, but [brings] more of an understanding to those who don’t know about Mormons.”