Elder Ralph McAffee, a Church Educational System missionary and religion teacher at BYU–Hawaii, has devoted his whole life to teaching religion for the Church. He will finish his mission teaching the students of BYUH at the end of this semester.
Born in Idaho falls, McAffee’s family moved to Mesa, Washington when he was in the third grade. McAffee grew up in a farm there. He recalled, “I learned to milk cows, change water of irrigation, and all kinds of farm work. We usually got up before 6 a.m. In the summer, we would work till 11 p.m.”
After finishing high school, McAffee attended Ricks College, now known as BYU–Idaho. He studied general education there but mainly took music classes. McAffee said after serving a mission in the Central States Mission, he continued his studies at BYU–Provo.
McAffee received a bachelor’s degree in economics from BYU–Provo in 1972. However, he was offered a job as a seminary teacher. He recalled, “The inservice director of seminary of BYU asked me, ‘You could be a great seminary teacher, why don’t you take my introduction to seminary class?’
“I took his class and had the chance to student teach. After that, he said ‘Oh, you’re single, but don’t worry, we’ll offer you a job.’”
McAffee said after that he began teaching seminary classes at Brighton High School in 1973.
“They said it was one-year job, but then two years, three years.” McAffee explained that was a release-time program and teachers were paid to teach seminary all day long. At Brighton High School, a student in McAffee’s class introduced McAffee to her older sister, who became McAffee’s wife in 1975.
During his teaching at Brighton High School, McAffee attended graduate school at BYU and received a master’s degree in agricultural economics in 1978.
After teaching at Brighton High School, in 1982 McAffee taught at University of Utah. In 1986, McAffee became the director of Cerritos LDS Institute of Religion in California. During his stay in California, he attended law school in Pacific Coast University in Long Beach.
In 1996, McAffee left California and became an instructor at Southern Utah University, where he not only taught religion class, but also directed the institute choir and the Hope Choir. He recalled, “[The Hope Choir] had 100 concerts a year. We traveled to Utah, Nevada, and California.”
The choir once performed in the National Training Center, a marine base in California, before the soldiers set off to the battlefield of Iraq, McAffee recalled.
He retired in 2010 and served as a temple worker in the St. George temple until 2017, then McAffee and his wife applied for a mission, he said.
Connection with Hawaii
McAffee said he and his wife actually came to Hawaii for their honeymoon and they stayed for the whole summer in 1975. He recalled, “It was still the Church College of Hawaii [at that time]. My wife took some Hawaiian culture classes and I took a graduate education class from a visiting professor from University of Utah. We loved it.
“When I received the [mission call,] they asked me whether I’d be interested in teaching in the religion department here at BYUH, I said, ‘You betcha,’” continued McAffee. Therefore, he came to BYUH as a CES missionary.
Feelings as a religion teacher
Having taught religion class for almost his entire life, McAffee said he still enjoys it because event though the lesson plans are the same, every student has different backgrounds and stories so he has different focus points in every class.
“There are different needs in every class. A teacher sensitive to the spirit can feel that so he changes the direction to the needs of the students,” McAffee shared.
McAffee encouraged students at BYUH to be engaged in the study of Jesus Christ’s gospel. “Religion class in a sense is like scuba-diving,” he said, “If you just go on the surface, you will just see what others see. If you dive down deep, you’ll find great treasure. As we dig wider and deeper, we’re edified.”
Others’ words to him
Having taken four classes from McAffee, Sarah Knight, a junior from California majoring in vocal performance, said McAffee cares for his students and makes them feel they’re important. “He asks how you are and he remembers events going on in your life. He’s enthusiastic about his students.”
Sister McAffee, McAffee’s wife, said McAffee’s kindness for everyone is the biggest good she sees in him. “He always looks for the good in everyone and everything. He’s never mean, never cross. He’s always happy.”
It’s also because of McAffee’s love for his students, although he has two degrees in economics and attended law school, he still kept teaching religion class, she added. “He could’ve become a lawyer or gone into banking. He just loves his students and teaching so much, and the students can tell he loves them.”
Gavin Werner, a freshman from Florida with undeclared major, said he enjoys how McAffee teaches class as a storyteller who relates his life experience to gospel principles. “[The stories] helped me relate to what he was teaching in class. He reminds me of President Monson.”
Werner gave an example of how McAffee teaches with his personal stories. “He once shared a story that he sneaked in to eat the chocolate chips and failed and made a mess. He thought his mum would be mad at him but she came and just helped him clean up. He related that to the Savior. That stuck in my head.”
Advice to BYUH students
There are students from all over the world at BYUH, McAffee said, but the diversity is exactly what makes this place strong and strengthens the people here. He explained how international students are humble and capable of handling hardships.
“Mainland kids are great too, but [international students] may struggle more. Being the only member in the family, they struggle to serve a mission and then to come here. They show great respect and appreciation to what they have.
“But academically, they’re just as sharp as students in UCLA, USC, and Southern Utah University. They also need to deal with a second language,” continued McAffee.
When asked about what he will do after his finishes this mission, McAfee said he will take care of his mother in St. George, Utah in the winter. He will take her back to Washington next spring and stay in the farm during the summer. The year after that, if there is no special situation, he wishes apply for another mission with his wife.