Jolene Kanahele uses her testimony, music, and humor to touch the hearts of audience members at BYU–Hawaii devotional

Written by: 
Emi Wainwright


At the weekly BYU–Hawaii devotional in the Cannon Activities Center on Feb. 5, Jolene Kanahele spoke on what she called the three basic elements that to her are necessities for life: “Service, Humility, Harmony.” Through both song and testimony Kanahele, the Administrative Assistant of the Education and Social Work Department, invited audience members to reflect on the love their Heavenly Father has for them. She also encouraged the audience to remember they are children of God as they strive to develop these attributes.

She said, “Our goal this very moment is to become one, even if it’s just for a few minutes. It’s important for each of us to know that our Heavenly Father loves us.”

To those in the audience who might be struggling Kanahele said, “May you find peace in Christ. May you receive answers to your prayers through the musical messages you will be singing and listening to. Allow Him to speak to your heart and calm you. Be still and know that God is working behind the scenes this very moment, tending to your spiritual, emotional, and temporal needs…

“He sees our path far better and clearer than we do. You cannot go wrong by putting your full trust in He who created you. It is my prayer that the words that are sung today will help us to all improve ourselves, to be kind to others, to love, to forgive, and most important, to strengthen our relationship with our Heavenly Father and His Only Begotten Son, even our elder Brother, Jesus Christ.”

“I make fun of people who ugly cry,” was the first thing Kanahele said as she took the pulpit, making the audience laugh. Kanahele had been moved to tears by her sister, Tina Ishibashi, and their nephew Braden Sika’s tender introduction for her. “I’ve always dreamed of speaking in devotional... said no one ever!”

Ishibashi related the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25, and she said it fit her sister because of her love for music, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and her willingness to share her talents and testimony with others.

Ishibashi said, “Her greatest joy is to provide music to those who need healing, who need comfort… many of her acts of love and kindness go unseen… in our family she is the glue that keeps all of us together…

“She always makes sure that everyone is taken care of. She creates harmony, whether musically or personally, as a friend, as a sister, as an employee, as a daughter. I am so grateful for this wonderful sister of mine who displays these Christlike attributes on a daily basis.”

Ishibashi continued, “I know that our Heavenly Father will one day say, as he greets her again, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.’”

Sika said it was an honor to introduce his aunt, which he called the “Superbowl of Hawaii.” He said, “Auntie Jo has a special relationship with each and everyone one of us.” He said after his mother passed away, she was there to care for them as a mother figure. “Auntie Jo is a Laie girl… with a Laie heart.”

As she began her talk, Kanahele expressed her love for her family and said it is the example of her late parents that inspires her to provide service to those around her.


Kanahele recited Mosiah 2:17, “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.”

She shared her experience as a youth watching her mother take displaced BYUH students under her wings and her father provide food for those in need. “It was second nature for our parents to do random acts of kindness. My siblings and I have witnessed our parents serving and touching the lives of so many… I will be forever grateful for the great legacy they left for my brothers and sisters and I to cherish and pattern our lives after.

“Albert Schweitzer once told a graduating class... ‘I don’t know where you are going or what you will do, but let me tell you simply this– unless you set aside some portion of your lives to serve those less fortunate than yourselves you will really not be happy.’”

Kayli Whiting, a freshman from Utah with an undeclared major, said she liked how the message was centered on service. “The message I needed to receive was the importance of service and being humble enough to receive inspiration from the Lord in order to help other people.”


Kanahele shared a humbling experience she had years ago in Utah. She sat next to a homeless man whose countenance she said was all but appealing at a bus stop.

“A few seconds later I could smell a very disgusting odor. It smelled like dog poop.” She said she stared at the homeless man, who she assumed was the source of the smell. “I kept looking at him and he kept smiling. I then started to scoot in the opposite direction to avoid the smell… However, I noticed that moving away didn’t do the trick.”

Kanahele said she kept staring at him disgust as he continued to smile. “I was getting kind of irritated until I saw him looking down at the trail of dog poop on the concrete walkway… that led directly to me!”

She said she learned a valuable lesson in humility that day as she looked at the homeless man and apologized. “He again smiled, and nodded his head, in complete forgiveness.

“I believe that Heavenly Father places souls in our path to remind us that we are all in the same boat regardless of our color, our financial status, whether we have a shelter over our heads or not. We all need each other, especially when life stinks. I was so quick to judge that morning, but just as quickly I was forgiven by this humble soul.”


After speaking on humility, Kanahele said she felt compelled by Heavenly Father to share about harmony. “Okay, everyone repeat after me: ‘I is kind. I is smart. I is important.’ Now turn to your neighbor and give each other a high five!”

Laughter rumbled through the CAC as audience members echoed her words and high fived one another.

Kanahele said Feb. 10 will mark her 27th year as an employee of BYUH. “I’ve seen both good and not so good occurrences involving change. Nonetheless in time I’ve learned to embrace it.” She shared one of her pet peeves–waiting for slow pedestrians to use the crosswalk–and her desire to overcome her negative thoughts.

“One day I made a choice to be patient… On that morning I prayed to Heavenly Father and literally asked for more patience. Bad idea. I have never in my life encountered so many challenges in one day. I was tested to the hilt on the very virtue I had prayed for. I can only imagine Heavenly Father shaking his head saying ‘You asked for it, girl.’ Regardless of the challenges on this particular day, I decided that no matter what I was going to be nice.”

She said, “As I sat there watching and consciously making an effort to be empathetic and compassionate–believe me, it took every fiber of my being–I noticed my heart wasn’t racing and I felt calm...

“When we remove our expectations of how our brothers and sisters should be, everything changes. When we choose to sing the harmony and melody we choose to let God be the maestro of our symphony. We choose to make our opus his.”

Musical numbers

Several special musical numbers, written by Kanahele and other members of her family, were performed by Musical Truth, the choir which Kanahele directs. After speaking, she invited all those assembled in the CAC to join her Musical Truth ohana in singing an arrangement of “Teach Me to Walk in the Light” and “We’ll Bring the World His Truth.”

As everyone stood to sing with Musical Truth, one member of the choir stepped forward to recite a poem:

“Harmony is the only melody we should sing

When parts become one it gives a heavenly ring

Attitude for good or attitude for bad

We’ll sing a song happy or sing a song sad

We all love tunes that invigorates the soul

And when parts are sung well

Our soul’s on a roll

Practice makes perfect is a popular hit

It takes a lifetime to learn but persistence never quits

In God’s ensemble everyone's a star

And if you insist on flying solo you won't get very far

Harmony is oneness and requires some drilling

But once it is sung the melody is thrilling”

Sierra Taukinukufili, a sophomore from Utah majoring in Hawaiian studies, said she loved how interactive the devotional was. “I have a tendency to not pay attention… but she really included everybody and because of that I was able to focus more and really take in what she was saying. Another thing I really loved was the music. It was so beautiful and really touched my heart.”

Sara Nelson, a junior from Utah majoring in psychology, said she thought devotional was the bomb. “Sister Jolene Kanahele was so funny. I was fed the bread of life spiritually, and the bread of Hawaii’s hearth physically.”

Nelson said she was eating bread as she listened to the devotional, which contained messages of humility and trust she said she really needed to hear. “I need to improve so much. Sister Kanahele helped me to want to let go of some anger that has been holding me down. Her words lifted me up as I reflected on my life and as I laughed along with hers. I’m really grateful to know that Heavenly Father guided her to say the words I needed to hear.”

Nelson said because of devotional she knows she can live with more service, humility, and harmony. “Each song at the end was completely brilliant. The Spirit of God like a fire was burning.”

After the musical numbers, Kanahele once again stood at the pulpit for a few closing remarks. She said, “We are extremely fortunate in this day and time to have the gospel in its fullness, to have the guidance needed to succeed in all aspects. I hope that each of you will leave this devotional knowing that you’re somebody, knowing that you matter to your creator. May we all continue to strive to serve each other freely and willingly, be humble and submissive to the Spirit, be in harmony one with another despite our differences. And most important to live worthy of the blessings we so deserve.

“Now once again repeat after me: ‘I is kind. I is smart. I is important.’ And the most important phrase of all: ‘I am a Child of God.’” 


Date Published: 
Monday, February 11, 2019
Last Edited: 
Monday, February 11, 2019