Under the golden lights of a clear-topped tent nestled between the David O. McKay Foyer and the Flag Circle, students and donors came together on Nov. 6 with LDS Philanthropies and the BYU–Hawaii President’s Council for an evening of conversation about the blessings of the temple and BYUH.
IWORK students in attendance promised to make good use of their support and to pay it forward by being great leaders and disciples of Christ. IWORK students sat with donors and, with a nudge from BYUH President John Tanner, discussed significant experiences they have had with the temple.
As the last rays of daylight faded from the sky, President Tanner called everyone’s attention to the speakers of the evening, who were all personally acquainted with the temple, whether as temple workers or, in the case of James Hallstrom, as the president of the Laie Hawaii Temple.
Prior to the speakers, Momoe Sakurai, a senior from Japan studying percussion, performed a piece on the steel pan called “Paradise Garden” arranged by Tracy Thornton, which, according to President Tanner, she said she chose because it represents living in paradise.
Addressing the spirit of paradise felt in Laie and in all of Polynesia, Hallstrom explained, “President Hinckley announced when he was alive, ‘The spirit of aloha is the spirit of Christ.’ In the temple, as we greet people, we say, ‘Aloha, welcome to the temple,’ so they can feel the great love that exists from their Savior and here in Polynesia as we greet each other without judgment and in a very warm and loving way.”
Of the students, Hallstrom said, “May I acknowledge we are sitting among giants. We greatly appreciate your contribution ... The giants I speak of are the students who are being transformed by their own choice and effort, much as we heard the music here this evening. It is wonderful to work in the temple with students. In our temple, over 20 percent of the ordinance workers in the Laie Hawaii Temple are students. They're wonderful.”
Addressing the donors, Sieg Coronel, a senior from the Philippines majoring in business management, shared his story of gratitude and his promise, “Our promise to you is to not let you down. We may not have the capacity to pay you back, but we will pay it forward by being loyal disciples of Jesus Christ, leaders among men around the world, and an instrument for change for the better in the lives of those people whom we serve.”
When Coronel first began his remarks, he said although the Philippines today is growing quickly within the Church, it wasn’t always that way. “The Church’s landscape in the Philippines is hopeful,” he explained, “and the economy is projected to remain strong and grow.
“If you had asked me eight years ago whether we would have five additional temples in that time span and a booming economy in the Philippines, I probably would have answered doubtfully. Growing up in a third world country, where most families lived on a $4 budget every day, reality hits you hard and fast at a young age.”
His reality check, he explained, came when he was grocery shopping with his mother when he was 14 years old. “I came across a quote that would forever change my outlook and attitude in life. As the cashier in the counter was bagging our groceries, I read the words printed on the plastic bag. ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world,’ by Mahatma Gandhi.
“As I read those words, I can remember being enveloped with the warmest of feelings. Somehow, that purpose was brought into my life. Since then I have sought opportunities that will allow me to be an instrument of change for the better in the world.”
Ever since that time, Coronel said the Lord has continually been present in his life, lending a much-needed hand of assistance. One of these instances was being accepted to BYUH and the IWORK program. Coronel described how, “Since being accepted here, many miracles came into our lives one after another. Before I boarded the plane to come here in the fall of 2015, I bid goodbye to my loving parents. I told them they would not have to worry about my schooling expenses anymore.
“Fast forward four years to fall of 2019 and I have a degree and fulfilled the promise to my parents, who I will see after three long years at this coming December’s commencement exercises. This would not have been possible without your generosity and kind hearts.
“Hundreds of students like me, with probably the same background, are recipients of the blessings you receive and which you choose to share to make a difference in someone’s life and to help them achieve their full potential.”
Another of these blessings and the one Coronel said is his greatest calling, is the opportunity he has had to serve in the temple. “If there is one thing temple service has taught me, it is we have to make time for the Lord and to seek His kingdom before all else. It has brought me closer to my Heavenly Father and has made me a better man. Oh, and my grades went way up.
“There are times I feel I don’t deserve to be here, but I know there is a purpose for each one of us, student, faculty, donors, leaders, bishops, there is a purpose why we are called to this sacred land of Laie, a place of refuge, a place of Zion. I’ve always loved what President Oaks said when he came here and invited a couple of students to President Tanner’s house. He said, ‘In BYUH, you are learning how to live in Zion.’”
After the sky had gone dark, President Tanner drew the attention of the audience members to the brightly lit temple, which could be seen from the Flag Circle. “You can see it lit up at night, even from where you are sitting right now. I hope you appreciate that. To see this temple at night is a special experience. It shines in the dark, as it does in the dark world. We are so grateful for that.”
President Tanner then called the audience members to look at the flags, which they could see through the clear top of the tent. The flags, Tanner noted, represent the diversity of the school, and the Flag Circle represents unity. The unity found in diversity, according to Tanner, is based on Jesus Christ.
He further explained, “For me, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s Christ who is our center. No country is further or closer to the Savior than any other country. All of our prayers reach Heaven. He understands all of our cultures. He wants us to come with all the beauty of our cultures, the flag, the colors, to the center point to Him.”