Monday, August 8, 2016

Humility and Obedience in Tonga

It was my turn to share the spiritual thought in Monday morning devotional today. I decided to share an experience we had in Tonga this past February.  It was an example of a lesson I never want to forget.

We met with  Stake President  Ian Tu'ihalangingie  in the Nuku'alofa North stake to discuss with him the family history work that was going on there. 

 We shared with him the Priesthood Key Indicator (PKI) report that shows how many members are submitting family names for temple ordinances and the percent of four generation family names there are in FamilySearch for the members for each ward throughout the Stake.   Unfortunately, at the time of our meeting, the numbers were not good.

When President 
Tu'ihalangingie saw the extremely low percent of members from his stake who were engaging in family history work he could have responded in many different ways.   Some might have made excuses or gotten defensive.  Some might have tried to place blame on others.  But not this good man of faith.   We could see by the look on his face that he was saddened to learn the specifics of how little work was being done.  But then, as we watched him, that sadness in his face turned to a look of resolve.  He looked straight at us and said "Elder and Sister Bennett, I take responsibility for this.  I can see that in our stake we have not done our part.  We have not made this a priority.  We will change.  We will do what we are asked to do."

Then, when our personal meeting was over, the second meeting included the full Stake Council.   Larry and I gave a presentation that we had prepared and then turned it over to President 
Tu'ihalangingie  for closing remarks.   This good man bore powerful testimony about the importance of family history work and began to teach his stake leaders about the Kumi, Ave, Akoi principles (Find, Take Teach) that we had shared with him earlier.

He shared with the group that their stake currently had only 1 percent submitting family names.  He did this with so much love and concern,  not by way of reprimand, but with a deep sense of urgency, counseling them they must hasten the work. He shared the quote by President Monson about the importance of return and report to accelerate improvement. He instructed them further, saying that as a stake they would hold themselves and each other accountable by carefully reviewing the reports each month to ensure that the necessary steps were in place to fully engage the stake in family history work.

I have thought about this experience a great deal since then.   I've reflected on my own patterns of how I react if given feedback about my performance in any area that suggests I'm falling short.  Am I willing to humbly accept responsibility and then resolve to make the needed changes or do I spend time trying to excuse myself with reasons why I had missed the mark I was expected to attain?

In a May 2002 General Conference address,  Elder Robert E. Steuer of the Seventy taught that  
"By being teachable, we activate the full force and blessings of the Atonement in our lives".  He said:  "True disciples of the Master are teachable. In just a few words, Abraham gives us much insight into why he was so greatly blessed. He lived a life “desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God.” 1 “Desiring to receive instructions” is more than a willingness to listen. When our desire to receive instruction is a greater force than our comfort in remaining as we are, we become teachable.

I saw in President  Tu'ihalangingie a wonderful example of a man who was teachable.  He also was willing to follow through on whatever the Lord wanted him to do to change, without complaint.

I was reminded of the Book of Mormon Scripture that is so often quoted (Nephi 3:7) which says  "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know the Lord giveth no commandment unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commanded them". That is a powerful and important scripture, but too often we overlook the one that comes immediately BEFORE.  Lehi tells his son, Nephi:
"Therefore go, my son, and thou shalt be favored of the Lord, because thou hast not murmured."

Too often I have done what I need to do, but only AFTER I did some murmuring.  Even when I didn't outwardly voice excuses, the script in my head has all too often included defensive justifications when I have needed correction.

The final piece to that story is this:  Just this week we had one of the members of the church statistical department come to our office asking for some clarification.  He was preparing a report to church leaders for an upcoming coordinating council meeting.  He could not understand the numbers he was seeing for how many members were submitting family names for temple work in Tonga.  All through 2014 and 2015 the numbers had been fairly consistent, never rising above 2%. Then, right about February and March there had been an abrupt change.  The percentage of people submitting names for temple ordinances had doubled, then tripled, and was now almost four times what it had been.  It did not seem possible that there would be such a sudden, sustained spike in the numbers. He ran the analysis formulas again and again, sure there must be some mistake.  No matter how many times he re-examined the percentages, he kept getting the same result. He asked us if we could explain why that might happen.

YES, we most certainly could.  When Priesthood leaders humbly accept what is asked of them and then exercise their keys in faith, their members will follow.  I hope I always remember the faith and dedication of these good people and that I may follow their example - not just in Family History efforts, but in whatever the Lord may ask me to do.

I have been humbled and instructed by my experience with President Tu'ihalangingie.  I want to be more like this.  When I am given feedback about a way that I need to change, to grow, to learn, to repent - I want to be able to take responsibility and move forward with faith WITHOUT murmuring.

Stake Leaders in Nuku'alfo North Stake

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