God Sends a Baby

Johnson Commencement

Commencement Address given at 
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

December 17, 2011 
Paul V. Johnson
Commissioner, Church Education System

It is wonderful to be able to celebrate this great day with you. Congratulations to you graduates, to your families, and to all of you at the University that have made this day possible.

Last week flags flew at half mast, and media outlets ran stories commemorating the attack on this island at Pearl Harbor 70 years ago. As I read and watched some of these stories detail the historical significance of this one event that propelled the United States into World War II and which cost so many lives, I remembered a quote I heard a number of years ago from F.W. Boreham. He was speaking of the events during the Napoleonic wars in the early part of the 19th century:

. . . men were following, with bated breath, the march of Napoleon, and waiting with feverish impatience for the latest news of the wars. And all the while, in their own homes, babies were being born. But who could think about babies? Everybody was thinking about battles. . . .

. . . in one year. . . between Trafalgar and Waterloo, there stole into the world a host of heroes! . . . in 1809. . . Gladstone was born at Liverpool; Alfred Tennyson was born at the Somersby rectory . . . Oliver Wendell Holmes made his first appearance at Massachusetts . . . and Abraham Lincoln drew his first breath at Old Kentucky. Music was enriched by the advent of Frederic Chopin at Warsaw, and of Felix Mendelssohn at Hamburg. . . Elizabeth Barrett Browning [was born] at Durham. . . . But nobody thought of babies. Everybody was thinking of battles. Yet. . . which of the battles of 1809 mattered more than the babies of 1809? . . .

We fancy that God can only manage His world by big battalions . . . when all the while He is doing it by beautiful babies. . . . When a wrong wants righting, or a work wants doing, or a truth wants preaching, or a continent wants opening, God sends a baby into the world to do it. That is why, long, long ago, a babe was born at Bethlehem. (F. W. Boreham, Mountains in the Mist: Some Australian Reveries [1919], 166-67, 170)

As was the case with the Napoleonic wars, during the years of World War II the news and the eyes of the world were on the battles and not focused on the babies. Yet in 1940, the year many of the western European countries fell and the air over England rained destruction during the Battle of Britain, babies were being born. Three of the babies born that year, you are familiar with. They are, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Quentin L. Cook, and one who is the commencement speaker today, Jeffrey R. Holland. The eyes of the world were not on these babies in 1940--they were following world events--but the Lord's eyes were on them because He knew they would be called upon to help change the world. Elder Holland came into the world at a very dark time in history,a time many thought would be the end of civilization as we know it; but the Lord has used him to help spread the everlasting light of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. Each of us has been blessed by his ministry.

Twenty-some-odd years ago momentous events were happening in the world. There was a nuclear reactor disaster in Chernobyl, a student uprising in Tiananmen square, the fall of the Berlin wall and eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union. But at that time babies were also being born. Today some of the babies of the 1980's are graduating from BYU-Hawaii. What wrongs are you here to right? What discoveries are you to make? What lives will you touch?

Some of your names will be well known. Others will not have public prominence, but can impact the world nonetheless. I love the account in the Book of Mormon of a time when the Nephite civilization hung in the balance. The society was in a very precarious position, with the defending armies struggling to hold off the attacks. Reinforcements and provisions were in very short supply as a result of internal strife in the nation. The civilization was saved from destruction because of a relatively small number of individuals who were in place at just the right time to change the course of history. Even though the tide of the war was turned because of these people, we don't know the name of even one of these individuals. We just know them as the mothers of the stripling warriors. In each of their homes they had consistently taught their children faith, obedience and the gospel of Jesus Christ. This had prepared their young sons so they could serve. These Lamanite mothers saved the entire Nephite nation.

You have faith, a knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and now an excellent education. The Lord will be able to use you to help accomplish His work on the earth. May you move forward now and make a difference in the world by living the type of life the Lord would have you live. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.