Gerrit W. Gong

Gerrit W. Gong

26 Feb. 2019

11:15 a.m. - Noon

Assembly Hall

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Dear brothers and sisters, it is a great privilege to be with Elder Kim B. Clark, Brother Kelly Haws, President Bruce C. Kusch, and each of you in this Church Educational System devotional at the LDS Business College. I am always happy when I can be together with Sister Gong.

    About a year ago—January 25, 2018, to be exact—I was grateful to come to the campus for three special experiences.

First, President Kusch and members of the LDSBC Administration and Executive Council generously shared with me the mission, capacities, and plans. Subject matter immersion and deep learning help us (1) learn by study and also by faith, (2) become capable and successful, and (3) unlock divine potential as disciples of Jesus Christ. Thank you!

Second, I met a cross section of delightful LDSBC students—with surnames from A (Ronda Lee Acosta from San Marcos, California, majoring in paralegal) to R (Katherin Rincon from Venezuela).

As I understand it, about 60 percent of LDSBC students come from all 50 of the United States and about 40 percent of LDSBC students come from more than 60 other countries.

Nearly 45 percent of you are returned missionaries. Many of you are the first in your family to attend college. Thank you for who you are and who you are becoming!

    Third, I met dedicated LDSBC faculty from A (D. Nelson Altamirano: program chair in social media marketing, at the time a stake high councilor) to W (Jennifer E. Warnas a business faculty member, at the time Young Women president).

Thank you to dedicated LDSBC faculty members for who you are and how you help each student discover, grow, and become.

    Did you know that across the world there are only four locations in which there are in close proximity a house of the Lord, an institution of higher education sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a supportive learning community? Among these four special places is the LDS Business College—in close proximity to the Salt Lake Temple and the Church campus.

What a blessing for LDS Business College to be guided by the Church Board of Education, chaired by President Russell M. Nelson with President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring, as vice chairmen, and with other General Authorities and General Officers serving as board members.

Across the world, I love meeting individuals from every background and circumstance. When we visit—one on one, one by one—I always discover something extraordinary about each person.  

The scriptural phrase “that all may be edified of all” describes the principle that, as we listen and speak to each other, we can learn and teach each other. “He [or she] that preacheth and he [or she] that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.”  This pattern of understand, be edified, and rejoice together applies in a school class, a Sunday school class, on a date, and with everyone we meet.  

Let me share an example. Some years ago at a stake conference I asked a sister I met to tell me something about herself. She said “there was nothing special about me.”. I asked her again, and she said she was a nurse, always working, usually late at night, often with limited pay. I said it must be important to be a nurse, to help people as she did.

As we talked further, she finally said, “We once had an older man in the hospital. He was nearing the end of his life. Sometimes he was uncomfortable and when he couldn’t sleep, I rubbed lotion into his feet. His name was Gordon Hinckley.”

I said, “You rubbed lotion into the feet of Gordon B. Hinckley so he could sleep at night?” She said, “Yes, I did.” I said, “Would you please let me shake your hands again? As our Savior washed the feet of His disciples, you soothed the feet of the Lord’s prophet. And you thought there was nothing special about you?”

I felt I was holding the hands of a heroine.

Of course her act of service was no greater because she was soothing the feet of President Gordon B. Hinckley than if she were helping any another patient. As our Savior taught, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

I said “Sister that’s true, but I still felt like I was holding the hands of a heroine.”

As I said, if we had time to talk with you individually, I am confident we would find something amazing, extraordinary, remarkable about each of you. And that’s because you are who you are.

In that spirit, may I share a recent conversation with someone I consider a hero of Temple Square?

To me, this man is a hero not only because he weekly influences millions for good, but also because you would never know from him what a good influence he is. For someone now serving on the largest of stages, he comes from the smallest of towns. He remembers his roots and who he is. Can you guess who this might be?

This hero of Temple Square is Brother Mack Wilberg, music director of the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square. As music director, Brother Wilberg is responsible for all musical and creative aspects of the choir, the Orchestra at Temple Square, the Temple Square Chorale, and the Bells on Temple Square. This includes selecting concert repertoire, recordings and tours, and creative direction for the weekly Music and the Spoken Word broadcast.

In preparation for today’s devotional, I asked Brother Wilberg if we could visit together and then share his story and insights with you. We met at my Church Administration Building office on Thursday, January 10, 2018. Our conversation was very open, candid, fun, insightful, spiritual—all things that Brother Mack Wilberg is.

Here are eight things I learned from Brother Mack Wilberg about discovering, growing, and becoming.

First, success and the opportunity to lift others do not depend on where you were born or where you come from.

Brother Mack Wilberg is from a small town: Castle Dale, in central-eastern Utah. When he was growing up, the town population fluctuated between 500 and 600 people. His birth certificate lists Price, Utah, as his birthplace because Price, 30 miles from Castle Dale, was the large town where there was a hospital. The 300 students in Brother Wilberg’s high school came from almost the entire county. So, first point, it does not matter where you were born or what your circumstances were. Goodness, talent, and the ability to contribute can and do come from everywhere.

Second, challenges and obstacles in life are real, but can be met with the help, love, and support of others.

When Mack Wilberg was nine years old, his father died. His mother worked as a public school teacher. His widowed mother strove to raise and support her family.

She loved her son and sacrificed to help him develop. “My mother worked five days a week in the schoolroom,” Brother Wilberg recalls, “but she sacrificed her Saturdays to drive me to piano lessons.”

Each of us has in our lives those who believe in us, trust and support us, sacrifice and help us. They may be a parent, family member, friend, Church leader, or member. We have much to be grateful for with these individuals. Please become such an individual to those around you. Please remember, thank, and be grateful for those who help.

Third, Brother Wilberg discovered an interest, a talent, passion, and ambition. At four years of age, he learned to play the piano by ear. He liked to stay indoors and play the piano so much that his mother finally encouraged him to be with friends. Obediently, he would leave his house and then ask if he could play the piano at his friends’ houses. I said, creative example gives new meaning to the expression “go out and play.”

His mother recognized her son’s musical ability, so on Saturdays she would take him to piano lessons with a gifted teacher, 30 miles away in Price.

This piano teacher was a trained musician. She also had a gift for nurturing talent in others. Often it is not only what we can do, but what we can see and help others do and become that constitutes a great gift.

Because of Brother Wilberg’s natural abilities, he could often play well without much practice. His teacher understood she was helping Brother Wilberg to develop his talents and life-long attitudes and habits, not simply helping him to perform. Thus, once when Brother Wilberg was young, his piano teacher surprisingly withdrew him from a piano competition, not because he couldn’t play well, but because he had not prepared sufficiently to perform the concerto he was supposed to play.

To this day, some 50 years after the event, Brother Wilberg remembers how disappointed his mother was that he had not prepared—and how he committed never to be unprepared again.

Some of finding and discovering passion, aptitude, capacity, ambition and drive comes from an open mind and exposure to inspiring things.

When Brother Wilberg was 10 or 11 years, his grandmother made the three-hour drive to Salt Lake so he could attend a Tabernacle Choir practice.

“I still remember that,” he says, all these years later. “Richard Condie was conducting. The piece they were practicing was ‘The Holy City.’ Brother Condie was teaching the choir how he would enunciate and pronounce the word Jerusalem. There was a harmony of mission and artistry.” Brother Wilberg still remembers “the glorious wall of sound produced by the choir.”

It was an inspiration that lasts to this day.

Not everyone finds a passion or interest so early or so clearly. Nor should you feel you cannot choose a major or a profession if you have not yet identified such a passion. Usually, we learn and discover our interests and aptitudes as we go, one step at a time.

Fourth, preparation creates opportunity. Put another way, preparation readies us for opportunity. Often opportunity comes when we are prepared and qualified, says Brother Wilberg for opportunity.

In the arts, talent, preparation, and development are all required.

Preparation includes education: the regular, sustained development of talent, usually with the oversight or assistance of those with skill and training and interest for those learning.

Clearly, education is a key to our long-term self-reliance. Here self-reliance includes our ability to trust the Lord and to develop the attitudes and abilities to sustain ourselves and our loved ones, and to help others around us.

Fifth, some achievements are possible only when and because many individuals work together—dare I say when we work in harmony?

Brother Wilberg knows from experience that even talented and gifted individuals—virtuosos as it were—cannot on their own achieve what a dedicated group of individuals working together can accomplish. Something remarkable happens when talent collaborates, when individual interests blend, when parts become a greater whole. So much of your curriculum is designed to help have those experiences and we are grateful for it.

When we connect by covenant, our ties of belonging to the Lord and to each other are especially strong and motivating. We become our greatest, best selves when we lose our narrow, self-centered selves.

Also, when individuals volunteer, something especially remarkable happens. Often those who sing in a choir do so on a voluntary basis. Such is rarely the case for members of an orchestra. Yet, Brother Wilberg notes the members of the Orchestra at Temple Square are accomplished musicians who consecrate their time and talents as volunteers. When professional talent serves on a voluntary basis, Brother Wilberg says, something very powerful can happen.

Sixth, inspiration is a spiritual quality. Inspiration comes with preparation, when a prepared mind is put in a state of awareness and openness to inspiration.

As the literature on inspiration indicates, flashes of insight usually come after preparation.

Preparation to receive inspiration comes with determined, disciplined, hard work, though inspiration can come in what may seem “menial or mundane circumstances.” Brother Mack Wilberg says musical inspiration has come to him at the “oddest times and places”—when he is mowing the lawn, sweeping the floor, driving the car, taking a shower.

Inspiration comes when we recognize that we stand on the shoulders of others. It also comes when we do not lean or depend on our own intellect.

Brother Wilberg says with a smile that he is constantly buying music scores and books, listening to CDs, studying master composers. “So much can be done,” he says, “when we recognize the inspiration of others and build on or from it.”

“In the arts,” Brother Wilberg says, “no one is entirely original. Everyone builds on the work of others before them.” The great composer Johann Sebastian Bach is an example. He came from generations of family members who were each accomplished musicians. At the age of 15, Bach walked 280 miles to hear the music of the then-most-famous musician Dietrich Buxtenude. This journey had a profound effect on the music of J.S. Bach. Even the greatest of musicians like Bach built from the models of those who came before them, says Brother Wilberg.

Seventh, we mentioned earlier the importance of interests and passions, but I would also indicate our interests may not, and need not, necessarily become our profession.

In some cases, as with Brother Mack Wilberg, passion and profession overlap. However, one of the first trumpets in the Orchestra at Temple Square is a dentist by profession and a fine trumpet player by avocation and service.

Love for something and aptitude can help us identify our life’s interests and profession. As President Gordon B. Hinckley knowingly said, it is important that we are good, and also that we are good for something. Education, experience, and diligent improvement are all part of discovering, growing, and becoming.

As noted, preparation and being prepared helps us recognize and take advantage of opportunity. When Brother Wilberg conducts workshops for students and others, he often begins by saying, “I salute you for being here, for being interested in expanding and developing your knowledge and skills.”

Eighth and final point, humility and gratitude bless. Today Brother Mack Wilberg conducts on famous stages in important venues with well-known artists, performing beloved pieces of music. He conducts, composes, arranges. His music is performed and loved all over the world.

For example, his musical arrangements have been performed at the funerals for three presidents of the United States: President Ronald Reagan; President Gerald Ford; and most recently, President George H.W. Bush.

At the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., the state funeral for President George H. W. Bush included Brother Wilberg’s arrangement of “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” You may remember the lyrics, it is also the hymn that we are going to sing at our closing.

O God, our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blast,

And our eternal home.

 

Within the shadow of thy throne,

Still may we dwell secure.

Sufficient is thine arm alone,

And our defense is sure.

For all his accomplishments, Brother Mack Wilberg has never lost or forgotten his small-town roots. He says, “Castle Dale will always be ‘home’ to me and I am proud of my heritage and background.” With a twinkle in his eye and a tenderness in his heart and voice, he also says, “I have a soft spot whenever someone comes to audition and they come from a small town.”

Brother Wilberg also believes in the principle of “giving back.” Once a week on Wednesday, he goes to the Utah State Prison to conduct the inmate chorus. “We work and rehearse,” he says, “like we do with the Tabernacle Choir.” Currently they are preparing pieces from Handel, spirituals like “Rock-a My Soul,” and popular music like “Bring Him Home.”

Brothers and sisters, of course, in all things our Savior is our perfect example.

He was born in what some considered a small and obscure place.

He observed, learned and grew, line by line, grace by grace, until He received a fulness.

As our hymn says, He seeks

To win our souls with love—

With no apparent beauty,

That man should him desire—

He was the promised Savior,

To purify with fire.”

Our Savior lifts. He redeems. He sanctifies. He perfects.

He loves us individually, one by one. He also has compassion when we are in a multitude, wherever we are, whatever our background or circumstances.

Brothers and sisters, do your best, do your very best. At the same time, please remember perfection is in Christ, not in the perfectionism of the world. Study and work with the sincere desire to bless those around you, including your family—whether you have found or are still seeking your eternal companion. The Lord will help you.

You are a choice son or daughter of Heavenly Father. You are already a hero, in ways you may or may not recognize, including as you remember the good examples of others such as Brother Mack Wilberg, and especially as you follow the perfect example of our Lord and Savior.

God our Heavenly Father lives. Our Savior Jesus Christ is the living Son of the living God. President Russell M. Nelson is our prophet today—part of an unbroken succession of latter-day keys and authority from the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon, and all the holy scriptures, testify of Jesus Christ, helping prepare us for His Second Coming through His Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I am grateful to so testify, and I do so humbly and in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 


Bio

Elder Gerrit W. Gong was sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on March 31, 2018. He had served as a General Authority Seventy from April 3, 2010 until the time of his call to the Twelve. He was named a member of the Presidency of the Seventy on October 6, 2015. From 2011 to 2015, Elder Gong was a member of the Asia Area Presidency, headquartered in Hong Kong, and concluded that service as the Area President.

Elder Gong received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Asian and university studies from Brigham Young University in 1977. In 1979, he received a Master of Philosophy degree and in 1981 a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. In 1985 he served as special assistant to the undersecretary of state at the U.S. State Department and in 1987 as special assistant to the U.S. ambassador in Beijing, China. From 1989 he served in several positions at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He was assistant to the president for planning and assessment at Brigham Young University until April 2010.

Elder Gong has served in numerous Church callings, including full-time missionary in the Taiwan Taipei Mission, high councilor, high priests group leader, stake Sunday School president, seminary teacher, bishop, stake mission president, stake president and Area Seventy.

Gerrit Walter Gong was born in Redwood City, California on December 23, 1953. He married Susan Lindsay in January 1980. They are the parents of four children and three grandchildren.