He was a young teenager listening to the radio the first time he heard the word Mormon.
“I had just graduated from junior high school. I heard a choir singing a piece our school chorus had sung earlier that year,” recalls Elder Sam K. Shimabukuro, whose call to the Second Quorum of the Seventy was announced on July 13. “It really drew my attention. The choir was wonderful, and the piece was beautiful.”
He listened closely, eager to learn the name of this marvelous group. When the announcer identified the performers as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, he mentally stored the information away.
A year later, a co-worker invited Sam to a Church activity. “I recognized the name of the Church as the same name of that choir,” Elder Shimabukuro remembers. Although he was touched by the friendliness of the people, it was the music—again—that made the greatest impression.
“The hymns were outstanding,” Elder Shimabukuro explains. “Although I don’t play any musical instrument, I have a great love for music, and that music—and those words—were very different from other hymns I’d heard.”
Although the music fascinated this young teen, he recognized something even more important in this religion. “From the first time I attended church, I knew that this was something different. When the elders gave me a Book of Mormon, I started to read it. The names in this new book were strange; the only one I recognized was Sam, one of Nephi’s brothers. But the contents of the Book of Mormon really hit me. I can’t describe it in words; I just felt it. Of course, now I understand it was the Spirit telling me that the book I was reading was true and that I should pursue it. But at the time, I just knew I felt good about what I was doing.”
Sam acted on those feelings. After he had investigated the Church for six months, the missionaries invited him to be baptized, and he readily accepted. He became a member of the Church on 25 February 1942.
Born in Hawaii on 7 June 1925, Elder Shimabukuro was the youngest child of Kame and Ushi Nakasone Shimabukuro, migrant laborers from Okinawa, Japan. At the time of Sam’s baptism, his parents were already deceased, and he was living with his older brother.
One of the highlights of Elder Shimabukuro’s life has been his full-time mission to his parents’ homeland. “I served as a missionary for three years, half of that time in Japan proper, and half of the time on the island of Okinawa, where I opened up the area. I had never been there before, and it was a tremendous privilege for me to serve in the land my parents came from.”
There were other blessings that came from his mission. It was in Okinawa that this young elder met his future wife, Amy Michiko Hirose. After finishing his mission, Elder Shimabukuro returned to Okinawa to court her and then to ask the Hiroses’ approval for their daughter to return to Hawaii as his wife. “Fortunately, they consented,” says Elder Shimabukuro, chuckling.
“She keeps me on the straight and narrow,” says Elder Shimabukuro of his wife. There are other things she does for him, too. Sam feels blessed to have had her by his side while he was serving as president of the Japan Sendai Mission and then as president of the Tokyo Temple. “She helped me tremendously with the language,” he recalls. “Japanese is my second language, but it’s her first. She was able to help me communicate.”
The couple has one daughter, Phyllis, who died of lupus in 1974. “It was a tremendous blow; she was our only child,” Elder Shimabukuro says. “But we have to take the bitter with the sweet and accept these experiences with courage and faith.
“In my life I have learned that despite all the opposition and trials that we face, we must learn to implicitly trust the Lord. It’s so easy to get off on a tangent whenever things come up, when people don’t meet our expectations or we’ve been hurt. We need to learn to trust the Lord all the way, and he will take care of us. I’m counting on that now with this new calling.”