I Am But a Lad


Neal A. Maxwell
We need to reach out to the Lord, to let his divine touch lead us from what we are to what we have the power to become.

An ancient Greek leader tried to rally his people by urging them to believe in themselves and their city—culture not only for what they then were but for what they had the power to become! Youth of the Church, this is an appropriate message for you today, even though some of you may presently feel very inadequate and uncertain.

When the prophet Enoch was called, he wondered why and said, “I … am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech” (Moses 6:31). Yet Enoch knew that in responding to God the test is not our capability but our availability. Enoch kept the commandments and trusted in the Lord’s understanding of his possibilities, going on to become the builder of the greatest city of all time. The only time in all of human history when a whole people who had become righteous did not return to evil was in the City of Enoch. And it all began with a young man who was less than sure of himself.

Your personal possibilities, not for status and position but for service to God and mankind, are immense, if you will but trust the Lord to lead you from what you are to what you have the power to become.

Parts of three different stories (yet in process) illustrate this perspective.

Not very many years ago in a Maori village in New Zealand, a baby boy was born. He soon received a blessing from his grandfather who said in the blessing that this boy would one day become an educational leader among his people. Some of the men in the village laughed at that blessing; it seemed so unrealistic. That boy, Barney Wihongi, earned his doctorate degree and is now president of the Church College of New Zealand. He became president of the Church College of New Zealand at age 35 and, increasingly, has influence among other educators in the country of New Zealand. The promises given to Brother Wihongi as a baby amused some people. Today, Brother Barney Wihongi inspires many people!

Inspired blessings can help you understand your possibilities! Performance and patience must then follow.

During the time of the Korean War, a young man, Rhee Ho Nam, was pressed into a helping role by an American military unit involved in court martials. At the time, being dislocated from his regular way of life looked like a tragedy. Ho Nam, however, made the best of his challenges as did Joseph in ancient Egypt. He developed English as a second language. He carefully observed the things the American soldiers did, especially an LDS Lieutenant who was “different” from his fellow soldiers and much admired by Ho Nam. They discussed things often. One day the lieutenant asked Ho Nam what the purpose of life was. Rhee Ho Nam could not answer, saying only that philosophers had struggled in vain with that question for centuries. Thereupon, the officer took out a plain sheet of paper and drew an outline of the plan of salvation. At that very moment, the Lord bore testimony through the power of his Spirit to Rhee Ho Nam’s heart that what the American had told him was true. Ho Nam studied, then joined the Church, keeping that piece of paper for years as a treasured reminder of that special moment.

The Korean War was soon over, but Ho Nam’s life in the Church had just begun. While in his thirties, Rhee Ho Nam became the first stake president of the first stake of the Church on the mainland of Asia. He is now serving with distinction as a mission president in Pusan, Korea, as an outstanding leader among his people. With special conviction, President Rhee teaches his missionaries and members to look with hope beyond what is to what may be! Sometimes within seeming tragedy there is opportunity!

As did Enoch, you must trust the Lord; if you are righteous, his purposes will be served. Joseph in Egypt did just that, having many opportunities to become bitter over the way he was mistreated. He not only rose above his difficulties, but lifted others, feeding millions of starving people. Even though his brothers had intended to do evil to Joseph, the Lord used those evil designs to give Joseph opportunities far beyond his boyhood dreams! (See Gen. 50:20)

A few years ago in Italy, LDS missionaries were harassed by some Italian youths. Among the group on two occasions was a young man named Felice Lotito. He was challenged by a bold elder to come to the local LDS branch so that he could judge for himself. It was a dare which Felice accepted. He came. He heard. He studied. He believed. He was baptized. Later he was sent on a mission to England where he increased his faith and his ability to speak English. He served honorably, came home, married a lovely Italian girl in the Swiss Temple, and became one of the directors of the seminary and institute program in Italy, which now serves nearly 1,000 students.

In July of 1980, Felice Lotito left at age 32 to be the mission president in the Italy Padova Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! God saw in Felice possibilities that Felice did not see in himself. When the gospel was presented to him, Felice had the integrity of heart and intellect to believe it, even though he had been harassing the missionaries just days before. The Lord reached out for Felice Lotito who will now reach out to thousands of his countrymen and touch hundreds of missionaries—missionaries like those of whom he was so critical just a few years before.

Believe in yourselves not only for what you now are, but for what you have the possibilities to become!

One of the reasons we must trust God is that we are presently only able to know what is happening now but He can see into the future. This personal experience may be illustrative.

In May of 1945 as a frightened, not-too-effective young infantryman in the U.S. Army in combat on Okinawa, I had several soul-stretching, faith-promoting experiences, including a dramatic answer to my prayers that came during an artillery shelling of our company’s mortar position. It demonstrated to me, again, that the Lord heard and answered my prayers. In one of those selfish, honest prayers that we offer when we are in real trouble, I promised the Lord that if he would spare me on that occasion, I would seek to serve him all my life. The prayer was answered at once. I foolishly thought then that I could repay the Lord. Since then I am more deeply in his debt than ever.

On a stopover on Okinawa in 1973, I found the same spot, now overgrown by sugarcane, where my foxhole was during that shelling. Just a few hills away, I was privileged to speak in a chapel full of Okinawan Saints and servicemen—not very far from where I and others spent those grim nights so many years before. Soon there will even be a stake of the Church on Okinawa!

I wonder if I had been told in the spring of 1945 that these things would happen later if my mind and heart could have been able to accept and understand it? The Lord foresaw, but I did not.

Trust yourselves to the Lord who sees the end from the beginning—and all that is in between! He sees you as you are but also what you may become! Meanwhile, do not let your present feelings of inadequacy keep you from growing or responding to your challenges. Do not let the pressures of time cause you to make choices that will damage your eternity.

The Lord reached out for his elect during a street scene in Italy, gave promises in a humble Maori village, and brought about a moment of truth in a quiet conversation during the Korean War. He sees beyond our cramped foxholes of the moment and prepares us, if we will, for the chapels of our future!

If you will but keep his commandments, each of you will have more opportunities for service than you can possibly imagine; some of these are around you even now!