One Work: Family History and Temple Blessings

One Work: Family History and Temple Blessings


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Nkoyo Iyamba

Welcome back. Welcome back.

Man, aren’t you a little sad it’s almost over? Man.

Well, I’m not sure what a couple of football players are doing at RootsTech. But in any case, I just want to say welcome to this final session. How many of you are just a little sad that it’s almost over? Yeah. I am. I am. And I think we’re having a little technical difficulties, but until the project gets fixed, I just want to talk to you a little bit about how inspired I have been this week. And I hope you all have been inspired as well. I am so—I don’t even know. I mean, today with the Nelsons and their story, wasn’t that inspiring? Sarah’s prayer? Yes. Oh, my word. That was fantastic.

And I did mention something about football players. That’s because we’ve got a little treat for you. But I am a little sad that RootsTech is almost over, but I am so excited that I was here this week. Well, one theme that keeps playing over and over again here at RootsTech 2017 is stories, just like the ones the Nelsons told. We talked about these stories, and they were just wonderful. Of course, you all clapped about that. Well, guess what? We have more stories in the works, and they’re happening right now.

We have three people that you already know and love to continue telling those stories. So let’s take a look at a couple of them right now. One is a BYU alumni, the first Tongan to ever play in the NFL and current television anchor and sports director and sports reporter for NBC 10 in Philadelphia, Vai Sikahema. And the other—yes, yes. We are very proud of Vai. And the other is another BYU alumni, former Philadelphia Eagles NFL player—Philly Eagles fans out there, yeah? Of course—and current running back coach for BYU is Reno Mahe. Yes, we’re very proud of him as well.

Now before we welcome them to the stage, let’s take a look at the amazing work they’ve both done.

Oh, yeah. They’re pretty cool, aren’t they? All right, now please welcome to the stage Vai Sikahema and Reno Mahe.

Vai Sikahema

Nkoyo, thank you very much. Holy smokes, Reno. Look at this. I can’t—seriously, we can’t believe that we’re here. We seriously can’t believe that we’re here. There are like 10,000 people here in this arena.

Reno Mahe

I’m going to be honest, Vai. I—like I said back there, I was—not back there, even right now, I was really—

Vai Sikahema

—He’s a little bit nervous.

Reno Mahe

—nervous. And it’s not like a football game where you can come out, and then after that first hit, all your nerves go away and you just get into the game so—

Vai Sikahema

Here, let me help you out. There you go. You ready now? You ready? You ready?

Reno Mahe

Actually, hey, you know what, Vai? Thank you for that. I feel good now. I’m good. I’m good.

Vai Sikahema

I’m here to help you. Well, look, it’s a big audience.

Reno Mahe

Before we start, in tradition, we always like to start with brothers and sisters, aloha!

Audience

Aloha!

Reno Mahe

Not bad. Not bad, but you know what? Let’s make genealogy great again. All right, let’s do this one more time. Let’s do this one more time. Brothers and sisters, aloha!

Audience

Aloha!

Reno Mahe

There we go, now I feel really good.

Vai Sikahema

Listen, Reno happens to be my nephew. And it is true, Tongans are all related. What a shocker. We both ended up playing football at BYU, and we ended up going to the NFL. We played for the same team. I played much earlier, about a decade before Reno, but we ended up playing for the Philadelphia Eagles in Philadelphia. And we heard there are some Philadelphia Eagles fans here. So thank you.

We are wearing traditional formal Tongan clothing. Before Protestant and then Mormon missionaries came to the islands, what we wore was just the mat that you see—bare chested and just the mat. So we’re so grateful that missionaries came and brought things that were helpful to us, like cotton and American football, that so blessed our lives. But I have to tell you, Reno and I, we don’t know that much about family history. And there’s somebody that’s here that may know even less. And in fact, she was here last year. They roped her in to coming and speaking at this genealogy conference RootsTech last year. I don’t know. I think she was a little bit—you think you’re nervous? She was really nervous last year.

Reno Mahe

I was nervous until you smacked me in the back of the head.

Vai Sikahema

You might want to see what happened last year. Let’s roll the videotape.

[Video]

Sheri Dew

These last few years, I have loved, as I’ve been going to the temple, helping so many of my dearest friends’ family. But I know that the temple would mean even more to me if the names were from my own line. So Elder Renlund, with Grandma Dew and thousands of witnesses, I accept the challenge.

Vai Sikahema

Wow! Sheri Dew. Give her a big hand. Sheri Dew deserves so much credit, because she went out on a limb. It’s like Tom Brady calling the score before the Super Bowl. You know what I mean?

Reno Mahe

Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a coach, you don’t make progress unless you make commitments and follow through on them. So don’t you think Sheri should tell us how she did? Yeah, I think she should.

Vai Sikahema

Ladies and gentlemen, would you please help us welcome our friend, who happens to be a huge BYU fan? She is one of the most avid football fans that I personally know. Sheri Dew. Sheri, would you come out?

I have to tell you this about Sheri. The first time I met Sheri was about a dozen years ago. It was 2003. It was Reno’s rookie year with Philadelphia. And the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had come back east. They were in New York. So my wife and I went to a reception that was held there. And I was introduced to Sheri. And when I went to shake Sheri’s hand, I said, “Sister Dew, I’m Vai Sikahema.” And she took my hand like this, like the way athletes do—the international shake. And she cupped my—and then she pulled me in like this and gave me the brotha hug that we do.

Reno Mahe

You know what? Before we get into that, speaking of brotha hug, something that they do now is they take selfies on the stage. So can we—

Vai Sikahema

See? We’re modern Tongans, because we’ve got to get selfies. All right. Can we turn the house lights up? All right, this way. We’ve got to get that group over here.

Let’s turn this way.

We want you—Reno’s going to post this. That group over there needs one more picture, Reno. We want you to post this and hashtag RootsTech. There you go.

Thank you.

That was Reno’s thing. Sheri, welcome.

Sheri Dew

Heya. Can you imagine? Here I am standing next to a couple of guys, football stars. These are football stars.

Reno Mahe

Has-beens. Has-beens.

Sheri Dew

But you have been football stars, playing for my alma mater, which I love. And it’s—to be standing next to two guys I’ve rooted for for years, cheered for for years at BYU and in the NFL, yeah, it’s pretty cool for a BYU football fan, I’ve got to say. That’s how they talked me into coming back this year. Well, you get to stand next to a couple of football players. OK, I guess I’ll come back.

Vai Sikahema

They got the shortest ones that were available.

Reno Mahe

I’m taller than Vai. Let’s just get it out there, though.

Vai Sikahema

I’ll race you right now.

Sheri Dew

So since I’ve got you guys—hey, that’s a good idea.

Reno Mahe

You win. I’ll let him have that.

Sheri Dew

Since I’ve got you two here and while I’ve got you, is there any inside scoop? I’m looking to both of you. I know you still help with recruiting, and you’re coaching the running backs. And we lost Jamal, and, I mean, really what are you going to do? So is there any scoop—like, behind-the-scenes scoop—you want to give us about this year’s team? And I mean, just among us. Well, and a few of our friends.

Reno Mahe

I feel like I’m at church, and this is what—so as much as we love our BYU fans—and we love all our BYU fans—we’re going to have to talk about football later. But we want to ask, “How did your commitment come from last year go, and did you find as many family names and ordinances as you did in the temple?”

Sheri Dew

Well, almost—I mean, pretty much.

Vai Sikahema

Look, Sheri, listen. We’re football guys. So almost doesn’t count. Honestly, with all due respect to Sheri Dew—I mean, almost. You don’t almost get a first down. You don’t almost get to the end zone.

Reno Mahe

And it’s like me getting measured—

Vai Sikahema

You either do it or you don’t, Sheri.

Reno Mahe

—before the NFL draft. I was almost 6 foot. I probably would have gotten drafted.

Sheri Dew

OK, so let me explain. Before last year, I literally had never submitted even one family name for ordinates work, not even one.

Vai Sikahema

Sheri!

Sheri Dew

Yeah, I know, that’s shameful but that was true. So it was a pretty big leap to make the commitment I made, and I went onto FamilySearch and could quickly see I was not smart enough to figure that out myself, that I needed help and I needed it really fast. And so I found the most amazing temple and family history consultant. And he started to teach me the basics, and with his help I began to find names. So since about the first—

Are we supposed to clap for doing ordinances? Doesn’t that feel weird?

Think about that.

Reno Mahe

Go, ordinance work!

Sheri Dew

Maybe we should clap. OK, there’s a thought. So since about the first of March last year, every endowment I’ve done has been a family name. Every sealing I’ve done has been a family name.

Vai Sikahema

I know they’re clapping on the other side, so I think—

Sheri Dew

And most, most—a majority—of the initiatory ordinances I’ve done have been family names.

Vai Sikahema

Well, this must be where almost comes in. So Sheri, tell me why all the names that you did for initiatory family names. Tell us more about that.

Sheri Dew

Well, last summer I had an operation to replace a knee, and for several months it really hurt to sit for very long. So during that time of recovery I did a lot of initiatory, but I just couldn’t sit with my leg hanging down for the length of an endowment. And so, when you’re doing initiatory ordinances, as you know, you go through a lot of names much faster. And I ran out of family names, but—so I’m looking for a little mercy here, kind of like you and the coaching staff were after the BYU-Utah game.

Vai Sikahema

Or that 4th and 19.

Reno Mahe

No wonder my boss didn’t come.

Vai Sikahema

It could be a rough crowd, especially when you’ve got somebody from the Philadelphia media here. We ask tough questions.

Sheri Dew

By the way, though, in the process of the last year, I found a lot of men’s names, which members of my family are doing. So if we’re counting all the names, if we’re going to think of it that way, I actually found more names than ordinances I did. So don’t you think that should sort of count?

Reno Mahe

Kind of sounds like—

That kind of sounds like a Hail Mary to me.

Vai Sikahema

BYU’s gotten pretty good at the Hail Marys.

Reno Mahe

Yeah.

Vai Sikahema

Look, Reno, you’re the coach here. I think it ought to count.

Reno Mahe

I agree. I agree. When my players make commitments, I like them to learn from those commitments and what they’ve done. So Sheri, what have you learned from that last year?

Vai Sikahema

We need to know what you learned

Sheri Dew

I actually have learned a lot. First, I learned that if you’re a total rookie, like I was, you need a great coach. And I lucked out and got the world’s best temple and family history consultant. His name is Mike, and he knows how to do everything. But he never made me feel dumb. He never made me feel that I wasn’t catching on, even though there are a lot of things he had to show me over and over and over again. I still don’t actually know very much about family history, but he taught me enough that I’ve been able to find quite a few names.

So the first thing I learned is get help. Get help from someone who just wants to teach you and is kind of long-suffering and will repeat things over and over again. The second thing I’ve experienced for the first time is the absolute thrill of finding family names whose ordinance work has not been done or who actually weren’t in my family tree at all. So let me give you a couple of examples of that.

Mike said to me, when I began, “What line do you want to look at?” And I said, “Well, let’s look at the Dew line. They say all the work has been done, but let’s look at it.” So a year ago, when we started looking, my great-great-great-grandfather Peter Dew and his wife, Sarah Brown, had four children listed in FamilySearch. But then we found a will—actually, Mike found a will from a woman by the name of Martha Lewis Dew. And from the will we realized that she was one of their daughters, though she wasn’t listed anywhere. And then—and here’s the amazing part—in her will she named four additional sisters no one knew about.

So apparently during the 1800s, women who didn’t marry or daughters who died young were not always listed in census data. So in other words, we found five daughters, five girls of my great-great-great-grandparents, who had been lost. We did their work, had them sealed to each other. My great-great-aunt Martha Lewis Dew never married, but she owned land, and that’s why she even had a will. In the will she stipulated that her land should be sold upon her death, that all of her debts should be paid, and then $350, which would be about $10,000 today, should be given to her local Methodist Church to print and distribute bibles.

That really touched me. I’ve spent some of my life trying to get sacred literature in the hands of people. So I felt an immediate connection to this great-great-aunt. And I love knowing that even though she didn’t find the gospel of Jesus Christ while she was alive, that she was a woman of faith. We also found the gravestone of her mother, Sarah, and that led us to her parents, or my fourth great-grandparents, William George Brown and Martha Moore. We found their gravestones. They had not been connected. So my fourth great-grandparents on that line had not been connected to my family tree at all. We did the work for them and their children. And another family was brought together. I could go on and on.

These family members have become so real to me. And at times, it has been very clear that they were involved in helping us and that they wanted their work done. They’ve woken me up at night. They’ve woken Mike up at night. I think they wake him up because they know he’s got a better chance of finding them than I do.

That leads to the third thing that I’ve learned—it does feel different. I love the temple. I’ve loved it for decades. But it does feel different to take family names to the temple. As one example, as much as I love the temple, it has been, through the years, increasingly difficult for me to do sealings. That’s been a little painful for me. But being in a sealing room with members of my family, doing sealings for members of our family, has been really different. And it has been very sweet. Some of those sealing sessions have been times of pure revelation for me.

And I’ve learned one more thing. When you make a commitment at RootsTech, people check up on you. I cannot tell you how many ordinance workers have looked at the names I was doing and said, “We’re just checking on you. We want to make sure you keep your promise.”

That’s more than you probably needed or wanted to know about my family tree. And what we really want to know—OK. The guys, Vai and Reno, over in the kitchen. What we really want to know about is their family trees. And, by the way, I’m not surprised they’re in the kitchen. Can I tell you what happened last night as we did the run-through? Before I could get over there, they had eaten the fruit that was supposed to be the display.

Vai Sikahema

It’s plastic, but Reno has eaten half of it, before I told him it’s plastic, it’s not—Sheri, this is where most Polynesians spend their evenings, is in the kitchen. We’ve been making a special dish here called otai. Reno’s parents have a little fruit stand. If you ever go to the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, about 100 yards shy of the Polynesian Cultural Center, there’s a little fruit stand on your left, and it’s Reno’s parents’. And they make this fruit drink called otai. It’s made of grated mangoes. Tongans don’t use blenders; they use their children to grate mangoes. So if you’ll forgive us, Sheri, there are some of Reno’s knuckles actually grated into it, but—

Sheri Dew

That’s protein, right?

Vai Sikahema

It’s a mango. And so this is what we have been standing here grating, making.

Sheri Dew

So you’re already doing something that shows a little piece of your family background and culture. So just to start off, it seems like when we talk to Tongan families, or Polynesian families, it seems like you’re all related, like you’re all cousins, or you’re all whatever—aunties and uncles. How does that work in a Polynesian home?

Vai Sikahema

Well, part of it is our language does not distinguish between a mother and a father, and a mother’s sisters or her brothers or a father’s younger or older brothers. The Tongan language doesn’t have—or Polynesian languages do not have the words cousin, or aunt, or uncle in it. My father’s younger brothers are all my fathers. My mother’s sisters are all my mothers. And my cousins aren’t my cousins, they’re brothers and sisters. So when we come to America, we use the words cousins, aunts, and uncles to distinguish. But we call everybody aunt, and uncle, and cousins.

Sheri Dew

So that is why it always feels like your families are so close. I think we’d all love to hear about some of the experiences, some of the stories in your family that have come down, whether it’s from your parents or your grandparents, something that would give us a feeling for the kind of—not just your culture, the Tongan culture, but also your family culture and what you grew up with.

Vai Sikahema

We brought some pictures to help illustrate some of our family. My great-great-maternal grandfather is—how about this? How about this name? Emil Otto Friedrich Wolfgramm.

Sheri Dew

It doesn’t sound particularly Polynesian.

Vai Sikahema

It doesn’t, and he wasn’t. He was German. And he came from Peritz, Prussia, which is now in present-day Poland. And he came to Tonga as a young man in his 20s in the 1880s. He and his three brothers came to Tonga. They married Tongan women. And this is my mother’s grandfather, so my great-great-grandfather. They were known—the Wolfgramm brothers were known for two things. They baked wonderful bread, and they made beer. Now they joined the Church later, and they stopped making beer, but they kept making bread.

So that’s what they were known for. On my father’s side, my great-great-grandfather you’ll see here in the picture. His name was [? Iki ?] [? Fullivide. ?] On the left is him as a young man. And the photograph on the right, we just found six or seven years ago. And we found it in a booklet, a Mormon studies booklet. A Mormon missionary who was in Tonga in the early 1930s had snapped all of these pictures but didn’t know who these people were. And they were published. And we came forward and claimed, “This is my grandfather.” Now you look and see he’s in his 80s, and he’s wearing a cap and gown. The first Tongan school was established in his home. And he graduated from grammar school in his 80s, along with his grandchildren.

And he was so proud of that moment that it was snapped for a picture. And there he is. So we’re very proud of our history. How about you, Reno?

Reno Mahe

You know, I think, for me, as we did a rehearsal yesterday, there were a few stories that were told to me by a few family members. And so—

Vai Sikahema

As a journalist, I told him, “You should go vet those stories, make sure they’re true before we tell them to like 10,000 people.”

Reno Mahe

And so I go back to the hotel last night, and I thought, “OK, I think the best person to call is my uncle who is the oldest on my mom’s side of the family of 14.” And so I try to get it straight from him, because I figured he’d be the one that would know most of the details of all that. Because the rest of them would have been kids, including my mom. It was kind of nice, some of the stories I heard. And one he told me that I think resonated with myself was he left. He left the island, and he went to Hawaii. And he had to go and work to help bring his family from the islands.

And it was funny, because my kids love Cake Boss, so we got to come this morning and watch Buddy and hear Buddy’s story of how his relatives left to bring them back. And so to hear that my uncle went through all that sacrifice, you know, where some of us would be like, “No, I’ve got to go to school, I’ve got to do this.” He went and he worked. And I always wondered why my mom was so—anytime that uncle would call, anytime that uncle needed anything, she jumped.

Vai Sikahema

Dropped everything and went to take care of him.

Reno Mahe

She dropped everything to go take care of that uncle, his needs or his kids’ needs. And I never understood that. And I think for me, it hit me the most last night, when I was told the sacrifice he made to go from the islands to Hawaii to work, to L.A. to work. And essentially he brought my wife—not my wife—my mom and my grandparents from Tonga to Hawaii through PCC, through the Church program there, and then to L.A.

And so that is something that I will always hold dear.

Sheri Dew

So—

Boy, this is amazing, what you’re making. I mean, this is, like, amazing.

Vai Sikahema

This is otai.

Now he refuses to drink it because I made it.

Reno Mahe

I’m not drinking that.

I don’t know when the last time he made otai was.

Vai Sikahema

I’ll deal with him later.

Sheri Dew

I’ll try it. That’s for sure.

Reno Mahe

I advise you not to try it.

Vai Sikahema

Delicious. It is so good.

Reno Mahe

Remember, Vai lives in Jersey. He doesn’t live in the islands. It was a good prop while we did it.

Vai Sikahema

It’s good, seriously.

Sheri Dew

See what I’m saying, though? He’s eating the fruit in a bowl. Do you see? It’s going to be gone by the time we’re done here, I’m guessing. One of the things that I have loved is hearing some of the stories of your family in terms of the stories of faith, things that show what they did to embrace the gospel and then to live it. And share some of those.

Vai Sikahema

My grandfather, my mother’s parents were young—he was a young district president before they created stakes in Tonga in the 1940s. And my grandfather was district president on the northern island of Vava’u. And he had several islands that he had to go visit within a day’s travel by boat. In 1947 my mother was five years old. Her sister was three, and she had a younger brother, who was 10 months old. And they traveled by boat to the island of Niuatoputapu. At the end of the conference on a Sunday, they returned Monday. And on the trip back they encountered a storm, which is not unusual in Polynesia. In the storm, the 10-month-old died of exposure.

When they got back—when they made it back on Tuesday to their island of Vava’u, they buried the child on Wednesday. But on Friday they had to sail again to the main island of Tongatapu, because leaders of the Church had come from New Zealand for priesthood training. Here’s what was significant in the story. My grandparents buried my uncle as a 10-month-old on a Wednesday. By Tongan custom, you’re supposed to observe seven days of mourning, where there’s no travel, there are no celebrations, no parties, no birthdays. Seven days of mourning, and then the burial.

But my grandparents could not contact the leaders of the Church in Nuku’alofa, the main island, to let them know of their family tragedy. So here’s what they did, Sheri. They buried their child on Wednesday, and they sailed on Friday, because they needed to be there for their priesthood training. Now, the result of that was that they were ostracized in their island. And they lost their standing in the community because they chose the Church over custom, over culture. But the legacy that they left us as children, grandchildren, is this: Whenever there is a dilemma or a choice between culture and Church, and there are not a lot of them, always choose the gospel. Choose the Church.

Now I recognize that the Church often blends and allows us a lot of latitude with our culture, but whenever you have to choose one or the other—I’m I’ so grateful, Sheri, that my grandparents left us a legacy of choosing gospel over culture.

Sheri Dew

It’s beautiful.

Reno, what would you add to that?

Reno Mahe

One of the stories that I was told as a kid was my mom’s family—I think it was either 10 or 12 kids at that time, and there wasn’t a temple in Tonga. And so they had to travel to New Zealand when the temple was opened in New Zealand. And so my grandparents had sold everything. The cow—you know the saying where you sell the cow. I think that’s a saying. My wife always gives me a hard time because I don’t always quote the sayings very well. But they sold the cow. They sold horses. They sold everything. And they had worked for months to save up to make that trip to the temple, because it was that important to them.

And they didn’t have enough. When it came down to it, they just didn’t have enough to make that trek. And somehow my uncle told me that my grandmother came. Someone had dropped off an envelope. And it was the rest of what they needed to make the trek. And so they were able to make that trek to the temple. And just the story of the temple, they had to take a boat from Tonga to Fiji. And then—

Vai Sikahema

Fly from Fiji to Auckland.

Reno Mahe

To Auckland, and then there was something else where they had to take a bus half a day around.

Vai Sikahema

Two hours, two hours from Auckland to Hamilton.

Reno Mahe

That’s right, you guys—your family made the trip, the next trip—but just the faith that my grandparents were willing to sell everything for their family to be sealed for eternity is something that will always hold a dear spot in my heart.

Vai Sikahema

Sheri, Reno was born here in the states, and so these are experiences that he heard. But I actually was a child. And I was five years old when my family left Tonga to go to New Zealand for our temple blessings. And we went by boat. I think it was a full day, day and a half travel by boat from Tonga to Fiji. We spent the night there. The Fijian Saints fed us, and we spent the night at the—they don’t do it anymore, but we spent the night at the chapel actually. And then the next day we went—we flew.

Now, here’s what you have to remember—this is 1967. The tallest building in Tonga was two stories. So no Tongan on that trip—and there were a hundred of us—had ever been higher than a coconut tree. When we lifted off from Nadi, Fiji, on the plane, grown men—as a child I remember this—grown men were screaming at the top of their lungs, fearful, watching the ground get further and further away from their feet. And there was a woman who was sitting just behind me, and she was in her 80s. I’m a small child, so I’m sitting middle seat. And I stood looking at her, because she was crying the whole time.

And somewhere when we leveled off at about 30,000 feet, John Groberg, who was the mission president in Tonga at the time, had come back from where he was seated. Somebody had summoned him to come back and sit with her, and her name was—my memory is that her name was [INAUDIBLE], or Marianne. [INAUDIBLE] was sitting, and she was traveling by herself, and she was crying. But she can look out and see the clouds. And when Elder Groberg came and sat with her, she asked him this question, “[INAUDIBLE] [? Valentijn ?]” “Groberg, are we in heaven?”

She’s never seen clouds that close. She was so—she was up at 30,000 feet, she literally thought that we were in heaven. And Elder Groberg, to his everlasting credit, paused, and then he said to her, “[INAUDIBLE], yes, we are in heaven.” I read in his book that he said later the reason why he said that is he felt restrained in telling her, “No, we’re just in the clouds.” He thought, “If she thinks this is what heaven is like, then yes it is. Heaven is like this, being with your family and your friends. This is heaven.”

We arrived and took a bus, two-hour bus from Auckland, New Zealand, to Hamilton. It was a wonderful experience.

Sheri Dew

I love the whole thought of that. I think it’s brilliant what he said, because we’re expressing that really wherever the Spirit of the Lord is present, it can—

Vai Sikahema

It’s heaven.

Sheri Dew

It can feel like heaven. One of the things—I’ve never been to Tonga. But I’ve been in and out of Polynesia quite a bit. Been to New Zealand quite a bit. And one of the things that I have observed is that it feels like Tongans, Samoans, and so forth—it feels like there’s a special spiritual acuity, or a special spiritual sense. Do you have those kinds of stories in your family history, where you just can demonstrate the receptivity to the Spirit?

Vai Sikahema

I tell my children this all the time: “Kids, every April and every October for general conference, I want you to watch all the sessions, because at some point during conference one of the leaders of the Church will make reference to the great heritage of faith of our people.” It just happens every—we’ve shared some of them here already. But there are so many. I think of President Faust telling the story of going for the dedication of the Tonga Temple in 1983.

And they were expecting rain. And the leaders of the Church kept saying to him, “It’s not going to rain, Elder Faust.” And he said, “Do we have a backup plan in case it does rain?” “No, there’s no backup plan,” which is typical Tongan.

There’s no backup plan because we have faith that it will rain. And the rain held off. Tongans—I think part of it is because of where we live. It’s a part of the world where—you know, I cover news. And so when tsunamis happen, hurricanes happen, people think it’s a big deal here. It’s not that big a deal in Polynesia, because it happens all the time. And people just live with faith. You have to live with faith to be able to live someplace like the South Pacific.

Reno Mahe

I mean, the only thing to add to that as far as the island goes and things that I have learned when I’ve gone back to the island is that if there is such a tragedy and a lot of the possessions are gone, they don’t put too much into possessions.

Vai Sikahema

People don’t worry about it.

Reno Mahe

They don’t worry about it. And it’s easier to rebuild when you didn’t put too much into the possessions that you did have.

Sheri Dew

And that’s beautiful. There’s a whole lot to learn from that. There’s something here. We didn’t talk about this last night, but I want to ask you this question. There are so many Tongans, Samoans, so forth who have become very successful football players, athletes, NFL players, and so forth. And yeah, you’re built for it.

Vai Sikahema

We’re short by Tongan standards.

Reno Mahe

Speak for yourself.

Vai Sikahema

Because when we didn’t—because Reno, we didn’t eat enough of this growing up.

Sheri Dew

But here’s a question. Is there something about—I mean, there is a mental toughness. There’s a willingness to endure and to go beyond pain to become really that talent of an athlete. Is there something that you draw from your culture that helps you in that regard, do you think? Both thinking about your own experience and the ones you’ve coached and are coaching.

Reno Mahe

The only experience I think I can draw from, for me at least, was—speaking of the BYU-Utah game. But this one, we won this game. It was a—

Vai Sikahema

While back.

Reno Mahe

It’s not as far back as when you played.

Sorry. But it was about a week before the BYU-Utah game. We were undefeated, and I had the worst stomachache. And anyway, I’ll try to speed this up, but I ended up getting an appendectomy Monday morning. But—

Sheri Dew

The Monday before the game?

Reno Mahe

The Monday, and that Saturday we played, but again, mind you, it’s BYU-Utah. And so—

Vai Sikahema

So you played with appendicitis?

Reno Mahe

Look, whatever all of that was called. All I remember is appendectomy.

But here is the thing, I asked my quarterback to give me a blessing. And it wasn’t so much that he gave me a blessing to play in the game, to endure through this and whatnot, but I had this feeling in me that I was going to play. I just knew I was going to play. And for me it was—I felt like—and I knew. I knew the blessing and everything that came with that prepared me for that game. And not that—I know the Lord could care less about football. But it was—

Sheri Dew

Are you sure about that?

Reno Mahe

Well, it’s funny you say that. If you ever wonder what team the Lord—just look up in the sky. It’s blue and white.

I’m sorry.

But that, for me, I had faith that—I had faith in that blessing that I would be OK regardless of the decision I had made to play in that game. And so I ended up playing in that game. We did win that game. And so it’s something that I’ll always attribute to where I come from as far as—I guess you’re not supposed to play in a game six days after an appendectomy. But, my body actually did. So—

Vai Sikahema

I think we’re—you asked the question about why Polynesians—I think the question was why—

Sheri Dew

So many do so well.

Vai Sikahema

A lot of it has to do with just how closely connected we are with our warrior heritage. I mean, we’re only—the great-great-grandfather that you saw in the picture there, he was a warrior. And I think he clubbed people to death during war. We’re so closely connected to that. But if you’re Scottish, William Wallace lived in the 1200s, right? We’re only like two, three generations removed from our warriors. So we’re very close to connected. Our people, our history, our heritage is uniquely suited to the American game of football.

In part, because of the way of our social structure. We have chiefs who had the final say, and our fathers have much to say in our family dynamics, as do our mothers. They have roles that they play. We know our place as Polynesian young men and young women. We know our place in our family, in our society, our history, our culture. And football is very much like that. So on top of that is the added component of our faith. I don’t know any Polynesian—I don’t know any Polynesian atheists.

Reno Mahe

I don’t.

Vai Sikahema

You know, it’s—

Sheri Dew

You just believe.

Vai Sikahema

It’s counterintuitive to us. We just believe, and we have faith. We have faith in each other, and we have faith in our fellow beings, our brothers, our sisters, our families. And so that’s why it’s probably conducive to that American sport.

Sheri Dew

So that’s a perfect lead-in. Reno, you and your wife have eight children. And at the end of last year, you suffered a tragedy in your family. You had a little girl, three years old, Elsie, who had an accident at home, and she subsequently passed away. Would you share with us some of the things that you and your wife—you handled it with such grace and faith, and would you share some things you’ve learned and are learning from that?

Reno Mahe

Just off the top of my head, I think a lot of that is, honestly, it’s me just riding my wife’s coattail. And so I’ve got a great companion. And some of the—

Some of the lessons I’ve learned—it’s not a club you want to be a part of. And it’s amazing how many people are part of that club you don’t want to be a part of. And one of the things I’ve learned was that she’s an angel on the other side now that is watching over us. And I never thought about it in that way, on those that are carrying us through this world and how tough it is here and then kind of ironically being here and wanting to know.

It’s something my wife was telling me, that there are not just random angels watching over us, that it’s our family. It’s our ancestors. You know, it’s my grandparents. And now it’s Elsie. And now having Lavell there, Coach Edwards. And I just thought about Coach Edwards just coaching up my daughter back there.

And so for me it’s been tough, but as a father your job is to make sure that your kids hold on to that iron rod and they get to the tree. And so for me it’s nice to know that Elsie is there, that that one made it. And I have seven more that I have to hopefully get to where Elsie’s at.

Vai Sikahema

And Elsie’s there helping Reno and Sonny get to where she is. I have to tell you this story real quick. Around Christmastime—the tragedy happened in November, I believe, right? November. And around Christmastime, I called Reno just to check in on him. I said, “Reno, how are you doing? How are you guys? Are you guys OK? I know it’s going to be a tough Christmas.”

And his response startled me. He said to me, “No, actually it’s not going to be a tough Christmas at all; it’s going to be a great Christmas.” I said, “Why? You just lost your daughter.” He said, “I know we lost our daughter, but here’s the thing. Her organs had been harvested. And eight children are going to live as a result of—or their lives will be improved because of the organs that Elsie donated.” And then it occurred to me how dumb I was to think this was going to be such a tragic Christmas. He said, “Vai, think about the eight families who are celebrating Christmas differently this year. OK, so we lost our daughter, but we choose to go celebrate with the eight families whose lives—their miracles have been answered because of Elsie. So we’re going to go celebrate with them and enjoy their Christmas. Never mind about our Christmas. We’ll be fine. That will be our Christmas.” So it’s a different paradigm to see things from a completely different point of view. And so I have Reno to thank for sharing that with me.

You going to drink that?

Sheri Dew

It makes me think about—

Reno Mahe

I tried.

Sheri Dew

He doesn’t want to drink that, Vai.

Vai Sikahema

He doesn’t trust me, that’s—

Reno Mahe

I trust you.

Sheri Dew

I’m going to wait until after just in case it has some big negative effect, right?

Vai Sikahema

Sure, Sheri.

Sheri Dew

When you talk about that it makes me think about just that phrase in the scriptures, “And a little child shall lead them.” I mean, in an interesting way, has it given your family a different feeling to say, “OK, one of us is already there on the other side?” It makes the temple and eternal families seem so, “This is real. This isn’t for some later time. This is real today.”

Reno Mahe

No, absolutely. And that’s one of those things where, for us, kind of feels like cheating. Because now it’s—we’re so incentivized to get back to her and to our Heavenly Father. And so you want to do everything you can, even genealogy work now. I want to know who’s watching over me. So it does. It really is, just—it’s a great feeling.

Sheri Dew

It’s beautiful. This all points to the temple and what happens in the temple. And Vai, you and your wife have lived in Philadelphia a good while now. And you had a hand, had played a role, in obtaining some of the permissions for the building of the Philadelphia Temple just dedicated recently. Would you share some of that with us?

Vai Sikahema

The Church had purchased property to build a temple, and as I understand it—I didn’t know any of this when this happened. As I understand it, the city of Philadelphia, through an agency that they control, tried to take the property back for their own use. They felt like they could build a hotel or something there that could give them a tax base. And so they attempted to take the property back from the Church. In the meantime, Bishop Dean Davies of the Presiding Bishopric—he was a stake president at the time—he came back to Philadelphia to meet with city leaders. And he had asked if a couple of members of the Church locally could come and be a part of that meeting, members of the Church in Philadelphia who knew the mayor.

I happened to know the mayor. He had invited me to emcee one of his luncheons at his inauguration, and we’ve known each other for a long time. He was in city council. I was an athlete there and also working in news. So I came to the meeting. The meeting didn’t seem to go well, but at some point there was a lull in the meeting. And I raised my hand, and I asked Mayor Nutter if I could speak, and he said, “Sure.” So I stood, and I told him of the experience that we had as a child, what my family did, selling everything that we had to be able to go to the temple in New Zealand and the treacherous trip that it was for us. And I said to him, “Mayor Nutter, I don’t know that people in Philadelphia will make those kinds of sacrifices. But they will make sacrifices like that, and it will bless your constituents. It will bless the citizenship, the citizens of Philadelphia.”

I said, “With all due respect, Mayor Nutter, if you allow this to happen, this will be the hallmark of your time at city hall.” Now, you know, I just felt like I wanted to say what I wanted to say. And he and I are friends. We were going to remain friends. I didn’t know what came of my remarks. It was months later that I learned from Bishop Davies that what I had said may have had an effect, because the mayor then approved the project and it moved forward. And we had a groundbreaking, and we just dedicated the Philadelphia Temple last summer.

Now I don’t take any credit in doing anything. Here are the pictures of the mayor. When he saw me at the dedication he came and gave me a big hug. And my wife and I took pictures of him in front of the Christus statue. I just think that the mayor was—here’s the thing, Sheri. I think Mayor Nutter may have been the only mayor that would have approved the project. I don’t think his predecessor nor his successor, who’s in office now. With all due respect, I don’t think any of those men would have approved the building. But I think he was—I think the Lord placed him there at that specific time.

But I also think the Lord placed me there because I was supposed to be there. Others, Dean Davies, Bishop Davies was supposed to be there. All of us were supposed to be there, and we hope that we played our role. But the bottom line is this. Look at that beautiful temple. That sits on Vine Street in downtown Philadelphia. And Moroni oversees the City of Brotherly Love.

Sheri Dew

Awesome. Absolutely; that truly is awesome. We overuse that word, but that qualifies as awesome. So let me ask you two, up until now, what has your experience been with temple and family history research?

Vai Sikahema

You go first.

Reno Mahe

Bad. It’s been bad. OK, let’s just be honest. For me at least.

Vai Sikahema

You go to the temple every week.

Reno Mahe

She didn’t ask if we went to the temple every week.

Vai Sikahema

Family research, family history, go ahead. This is when you’re supposed to make a commitment.

Sheri Dew

Hey, that’s my line.

Vai Sikahema

I’m trying to prompt him because we’ve got like three minutes.

Reno Mahe

I— I—

Sheri Dew

So gentlemen, is there some commitment related to the temple or family history search you would like to make?

Reno Mahe

I would.

Vai Sikahema

There is, Sheri.

Reno Mahe

I would like to make—

Vai Sikahema

Reno will go first.

Reno Mahe

And there might be a little bit of a twist to it. I’d like to thank the two sisters that helped me out there in the expo. But I wrote—I texted it to myself. It’s what us young people do these days.

Vai Sikahema

He thinks he’s a millennium. A millennial. A millennium.

Sheri Dew

As opposed to millennium.

Reno Mahe

So I texted to myself, “I’ll commit to recording”—because I don’t like writing so much—“I’ll commit to recording my oral Tongan history on the FamilySearch memory app.”

Sheri Dew

OK. OK. That’s awesome. That’s great.

President Sikahema.

Vai Sikahema

Here’s what I’m committed to do. My wife, who is here in the audience, she is so sweet. It just so happens—we didn’t know this—but President and Sister Nelson are here. Sister Nelson, you’re sitting there in the front row. My wife just finished reading your book Covenant Keepers. And in that book, she made a 21-day commitment to do family history every day for 21 days. And it has sometimes frankly annoyed me that I’ve come home and my wife is in the middle of doing family history, and I’ve got to go walk the dog.

But she made that commitment to do at least a half hour of family history. And that includes, every Wednesday my wife goes to the Philadelphia Temple as a part of that commitment. But every single day for 21 days. And I have to tell you, Sister Nelson, miracles have occurred in our home from her commitment to do something for 21 days, at least a half hour every day. So when we leave here tonight, beginning tomorrow on the Sabbath, my wife and I will recalibrate her 21 days, and we’ll do it together. We will do 21 days straight of at least a half hour of family history every single day for 21 days.

Sheri Dew

Fantastic.

Vai Sikahema

And we’ll report to you.

Sheri Dew

My friends, any final comments that you want to share?

Reno Mahe

I just want to thank you guys for having us, especially me. I know I was a substitute. And so, I just want you guys to know how much I—gosh, I love this gospel. And I think that having gone through the tragedy I went through—if that’s what you want to call it. I don’t. I call it a blessing. And I just know that with family history and as we dive into it, myself and my family, that it will be a blessing in our lives. And I just thank you guys for being here. And I share that with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Vai Sikahema

Amen.

I don’t know if they could pull up my picture of my family. If they can, you’ll see my family. We just had—there’s my wife and I. My wife is from the North Shore of Oahu. She hails from the small village of Kahuku. And so we try to go every year. To the right is our family, including our new daughter-in-law, Melissa, who’s here with her family, our four grandchildren.

Let me just say this about family history and my feelings about the gospel and the Church. When I was playing football and even as I work in television, if I speak someplace, somebody will ask the question, “Is it hard to live the gospel given your profession?” And my answer is, “No. It’s easy to live the gospel in my profession.” You know what’s hard? My teammates who had drug problems. My teammates who had a wife and three girlfriends. That’s hard.

You know what’s easy? Coming home to my wife and getting eight hours of sleep every night. The gospel helps me get eight hours of sleep every single night. I love the gospel. We love the Church. We’re grateful for the leadership of the gospel, of the Church, and the way that they guide and direct our lives, the latitude they give us to be able to make choices for ourselves. And we love family history. And we’re going to do more family history.

I’m just awed by this audience, how many people—how many kids, children, are here with their parents or grandparents. So I bear my witness that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true and we are so, so fortunate to be a part of it. That’s the result of the gospel right there, in my opinion.

Sheri Dew

Brothers and sisters, we have loved being with you. And I love being in the presence of covenant-keeping men. It always inspires me. Always.

From what these two men have shared, haven’t we seen the absolute power of faith in action and the magnificence of the gospel, which seals husbands and wives and children together? It all happens in the temple. I testify that the temple is filled with power, that it’s a place of peace. And I do testify that finding family names and taking them to the temple opens the heavens. It is pure joy to serve the Lord by helping to save His children. I testify of that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Amen.