Thursday, May 13, 2010

Remembering to Trust -or- Meet Joe Hapi

It was May of 1971.  I had three months left on my Mission to the Philippines.  I received a transfer to the Marikina/Pasig area.  I hoped to exit with a quiet cushy assignment.  Instead I was given a Greenie, made a District Leader and assigned to be Branch President of the Marikina/Pasig Branch.  I was overwhelmed until I met with the District President, then I was floored!
The District President informed me that a new building had been announced for Quezon City and that each Branch had an assignment to raise funds for the local portion of the cost of the building.
(I was so heavily occupied during this three months that these are the only months I failed to keep a journal.  For this reason I’m going to be vague about exact figures in my account of what happened.  I am also going to condense the story greatly.  Hopefully, the highlights will convey the miracle I am about to describe.”)
The District President assigned the Marikina/Pasig Branch a large number of pesos to raise.  And after making the assignment he added, ” We want it before you go home Elder.”  Did I tell you I was floored?  Understatement!
From there I met up with my new companion, Elder Joe Hapi.  Elder Hapi is a Maori from New Zealand.  He was the first foreigner to receive the David O. McKay scholarship.  Joe was twice captain of the Church College of New Zealand Rugby Team.  He’s large, robust, engaging, courageous, joyful and full of faith.  Elder Hapi arrived with the discussions memorized, the confidence of virtue and a profound testimony.  Elder Hapi hit the ground running!
Getting acquainted with a new Branch, learning so many new jobs, and getting everything organized had my head spinning for days.  Promptly, we organized a Branch Carnival hoping to raise a good chunk of the money.  It was well attended but didn’t yield 1% of what we needed.  I was just sick.  The average family in the Branch made ten pesos a week.  There was no way they could contribute anywhere near the required amount.
I was heart sick about it and expressed as much to Elder Hapi.  “I can’t do it!” I complained.  “You don’t have to,” was his response.  “God is able to do his own work,” he declared, in such a matter of fact tone that I just stared at him.
I’d had exposure to that kind of faith, but not in circumstances where it applied so directly to me and not at the feet of a mentor who manifest his faith in such a simple, forthright and confident manner.  He was sure and I knew it.
Day’s later we were out tracting and were invited in by a nice, middle aged man.  We asked him what he did for a living and he answered that he was a manager for the UTEX (professional) baskeball team.  Elder Hapi nudged me with an elbo.
“What?” I asked.
“Here it is.”
“Here’s what?”  (I didn’t get it.)  My companion, accepting my position as Senior Companion, asked for permission to take the lead.  I granted it, still confused.
“Would your basketball team consider playing an exhibition basketball game as a fund raiser to help build a church building in the area?” he asked.  Our new friend responded affirmatively, noting that the final decision wasn’t up to him.  He went to bat for us and acquired the go ahead.
We had a number of missionaries in the greater Manila area who regularly gathered on P-day to play ball.  Some had played college ball, others were High School stars.  Often they would arrange to play local college teams.  President Smith granted approval for the Elders to face UTEX.
We were able to rent a large arena, which supplied tickets enough to fill it.  I was beginning to think it might actually all come together.  Then, in rapid succession came three seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
First, the Philippine Basketball Association denied UTEX’s request to play an exhibition game.  To make matters even more impossible, the head of the PBA was a Catholic Priest from Ireland.  I am freaking out!  “What are we going to do?”  “We’ve already sold the tickets all over the city!”  The only hope I could think of was the immediate destruction of the island by a sudden eruption of Mt. Pinatubo!  Elder Hapi, calmly reminded me of 1 Nephi 3:7.  I didn’t get it.  He had to spell it out for me.  We needed to go meet the Priest.  Clueless, I asked, “What will we say?”  He didn’t know and didn’t care.  He was totally comfortable with “not knowing before hand” what we would say or do.  To make the story short our good friend the Priest, granted permission and sent us on our way saying, “Go with God, me boys, and tell ‘em a Jesuit sent you!”
Second, we discovered we would be in violation of the law if we held a fund raiser within 120 days of a National Election.  I was catching on.  We went to see the Philippines Election Commission.  Again, our way was miraculously opened before us.
Finally, there became a very real concern that anti-American sentiment could be agitated by this event, which could result in a very dangerous and ugly situation.  Again, Elder Hapi’s confidence and faith carried the day.  We went forward with assurance.  God had, time and again, guided our steps and cleared our path.  Indeed, God is able to do his own work.
That night at the commencement of the game, we presented the colors and a large block of foreign, mostly American, missionaries stood and proudly, boldly sang the Philippines National Anthem in Tagalog.  This completely dismissed the fear of anti-American demonstrations or activities at the event.  The entire crowd was moved by the Spirit they felt as we enjoyed those moments together.
We lost the game 78 to 87, placed dozens of Book of Mormons, had a wonderful event and raised more than enough money to reach our goal!
Each of us is given stewardships in this life.  God entrusts us with people and things to care for.  Elder Joe Hapi taught me that God is sure to provide the resources to properly care for those stewardships.  Seeing myself as a steward rather than an owner greatly facilitates my optimism.  When things look impossible, when the road ahead is dark and appears treacherous, I think of my Maori friend, trust in God and step forward with confidence.  Nothing is impossible for God and if I am on His errand I may proceed with a perfect brightness of hope, knowing God is fully able to do His own work.
I had not seen or heard from Joe for these many years since the summer of 1971, until this very week.  I found him on Facebook and we are in the process of reconnecting our lives.  I marvel at the impact one great man could have on my life in three short months.  He has been the yard stick against which I have measured my faith for all these years.  I will be forever grateful to know him.

Note:  I wrote this for another blog some time ago and was thinking of it today.  This past week has been another week of miracles for me.  So often Nephi and other Book of Mormon prophets reminded themselves of the great things God had done for them and their people as a way to find courage and faith to face uncertainty in their futures.  The Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt was their benchmark experience in that regard.  This experience with Elder Joe Hapi, was my benchmark experience.  As I faced the utter impossibility of making the house payment this week, my mind went back to the story above described.  My faith and trust grew and I knew that somehow, God would move this mountain too.  I is with tears and gratitude this morning that I affirm that He has.  Thanks again Joe, for teaching me to put my trust in God.


Anonymous said...

Kia Ora,
My Name is Vanessa Hapi and I am the eldest daughter of Joe Hapi, My heart was warmed and filled with pride reading your account of my father’s faith and the profound impact he had on your life, I am blessed to have had his influence in my life and the strong, passionate, dedicated, & unwavering love and understanding of my family, my grand mother Rahia Hapi of whom I am very proud to by named after was the quintessence and epitome of faith, integrity, diligence, honor and Whanau (family) along with his brother and 2 sisters ( my aunties Whaiora and Mihi and Uncle Philip) and all there children, who even in the darkest of times have been a guiding light not just for me but the Whanau as a collective, accepting us all as we are and how we come. So it is not by any means a far stretch of the imagination to see where and why my father had the faith and dedication he did. You would only ever have to meet his family to understand that of which I am so very proud to be a part of.

Ma te Atua koe e manaaki.
(God is watching over you)

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