Being an Example

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John Groberg

Everything we do affects ourselves and others right here and now. Just as a bad example can influence other members of the Church in a negative way and lead them into sin, so can even a simple act that truly reflects the Savior help others to remember who they really are and inspire them to live the teachings of Christ they espouse. 

Elder John H. Groberg shared the following true story of a young Tongan boy during World War II that illustrates this principle:

It was nighttime, but the moon and the stars gave Finau a feeling of assurance as he carefully guided his canoe across the wide expanse of the gently undulating Pacific Ocean.  He constantly studied the stars, so he knew he was going in the right direction.  The moon was up, and its brightness was only obscured by occasional wisps of high clouds.

He had heard something about a "war" going on. Several of his friends had gone to the main island and traded their carved tikis and woven baskets to the American soldiers for money--more money than they had seen in all their 16 or so years of life.  Finau had collected his very best baskets and carvings, and was already anticipating what he would do with the money he was sure to get from the Americans…

The sun had just come up as he paddled his canoe through the reef opening and into the quiet lagoon.  He saw an American soldier with a gun standing on the shore and made his course towards him.  He had heard of guns and of the war and of the American soldiers and all the money they had and of all the things that money could buy.  But now as he actually saw an American and observed his gun and realized he would have to talk to him, he became very nervous and uncertain of just what to do.

Finau had learned a few words of English in his local school, but would it be enough? How much should he ask for his goods?  He only knew pence and shillings and pounds, and he'd heard that the Americans used dimes and dollars.  What were they worth? What would they buy?  How should he begin?

Finau felt a little fear as he pulled his canoe up to the beach and the soldier came over.  There was no one else on the beach.  Would the soldier just take his goods?  Would he shoot him? Uncertainty gripped his feelings as he climbed out of the canoe and pulled it onto the beach.  He was here and he had traveled all night, so despite his fear he must go ahead.

"You buy?" he said to the soldier as he lifted a few baskets and tikis from the boat.

The young American soldier came over and looked at the items.  "How much for this?" he asked, taking a beautifully carved tiki in his hand.

Finau almost panicked. He wasn't sure of the meaning of the strange words, but he felt he wanted him to say a price, so he blurted out, "Very good. Number one tiki. You buy. One pound." The soldier looked quizzically at him, "You're new at this, aren't you? How about two dollars for the tiki and these three baskets?" Finau wondered, "Is that enough! Maybe I should ask more and see what happens."

"Number one tiki, number one basket. Two dollars tiki, two dollars basket."

"Oh, you're a little bargainer are you?  I'll tell you what. I've got a carton of cigarettes here. Cigarettes are worth more than money.  I'll give you this whole carton for everything you have here.  I guarantee you it's a good deal.  They are good cigarettes.  Here, I'll show you."  The soldier lit one and took a puff and then offered it to Finau.

Up to now Finau had been uncertain of himself, but as he recognized the cigarettes and realized the intent of what was being said, he straightened up and firmly replied, "No!"

"Oh, come on.  One sale and you're all through.  Think of the time you'll save, and if you don't want to smoke them all yourself, you can trade them for other things--even money if you want. They're rationed, you know.  Who can tell their value under these circumstances and in this faraway place. Come on, let's trade." "No," retorted Finau.

"Come on, come on. What's the matter? I'll give them to you first, and you can unload your goods and leave them on the sand.  You won't get a better deal." The soldier was noticeably irritated by this "stupid native's" refusal.  He looked down at him with all the superiority he felt and again said, "Go ahead.  It's okay.  Cigarettes are valuable.  Don't be so stupid."

Finau, groping for words, stood erect and said, "No, me no smoke.  Me Mormon."

It was as though he had shot the young American.  The soldier jerked in startled surprise. He carefully studied Finau, then looked past him and stared longingly into space.  He looked again into the lowly native's eyes.  He took the carton of cigarettes from under his arm, placed it in his right hand, crushed it, and heaved it far into the lagoon.

Finau wondered, "Why?"  He looked at the carton with its bobbing packages scattered about. Then he looked again at the soldier as he turned to walk away from the shore and heard him say,  "Yeah, I know. So am I."

(Excerpt from John Groberg - "You Never Know," New Era, March 1986, pp. 4-6.) Reprinted in Book:  Lord, I Would Follow Thee, By Brent L. Top, pp. 17-19.