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Why I’m a Mormon is a collection of fascinating, individual journeys of faith by dozens of stalwart, modern Mormons—some prominent, others less well-known but no less impressive. Contributors share brief reflections on how their feelings about the gospel and their involvement in the Church have shaped and enriched their lives. These vignettes are from Latter-day Saints who are faithfully and successfully navigating these troubled, secular, sometimes dark and temptation laden times. The book includes expressions from successful business leaders, entertainers, sports figures, authors, and many others.
- Size: 6 x 9
- Pages: 320
- Released: 01/2012
About the Author
Joseph A. Cannon is the former editor of the Deseret News. He is an attorney who has also served in the federal government and as an industry executive. Cannon has been actively involved in efforts to better the community and has served in a variety of callings in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He and his wife, Jan, have seven children and live in Provo, Utah.
Mataumu Toelupe Alisa
Mataumu Toelupe Alisa
Mataumu Toelupe Alisa is an artist who has mastered many media. But he is best known for his large murals in private collections and public buildings across Hawaii, including the Hawaii Judiciary Building and the Hawaii State Convention Center.
Born in 1942 in a fale or thatched-roof hut on the island of Upolu, Western Samoa, Mataumu immigrated to Hawaii at age eighteen and enrolled at the Church College of Hawaii (now BYU–Hawaii). He had such a passion for art that he would regularly sneak into the art room after hours and paint all night. Consequently he slept through enough classes to earn academic dismissal. Frustrated, he found his place at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, where he studied before and after his mission to Samoa (1967–1969).
His life and his art were significantly influenced by David Asherman and Juliette May Fraser, artists with whom he did several joint projects. He was inspired by the great murals of Mexico’s Renaissance when the trio traveled to Mexico to create a ceramic tile mural.
In 1975, Mataumu completed his first large mural (ten by sixty feet) for Molokai High School. During this project he met Ann Zukin, an art student from California. They were married in 1976 and have reared five children.
In 1982, the BYU–Hawaii art department requested that Mataumu bring his studio to the Laie campus so students could experience a major work in progress—a mural for the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Through this experience, he was inspired to return to school in 1984 to, as he puts it, “help me to be a better artist and a better patriarch for my family.” He received his BFA in 1987 and his MFA from BYU in Provo, Utah, in 1990. By 1997, he was teaching at the university that had once dismissed him. He retired in 2011.
A quiet man with a happy nature, he is always serving. His disarming sense of humor comes in handy when he critiques student work with quips like: “Your trees look like they’re from Jurassic Park,” or “I think your painting needs a blessing.”
Among ceramic muralists, Mataumu Alisa is known for the consistency of his glaze finish in large ceramic murals—something extremely difficult to maintain. His secret? “As I place each batch of tiles into the kiln and fire it up, I offer a prayer to know the right time to turn off the kiln. I invariably feel a gentle whisper, ‘Now is the time,’ and I offer another prayer of gratitude.”
• • •
An important part of why I am a Mormon is the way my parents came into the Church. My parents were born at a time when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was new to Samoa, and its members faced tremendous religious persecution. My father’s birth in 1899, after an arranged marriage between a maiden of one village and Chief Seaga Toelupe of Malie, created an alliance between the two villages. Relatives of the maiden who were new members of the Church were named foster parents of the baby. They were serving as a missionary couple, and having this baby helped their work and the Church gain respect and acceptance from other villages and churches.
A year later, my mother was born of a similar arranged marriage. Something incredible happened—an LDS missionary couple related to my mother were granted a request to be foster parents of the baby girl. As was the custom in the Church in those days, these two sets of missionaries, with my parents-to-be, moved from village to village and island to island working to build up the Church. Both couples sent their children to a new Church school in Sauniatu, a beautiful, isolated village built inside the crater of an extinct volcano by early Saints who had been persecuted and expelled from their villages for being Mormons.
My parents met there, married, and were called on a mission of their own to build the Church in Samoa. They would go to a village to live while they taught the gospel. Because Samoans love to sing, my parents would introduce the Church by organizing a choir. Singing in four-part harmony with someone standing in front of the singers waving a stick was a novelty for most of these people. My father wrote songs of the Restoration for the choirs to sing. My mother taught the young men of another faith to play the organ so they could have a choir in their church as well. When the LDS Church was finally established and strong in one village, my parents would be called to preach elsewhere.
I was the last child of two girls and eight boys. Before my sisters and I were born, an influenza outbreak swept through Samoa, killing many people. My father returned from his Church assignments to find that one of his small sons had died and been buried. My mother was holding a second son, fearing he would soon stop breathing. They had previously lost one other son to illness. I later asked my mother what my father said when he came home to such sorrow. She said, “He put his hand on my shoulder and told me I would see my boys again.” Father gave the dying two-year-old boy a priesthood blessing. My mother recalled it as a strange blessing that said the boy would live to bury both his father and his mother. This son survived. A third son would die years later.
One day an entourage of chiefs arrived at the village where my parents were serving. They brought a message from my father’s natural father, Chief Toelupe. He wanted my father to be the next chief. My father had other brothers. He said he could not serve as chief because he was serving in the Church. The aging chief then did the unthinkable: he sent emissaries to the mission president to have the Church release his son. The mission president wrote a note to my father asking him to pack up and come by the mission home on his way to Malie to be the new chief. He set apart (blessed) my father to be chief of the Toelupe family and to bring them the gospel. He set apart my mother to be a counselor to her husband in this assignment.
According to tradition, the holder of the Toelupe title was expected to be a Protestant. Toelupe ancestors had received Christianity from missionaries of the London Missionary Society (LMS) from England. Since their descendants traditionally maintained an association with the LMS, the Toelupe chief was the patron of the LMS Church in Malie. Another expectation of the holder of the Toelupe title was for the chief to have a chief’s tattoo, an intricate, inked design that runs from the chest to below his knees. When Father was introduced into the village, he was widely accepted as faife’au (minister of the gospel) and matai (chief). Being the minister of the gospel, he decided not to be tattooed. His dual calling as missionary and chief has brought positive changes for good in the village of Malie.
Just in front of our home, the old chief’s round meetinghouse sat atop an elevated stone platform. The chiefs, when they met, would gather in a circle wearing their traditional lavalavas, arranged to afford a view of the sacred tattoos. My father would come to the meetings dressed as a missionary, wearing long white pants, a long-sleeved white shirt, and a black bow tie. The meeting always started with a ceremony drinking kava juice to honor ancestors. Surrounding the meetinghouse, to prevent intruders from breaking the sanctity of the meeting, the untitled men of the village stood armed with clubs.
I was two years old and curious. Whenever I heard the clapping for a meeting, I would run out of the house, straight to the chiefs’ meetinghouse. My father would tell the armed men to let me come to him. This was unheard of. I would also ask my father for a drink of kava. Standing right next to him, I would drink from the same cup shared by all the chiefs. In Samoan culture, it is very unusual for a child to enter the circle, much less drink from the chiefs’ cup. But family was important to my father, and he did not want to exclude us. Finally, an older chief suggested that they bestow a title on me to make it official for me to join the circle of chiefs and drink the kava. My chief title is Inu tu—which means to stand and drink.
Father formed a new branch of the Church at his farm, and there he taught and baptized many Chinese laborers who worked close by. He also organized a choir at a nearby prison. The prisoners were allowed to attend church and sing in the choir. Many of them joined the Church. In Malie, my mother organized the women. They chose a woman president of the village to bring women’s and children’s problems to the chiefs’ council.
My father died at the young age of forty-seven, when I was only three. The day he died, I was under his hospital bed. He told me to be quiet and not let the doctor know that I was there. I remember that the whole village came wailing to touch him as he lay in the village meetinghouse. He was buried beside the road between his village and his farm. The men placed a large stone pointed to heaven at the head of his simple grave. It was impossible for my oldest brothers, away at school and work, to return. At seventeen, the son my father had blessed to live to bury him made all the arrangements for the burial. He was also the one responsible for the burial of my mother when she died at age eighty-nine. Mother announced one morning that she had seen her sons and declared it was time for her to go home. Three days later she died.
Before my father died, he instructed my mother to move our family to the village of Pesega, where the mission home was located, so we could be close to the Church. During our move, a Chinese widower who had been married to our cousin asked my mother to adopt his five children because the government was deporting Chinese laborers. Our now enlarged family lived in a fale, a thatched-roof home without walls, where blinds woven from coconut leaves were let down to block wind or rain. We all slept close to each other on the floor on mats made of lauhala leaves.
I learned how to pray by watching my mother. She had great faith. Every night she would kneel and begin her prayer by singing the hymn “O My Father.” My adopted little brother, Lafi, and I would fall asleep each holding onto one of her ankles. I remember waking up—sometimes many times during the night—and my mother would still be praying. We woke up in the morning still holding her ankles.
The most beautiful day of my life was the Saturday morning I was baptized. People were all dressed in white standing on the thick green grass within the white wall surrounding our chapel when I went down into the clear, clear water of the outdoor baptismal font. While awaiting the completion of a new Church school, I attended the Marist Brothers School. One day during recess a priest drew a picture of Mary, the mother of Jesus, on the blackboard. I had never seen anyone do that before. I decided then that that was what I really wanted to do.
I began to draw pictures every day. I would draw on any piece of paper I could find. My mother noticed my new interest and provided me with my own blackboard. I used it constantly. In school I was punished frequently because I drew instead of doing schoolwork. They would make me stay after school and pull weeds for an hour, then I would go home and draw some more. When the school needed someone to paint scenery for its popular annual operettas, I had my first opportunity to design and paint on a large scale.
My family moved to Hawaii, where I finished high school as a good art student. In the fall of 1963, I entered the (LDS) Church College of Hawaii. It was the most frustrating time of my life. I was not prepared to take so many classes. The art classes were not long enough. After the first semester, I was dismissed from school and went to work for a year. I returned, but the second time was worse. I hated even the art classes. At night I would sneak out of the dorm and walk on the roof of the school, thinking. I felt there was something else I must do. One night I walked into the auditorium where a group was practicing for a play. I practically begged them to let me paint the scenery. They were pleased with my work, and it was a rewarding experience. When the semester was over, I knew I should be in an art school. I enrolled in the Honolulu Academy of Arts and enjoyed learning from the internationally known artists the Academy brought to Hawaii.
The following year I was called on a mission to Samoa. My art teachers were not happy with my decision to go, but I knew I should serve a mission. When I returned to the Academy after my mission, my very first project won an award and was purchased by the San Diego Museum of Fine Arts. I sold my class projects faster than I could produce them. To sustain myself, I also worked as a plumber. I was happy with life because each day I was doing something in art.
Soon the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts awarded me a commission to create a large ceramic tile mural on the theme of ancient Hawaiian sports for the high school on Molokai. I extended the size of the mural to 600 square feet so I would have more to learn. After three years of education, frustration, and excitement, it was dedicated in 1975. It was the most perfect thing I had ever done.
One day, while I was sitting in my studio, something like a voice spoke to my mind that unless I married, I would make no further progress in my life. Later, during the dedication of my mural in Molokai, I became better acquainted with Ann Sherman Zukin—one of the most important and happy events of my life. After a brief courtship, we were sealed in the Oakland Temple seven years after I returned from my mission. Ann was called to serve in the Relief Society presidency (our Church women’s organization), and I served in the Young Men’s program. These callings were important factors in our marriage that taught us service, love, compassion, and patience. My desire has become to express in my art the goodness and love of the Lord to all humankind. I hope to perfect my way of communicating through my murals so that every brushstroke expresses my gratitude and brings someone closer to Christ.
Whenever I have questions in my life or need direction, I think of my parents. For me, growing up in the Church in my particular family is a miracle. I didn’t have to find the Church; I was given it. My parents were teachers of the gospel. I was taught gospel principles. I watched my parents live them. I grew up knowing that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ. Many times I have had the Spirit testify to me that the Church is true. The Church is true. That is why I am a Mormon.
by melodie - reviewed on February 17, 2012
I loved the concept for this book. However, it fell a little short of what I expected. I was hoping to read profound testimonies from exceptionally insightful people. The people in this book are successful in the worldly sense. They are mainly from the business or athletic sectors. There are not a lot of women and even less minorities. It would have been more interesting to read about people who were exceptionally spiritual as opposed to people who had achieved worldly accomplishments.
by Tristan - reviewed on March 22, 2012
I found the book interesting and because each chapter is fairly short I could pick it up and read one whole story in the small moments of my day between caring for my growing brood. Getting to read conversion stories in their own words touched me. The variety of ways God leads people to know him amazes me. I’ve enjoyed my time reading Why I’m a Mormon. Read my full review at: http://ourbusyhomeschool.blogspot.com/2012/03/why-im-mormona-book-review.html