Elder Gong invites BYU students to write their own best story

In the last devotional of winter semester, the Apostle taught BYU students about transformative technology and the transformative power of connecting with Jesus Christ

PROVO, Utah — For years, Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has been intrigued by connections that transform the physical world.

During a BYU devotional held in the Marriott Center on Tuesday, April 11, the Apostle invited his listeners to think about transformative technologies by joining a recent Saturday morning conversation the Gong family had about ChatGPT; learning about an adventure at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina; finding out about a trip to the Panama Canal and discovering what an Art Attack is.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks in the Marriott Center at BYU in Provo, Utah, on April 11, 2023. | Joey Garrison, BYU

Tranformative technologies

ChatGPT, Elder Gong explained, stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer, an artificial intelligence model “which interacts in a conversational way” to “answer follow-up questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises and reject inappropriate requests.”

To illustrate its capabilities, Elder Gong shared a humorous personal example where his family asked the AI to write a business plan to train dogs to operate nuclear power plants — which it did.

“Certain types of thought work are about to get much, much faster and scalable. Other parts are going to be completely commoditized,” one of Elder Gong’s family members commented.

Elder Gong then shared a story of traveling with Sister Susan Gong to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where Orville and Wilbur Wright piloted the world’s first powered, sustained flights.

“From these simple beginnings, powered flight globalized communications, travel, warfare and so on,” Elder Gong said.

He noted that the elapsed time between the first Wright brothers’ flight in 1903 and the first moon landing in 1969 was only 66 years. “Imagine the technological changes that will occur in your lives,” Elder Gong told students.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the BYU devotional held in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on April 11, 2023. | Joey Garrison, BYU

The third example of transformative technology Elder Gong shared was the Panama Canal, which connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. “When it opened on Aug. 15, 1914, the Panama Canal transformed trade, travel, communications and so on,” Elder Gong explained. Today it connects 144 sea routes and reduces sailing distance by roughly 8,000 nautical miles or 22 days.

Each of these examples show how being connected physically, like through air travel or the Panama Canal, or digitally, like through ChatGPT, can transform an environment. 

“Yet, however much our external physical environment may change, that which matters most spiritually does not change,” Elder Gong said. “… Of all the many things that beckon for our attention, that which ultimately matters most does not change: who we are (spiritual identity), whose we are (covenant belonging), and how we use our God-given agency to discover and become our own best story.”

Transformed through family relationships

“We are meant … to connect and be transformed because of our family relationships,” Elder Gong said. 

In 1 Nephi 5, the Prophet Lehi learns from the plates of brass about his genealogy, and it inspires him. “And now when my father saw all these things, he was filled with the Spirit, and began to prophesy concerning his seed” (verse 17).

The family and scriptural records were so important that Lehi and his family carried the heavy plates on their long journey to the land of promise, Elder Gong noted.

Today, thanks to modern technology, individuals can carry with them their own brass plates — “the scriptures, the words of the prophets, our living family records. … Revelatory experiences with our own brass plates can repeatedly guide our journey toward our promised land,” Elder Gong promised.

Students gather in the Marriott Center on BYU campus for a devotional with Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on April 11, 2023. | Joey Garrison, BYU

As “digital natives,” no generation is better prepared to contribute and make a difference in bringing together God’s family — the family of all humanity, Elder Gong told students. 

“Be intentional about recording your faith and feelings,” he counseled. “These records can bless your life and generations to come.”

Using new technologies, more people in more places are discovering and connecting with family records and stories. RootsTech and FamilySearch are now in 242 countries and territories with more than 1 million unique visitors weekly.

“Always, each individual matters,” he said.

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Elder and Sister Gong journey from Hawaii to Ireland during RootsTech Family Discovery Day

Transformed through covenant belonging

“We understand who we are when we understand whose we are,” Elder Gong continued.

One’s “own best story” comes as he or she chooses covenant belonging — belonging by covenant with God and each other.

President Russell M. Nelson recently taught during the Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, “You get to decide what kind of life you want to live forever.”

Any man-made “I choose me” philosophy pales in comparison to “the infinitely grand and glorious promise that we can learn to bless those around us as our Savior would and that we can receive all God our Eternal Father has,” Elder Gong said.

One’s own best story transcends narrow self-interest and the blinders mortality puts on understanding. “It encompasses our legacy of faith, our trust that God knows who we are and cares about us, in matters large and small.”

Elder Gerrit W. Gong sits with his wife, Sister Susan Gong, prior to speaking during a BYU devotional in the Marriott Center on April 11, 2023. | Joey Garrison, BYU

All make mistakes, but God’s light is always on, Elder Gong said. “Please recast any feeling of superiority or guilt that may be separating you from God or His restored Church as an invitation to come and experience again Jesus Christ’s love.”

Realize that perfection is in Jesus Christ. “As we trust God, we step off this world’s perfectionist treadmill and its siren song that we are inadequate, never good enough,” Elder Gong said.

Trusting in God results in peace, hope and a way forward. “God does care about what we do.”

Sometimes individuals want God to tell them more; other times they want Him to tell less. “Usually through the Holy Ghost, He manifests His eternal omniscient love by what and when He gives what He knows will bless us most,” Elder Gong observed.

Knowledge, strength and power are found in the house of the Lord. “No wonder President Nelson encourages us to change the world by transforming ourselves and those around us by connecting to God by covenant — the strongest bonds in heaven and on earth.”

Elder Gong encouraged listeners to discover purity of heart, clarity of purpose, humility and wise persistence. 

“In all we do, we put Jesus Christ first. As a matter of priority, we put Jesus Christ first among all the things we do. As a matter of focus, we put Jesus Christ first in each thing we do.”

BYU Men’s Chorus performs during a devotional with Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on April 11, 2023. | Joey Garrison, BYU

An Art Attack

An Art Attack is what Elder Gong’s family calls it when a school, orphanage or community center gathers to paint — and thereby transform — a large, plain wall into a fun, colorful mural, he explained.

While introducing a two-minute time-lapse of a mural creation, Elder Gong invited students to ask themselves, “If I could curate a five-minute time-lapse video of my life between today, April 11, and Oct. 1, 2023, how would I write, or how would I produce, my own best story?”

Following the video, he then invited students to ask themselves, “Is there a neglected wall or drab place in my life I can transform and bring into full living color through Jesus Christ?” 

Small, positive changes, like the strokes of a paintbrush, compounded over time are often more transformative than unimplemented big hopes, he noted.

Outward things — shipping routes, flight patterns, digital applications — change but charity, the pure love of Christ, endures forever. Quoting the Prophet Alma, Elder Gong said, “Please do not set your hearts upon riches, but be liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stand in need” (see Alma 1:30).

Pray with all energy of heart to be filled with this love, Elder Gong said. “This charity comes as we know who we are, whose we are, and as we discover and become our own best story.”

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