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46

Baskets and Bottles

An original recording of this discourse is available at churchhistorianspress.org (courtesy of Church History Library).







Annual General Conference

Tabernacle, Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah

April 6, 1996


Through both her words and her leadership, Chieko Nishimura Okazaki (1926–2011) brought increased attention to the church’s global membership. When she joined the Young Women general board in 1961, Okazaki became the first person of color to hold a church calling on the general board level. She was also the first woman to serve on all three of the women’s auxiliary boards: Young Women from 1961 to 1966, Primary from 1988 to 1990, and Relief Society from 1990 to 1997.1 When her husband, Edward Okazaki, established the new Japan Okinawa mission in 1968, Chieko was president of the mission Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary auxiliaries.2

Chieko Okazaki grew up in a Buddhist family of Japanese ancestry that was employed on Hawaiian plantations. The family sacrificed for her education, and education became her life’s work. Hatsuko Nishimura, Okazaki’s mother, was forced to quit school in sixth grade after the death of her own mother. To help finance her daughter’s education, she and other family members—her husband, Kanenori, and their two sons—supplemented their income from plantation labor by making zori shoes of lauhala leaves at the rate of fifty cents per pair.3

First attending Latter-day Saint church meetings when she was eleven, Okazaki chose to join when she was fifteen, leaving home shortly thereafter to work as a maid to pay for high school.4 She sold jewelry for Sears-Roebuck and worked as a clerk at the Swedish consulate to pay for her degree in education at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.5 She also earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Northern Colorado in 1977 and a degree in educational administration from Colorado State University in 1978.6 She taught elementary school in Maui, Hawaii; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Littleton, Colorado, and for ten years was the first principal of Sunrise Elementary School in Littleton.7

By the time she was fifteen, Okazaki had come to acknowledge the complexity of her ethnic and cultural status. Worried about how others would perceive them after the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Okazaki and her mother gathered and burned every Japanese memento they owned. But then she looked in the mirror and contemplated her Japanese face. She thought, “I have never set foot in Japan. I am not Japanese in my heart. If a Japanese submarine landed on our beach and Japanese soldiers came ashore, I would run away from them. But I cannot run away from myself. My eyes, my skin, and my hair are Japanese.”8 Not long after her marriage to Edward Okazaki on June 18, 1949,9 the couple moved to Utah for Ed to study social work at the University of Utah.10 Okazaki described herself and her husband as “Japanese in our ancestry, Hawaiian by place of birth, and mainland American by place of residence. … We had claims on three cultures but did not totally belong in any one of the three.”11 She confronted racism throughout her life. Okazaki began teaching at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City in September 1951, soon after World War II when anti-Japanese sentiment still ran high in the United States. Three mothers refused to allow their children to be in her second-grade class. But Okazaki, radiant on the first day in a fuchsia dress and with a flower tucked behind her ear, soon won them over. The three mothers asked if their children could be in Okazaki’s class after all.12

Okazaki repeatedly worked to foster unity despite language and cultural barriers. For example, after joining the Relief Society general presidency in 1990, she felt a strong desire to communicate with church members in their own languages. Before she traveled to other lands, the church’s translation department translated the talks she wrote into Spanish, Tongan, and Korean; then she practiced and practiced her delivery. Korean posed a particular challenge for her. Sunae Mackelprang, whose husband, Gary, translated the talk, spoke it into a recorder for Okazaki, so she could play it over and over to guide her pronunciation.13 Still, she struggled to pronounce the words in a comprehensible way and wondered whether she should give up and rely on a translator. She felt prompted to write the talk down in Hiragana characters—Chinese characters that Japanese speakers also use—and after that painstaking work, the pronunciation, grammatical structure, and intonation finally made sense to her. Her audience was able to understand the talk and was astonished and gratified that she could deliver it without a translator.14

In 1996, Okazaki oversaw Relief Society curriculum, Relief Society history, leadership, and visiting teaching, among other programs.15 She delivered the following talk on unity and diversity during the Saturday morning session of general conference.

Chieko N. Okazaki

Chieko N. Okazaki delivering a general conference address. 1996. Okazaki was a prolific writer and popular speaker. A former elementary school teacher and principal, she frequently employed visual aids when she spoke. Photograph by Welden C. Anderson. (Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)

My dear brothers and sisters, aloha! In February, I rejoiced with you when the number of members outside the United States edged ever so slightly past the number of members inside the United States.16 That slight shift is an important symbol of the international nature of the church. I thought of Paul’s statement to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”17 This week I celebrate the 54th anniversary of my baptism. People like me who are converts know the promise of Paul: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.”18

Brothers and sisters, today I want to talk about the beautiful oneness that we share in the gospel. I just returned from the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, and Fiji three weeks ago, where Sister Susan Warner and I participated in leadership training.19 Earlier assignments have taken me to Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Samoa, Korea, and Japan.

In all these places we worked hard and long. People have said, “Oh, you must have been so tired.” On the contrary, there was a feeling of being borne up “as on eagles’ wings,”20 because we have seen the daughters of Zion “awake, and arise … and put on [their] beautiful garments”21 in response to the good news of the gospel. We taught, but—and this is the point I want to stress—we also learned.

The most important lesson was that we are truly all one in Christ Jesus.22 We are one in our love of the Savior. We are one in our testimonies of the gospel. We are one in faith, hope, and charity. We are one in our conviction that the Book of Mormon is the inspired word of God. We are one in supporting President Hinckley and the other General Authorities.23 We are one in loving each other.

Are we perfect in any of these things? No. We all have much to learn. Are we exactly the same in any of these things? No. We are all at different points on our journey back to our Father in Heaven. Did the Jews and Greeks whom Paul addressed in his epistle to the Galatians stop being Jews and Greeks when they were baptized? Did the men stop being men and the women stop being women? No. But they had all “been baptized into Christ” and had “put on Christ.”24

Nephi explains the same principle in these terms: The Savior “inviteth … all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female … and all are alike unto God.”25

God has given us many gifts, much diversity, and many differences, but the essential thing is what we know about each other—that we are all his children. Our challenge as members of the church is for all of us to learn from each other, that we may all love each other and grow together.

The doctrines of the gospel are indispensable. They are essential, but the packaging is optional. Let me share a simple example to show the difference between the doctrines of the church and the cultural packaging. Here is a bottle of Utah peaches, prepared by a Utah homemaker to feed her family during a snowy season. Hawaiian homemakers don’t bottle fruit. They pick enough fruit for a few days and store it in baskets like this for their families. This basket contains a mango, bananas, a pineapple, and a papaya. I bought these fruits in a supermarket in Salt Lake City, but they might have been picked by a Polynesian homemaker to feed her family in a climate where fruit ripens all year round.

The basket and the bottle are different containers, but the content is the same: fruit for a family. Is the bottle right and the basket wrong? No, they are both right. They are containers appropriate to the culture and the needs of the people. And they are both appropriate for the content they carry, which is the fruit.

Now, what is the fruit? Paul tells us: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance.”26 In the sisterhood of Relief Society, in the brotherhood of priesthood quorums, in the reverent coming together to partake of the sacrament, the fruit of the Spirit unites us in love, joy, and peace whether the Relief Society is in Taipei or Tonga, whether the priesthood quorum is in Montana or Mexico, and whether the sacrament meeting is in Fiji or the Philippines.

All over the world, as brothers and sisters in the gospel, we can learn from each other, grow closer together, and increase in love for each other. Our unity grows from what we have in common all around the world. They are the doctrines and ordinances of the gospel, our faith in the Savior, our testimonies of the scriptures, our gratitude for guidance from living prophets, and our sense of ourselves as a people striving to be Saints. These are the principles of the gospel.

Let us be sensitive to the unchanging and powerful core principles of the gospel. Let us understand that they matter most. Let us build firm foundations on these principles. Then when the rains fall and the floods come, our house will be “founded upon a rock” and it will not fall.27

Then, building on that firm foundation, let us rejoice with each other, listen to each other, learn from each other, and help each other apply those principles as we deal with our different circumstances, different cultures, different generations, and different geographies.

For six years now, I have been listening to the Relief Society women of the church. I have learned from all of them. I have learned from divorced mothers who are struggling to raise their children alone. I have learned from women who long to be married but are not, from women who yearn for children but cannot bear them, from women who are at risk from emotional and physical abuse in their homes. I have learned from women who work in their homes and women who work outside their homes. I have learned from women who endure chemical dependencies, experiences of childhood sexual abuse, and chronic illness.

Not many of these women thought they were giving me a gift. Most of them thought they were asking for help. But all of them blessed me as I listened and learned from them.

When I was called to the Relief Society general presidency six years ago this month, President Hinckley counseled me: “You bring a peculiar quality to this presidency. You will be recognized as one who represents those beyond the borders of the United States and Canada and, as it were, an outreach across the world to members of the church in many, many lands. They will see in you a representation of their oneness with the church.” He gave me a blessing that my tongue might be loosed as I spoke to the people.28

President Hinckley, I want to bear witness to the Lord before you and this congregation that your counsel and your blessing have been literally fulfilled.

I do not speak Korean or Spanish or Tongan. But when I received my assignment to go among the Relief Society sisters and their priesthood leaders in lands where those languages were spoken, I was filled with a great desire to speak to them in their own language. I drew strength from President Hinckley’s words of comfort and blessing. With the help of the church Translation Department and good coaches who spent hours working with me, I was blessed to deliver my addresses in Spanish, Korean, and Tongan as I went among those people.29 I could feel the Spirit carrying my words to their hearts, and I could feel “the fruit of the Spirit”30 bringing back to me their love, their joy, and their faith. I could feel the Spirit making us one.

Brothers and sisters, whether your fruits are peaches or papaya, and whether you bring them in bottles or in baskets, we thank you for offering them in love. Father in Heaven, may we be one and may we be thine,31 I pray in the sacred name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.

Footnotes

  1. [1]“Obituary: Okazaki, Chieko,” Deseret News, Aug. 7, 2011.

  2. [2]“New Relief Society General Presidency Called,” Ensign 20, no. 5 (May 1990): 111; “Obituary: Okazaki, Chieko”; Chieko N. Okazaki, interview by Brian D. Reeves, Feb.–Apr. 1991, 33–35, CHL.

  3. [3]Gregory A. Prince, “‘There Is Always a Struggle’: An Interview with Chieko N. Okazaki,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 45, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 113; “New Relief Society General Presidency Called,” 110; Chieko N. Okazaki, Lighten Up! (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993), 29–30.

  4. [4]Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Beloved Mormon Women’s Leader Chieko Okazaki Dies,” Salt Lake Tribune, Aug. 5, 2011; Okazaki, Lighten Up!, 7, 29. The attack on Pearl Harbor also occurred when she was fifteen. (Okazaki, Lighten Up!, 7.)

  5. [5]Stack, “Beloved Mormon Women’s Leader Chieko Okazaki Dies.”

  6. [6]“New Relief Society General Presidency Called,” 111; “Obituary: Okazaki, Chieko.”

  7. [7]“Obituary: Okazaki, Chieko”; Okazaki, Lighten Up!, 36; “New Relief Society General Presidency Called,” 111.

  8. [8]Okazaki, Lighten Up!, 7.

  9. [9]“Obituary: Okazaki, Chieko.”

  10. [10]Stack, “Beloved Mormon Women’s Leader Chieko Okazaki Dies.”

  11. [11]Okazaki, Lighten Up!, 8.

  12. [12]See Okazaki, Lighten Up!, 48–50; Prince, “There Is Always a Struggle,” 114–115.

  13. [13]Sunae Mackelprang, telephone interview by Kate Holbrook, Dec. 18, 2015.

  14. [14]Chieko N. Okazaki, What a Friend We Have in Jesus (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2008), 10–13.

  15. [15]Relief Society General Board Minutes, vol. 62, 1995–1997, Jan. 10, 1996, CHL.

  16. [16]The number of church members outside of the United States exceeded the number inside as of February 25, 1996. (Jay M. Todd, “More Members Now outside U.S. Than in U.S.,” Ensign 26, no. 3 [Mar. 1996]: 76; see also Matthew Bowman, The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith [New York: Random House, 2012], 217–222.)

  17. [17]Citation in original: “Gal. 3:28.”

  18. [18]Citation in original: “1 Cor. 12:13.”

  19. [19]Susan Lillywhite Warner served as the second counselor in the Primary general presidency from 1994 to 1999.

  20. [20]Citation in original: “D&C 124:18”; see also Exodus 19:4.

  21. [21]Citation in original: “Moro. 10:31.”

  22. [22]See Galatians 3:28.

  23. [23]Gordon B. Hinckley was president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at this time, with Thomas S. Monson and James E. Faust as his counselors in the First Presidency.

  24. [24]Citation in original: “Gal. 3:27.”

  25. [25]Citation in original: “2 Ne. 26:33.”

  26. [26]Citation in original: “Gal. 5:22–23.”

  27. [27]Citation in original: “Matt. 7:25.”

  28. [28]See Prince, “There Is Always a Struggle,” 121. Gordon B. Hinckley was first counselor in the First Presidency when Okazaki was called in 1990.

  29. [29]The church’s Translation Department was organized in 1946 and is responsible for translating church material and messages into foreign languages. (See Justus Ernst, “Every Man … in His Own Language … ,” Ensign 4, no. 7 [July 1974]: 23.)

  30. [30]Citation in original: “Gal. 5:22.”

  31. [31]Citation in original: “see D&C 38:27.”