Because of my affection for Brigham Young University-Hawaii, I was drawn to a paragraph in a recent issue of LDS Church News about Elder Neil L. Andersen's meeting with Sasa Zibe, Papua New Guinea's minister of health:
"Mr. Zibe expressed admiration for the Church's efforts in helping inspire young people to progress and make something of their lives. Although Mr. Zibe is not a member of the Church himself, he expressed appreciation for what the Church has done for his son, a returned missionary who is completing his degree at BYU-Hawaii" (LDS Church News, Feb. 5, 2011).
Prior to reading this I had been on campus at BYU-Hawaii to learn about I-WORK, the school's work-study program for international students. I was impressed and inspired by each of the students I met. My first interview was with a young man from Papua New Guinea — named Sasa Zibe.
Albert Einstein is credited with saying, "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous." I am glad for the Sasa Zibe coincidence and for the opportunity I had to get to know the health minister's son.
Father to son
"That's a cool name," I told Sasa. He thanked me. We then talked about his journey to BYU-Hawaii. He told me of his conversion and faith, of his education, and of the opportunities that await him after graduation.
Sasa said, "My dad was always into education. 'Whatever [educational opportunity] you can get, go for it,' he'd say." It has been said that education opens doors. For Sasa, education was his door to church membership. When a relative introduced the Zibe family to the church and its emphasis on education, they recognized a rare opportunity.
But Sasa was the only member of his family to join the church. He went on to graduate from the church's Liahona High School in Tonga, to serve a full-time mission in Papua New Guinea and to enroll at BYU-Hawaii. He has been in Laie for three-and-a-half years and will graduate this April.
Benefits of I-WORK
Students such as Sasa who receive I-WORK financial aid commit to stay in school, maintain good grades, work 19 hours each week during school and merit an annual ecclesiastical endorsement.
"I've learned a lot about the church organization since being here," Sasa said. "I've learned how to look after the church, how to be an organized leader and why home teaching is important. I'm excited to go back and help build the church."
Already Sasa has three job opportunities in Papua New Guinea. His I-WORK participation has been a blessing for him. "I-WORK put me to work," he said. "I've juggled work, school and church, and when I go back home, I'll do the same."
Many people in Papua New Guinea have an annual income that is less than one month's rent in the United States. If it were not for the donor-supported I-WORK program, a BYU-Hawaii education would be unobtainable for many of the university's international students.
"I'm just grateful that I got an education," Sasa said. "And I will always owe a lot to those who made a difference for me by paying for my education for the past three-and-a-half years." A church education has indeed blessed Sasa, and the benefits will be eternal.
Brad Olsen is a writer for LDS Philanthropies. He writes about the effects of donations on students at BYU and BYU-Hawaii. He is one of four bloggers for “Of One Heart,” which appears in MormonTimes.com each Wednesday.