Vai's View: Vai's View: Blood is thicker than water

Published: Monday, April 11 2011 9:00 a.m. MDT

If you bristle at name-dropping, as one reader did last week, let me warn you now. Go elsewhere. I'm dropping names. The way I have the last two weeks. Bobby Salazar. Eleven-year-old Scott McGrath. Two big-name, high-profile guys. I roll with the big dogs.

Of course, I kid. Here's the deal. I'm a sportscaster and a blogger/columnist. I'm around famous people. If you're a pilot, you're around flight attendants and airline agents. If you're a school principal, you're around teachers and students.

I also come from a very small place on the globe that produces two things in abundance: Latter-day Saints and great football players. There are just over 100,000 Tongans walking the planet. Half of them are LDS. I'd guesstimate 100 Tongans are playing college football, possibly more and perhaps 10 to 12 are on current NFL rosters. Twice that many of Samoan descent. If that many college and NFL players came from Provo, which is comparable in size to Tonga's population, would that amaze you? But if my mention of a famous athlete irritates you, be patient with me, many of them are just family so I don't think of them as famous. Explaining how I'm related or connected to a Poly athlete may appear self-serving, but I do it for them. They appreciate the public acknowledgment of our personal connection. Same with the "not-so-famous" and infamous that I try to weave into my stories and experiences from time to time.

Above all, I write to entertain, inform, enlighten, edify, inspire and occasionally to poke and prod. The market place of ideas ultimately determines whether I succeed or fail. But I do appreciate the feedback — good and bad. Yet, the indicators I'm getting is to press forward. So, here goes.

I accepted four invitations to speak this week while in Utah. Two of them were incredibly meaningful.

Sunday evening following General Conference, I was invited by the Missionary Training Center Presidency to speak to the 2,500 missionaries in the Provo MTC for their weekly Sunday night fireside. Following two days of intense note taking given the doctrine they were taught by prophets and apostles, I began by simply asking them to put their pens and notebooks down. "I'm not going to teach you anything more than what you've already been given by our Church leaders this weekend. I just want you to enjoy an evening of listening, watch a few clips of missionary-related stories from my work, perhaps share a laugh or two and hear my testimony of the amazing journey you're about to undertake." There was a collective sigh of relief as everyone put away their notepads.

I brought a few video clips of missionary or church-related stories I had done over the years at my TV station. A few drew laughter. I also brought along my close friend, Bob Dull, whom I met on my mission nearly 30 years ago. My companion and I taught Bob the discussions in the back of his family's sporting goods store in Rapid City, S.D., for three months before he was baptized. Bob would baptize his wife Jackie and their two daughters, Rachel and Erin about 10 years later. A year after their baptisms, they were sealed in the Dallas Temple. Both girls graduated from BYU and Rachel is currently the nutritionist for the BYU Athletic Department. They both married in the temple and now have their own little families. It's a pretty remarkable story and the missionaries genuinely enjoyed meeting the entire Dull family. Bob bore his testimony and shared with them my parting words to each of my missionary sons: "Go find your Bob Dull."

Following the fireside, about a dozen Elders from Tonga formed a semi-circle outside the MTC doors as we were leaving. As a farewell, they sweetly serenaded our party with a Tongan hymn, "Folo fola mai a Sisu," or "Thus Sayeth the Lord." It is my favorite Tongan hymn because of the way the men sing it a capella in four-part harmony. After they sang, I spoke with them in Tongan, expressed my gratitude and love before offering them encouragement. They hail from some of the most remote islands in Tonga and they seemed to enjoy the friendly banter in their native tongue.

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