Elder Choi: I Love Loud Boys

The noisy sturm about Elder Holland notwithstanding, I believe Elder Yoon Hwan Choi gave the sleeper hit talk of this past General Conference. His address was a simple narrative of personal revelation and how Christ can enter the lives of our youth. More than this, it was an example of how we as lay clergy ought to approach our sermons. I’d like to look at his sermon, both in terms of its message and its form. I’m not doing any deep textual analysis, just taking an informal look at Choi’s story, his lessons and his structure.

The central narrative is indeed extremely simple: as a young bishop, Elder Choi took under his wing a group of loud youths. With the help of a missionary and some others, the troublemakers slowly emerge as powerful young men in the gospel. The rest of Elder Choi’s talk is spent exploring the principles and lessons that these young men internalized as part of their growth from boys to men. But while this story is very plain, it works well in Elder Choi’s talk for two reasons: first, it is a true story, and second, it is told in loving terms with an attention to detail that shows real care. For example, Choi relates that the boys are taught to sing in a triple quartet, and he gives us the name of their group: the Hanero Quartet, which means “be as one.” Choi consistently refers to the singing group with this Korean name, preserving for us a sense of realism and cultural exoticism.

Elder Choi’s principles for these young men can be summed up fairly easily: 1. Obey the Lord — and Church leaders — even when you don’t understand the reasons why commandments are given, and 2. Faithfully attend your Church meetings. That’s it!

Although Elder Choi chooses to make these two principles the most explicit lessons of his talk, there are a few others implicit in his address — indeed, acting isolation the two lessons he outlines are doomed to fail. If we are to save our youth, it will take more than obedience and attendance to meetings. What else did Elder Choi and his youth group do?

First, the adults pondered and prayed — and as Elder Choi indicates, it wasn’t to solve the loudness like the youth were some sort of problem, but rather there appears to have been a genuine motivation to help them, to befriend them and succor them. I wonder whether prayers to God on behalf of others are more effective when our motivation is truly altruistic.

Second, the adults opened their homes and lives to the youth, without precondition. Choi notes that “the boys visited our home almost every weekend and even on some weekdays. We fed them and taught them.” Other Church leaders sang with the boys and took them to various activities. In short, there was a concerted effort to provide a social framework and a network of trusted adult figures.

Third, the adults love those youth. It’s clear that youth are quick to spot pretense and false acts; the minute that a teen realizes that he or she is thought of as a service project, all efforts become likely to fail. So Elder Choi and the other local leaders can say, without guile, “priesthood leaders became like their fathers and leader’s wives became like their mothers.” He implores us, “let us love our boys although some of them are loud boys.” Elder Choi preaches a love that transcends our own selfish preferences, a love that loves even those who do not reciprocate. It is a powerful message.

Elder Choi does not end his talk with this narrative and the central principles of his talk, although such would be a typical structure. Instead, he spends some time looking at the broader impact these youth have had, relating how Choi’s own son was motivated to increased activity by the successful example of the Hanero Quartet. It’s an effective technique, because the example is drawn from Elder Choi’s personal life, and it shows the extent of the promise of helping the youth; ultimately it stabilizes the community as a whole and perpetuates good behavior in future generations.

Elder Choi’s talk is not a Neal Maxwell talk (or an Elder Holland talk, for that matter); it is rather brief and to the point. As such it may serve as a model for our own speaking. If we can use real, heartfelt stories, keep our morals to one or two talking points and show that our lesson can have some real-world impact, we may be well on the path to becoming better speakers ourselves.

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Comments

  1. we may be well on the path to becoming better speakers ourselves

    And better Saints.

    The Chois apparently loved these young men despite their wearing vests without shirts underneath. No hard task.

  2. Steve, it is funny you bring, this up because without question this was my favorite talk of the conference. As I listened to the story I kept thinking, ‘This is what Jesus was talking about.’

  3. Cynthia L. says:

    My favorite part of the talk was the way the turnaround story blossomed into a beautiful reciprocity (when his own son was helped) and then a whole web of influence. We’ve all heard the troubled kid whose teacher turned him around and he went on a mission story, but this telling of it was very special. I totally loved this talk.

  4. Ron Madson says:

    I would hope that Elder Choi’s and also Elder Runland’s talks would emerge as “hit talks” but I suspect Elder Holland’s will cast a large shadow over all over talks–unfortunately IMO. Elder Choi’s talk captured the essence of the gospel and “Why the Church is as true as the Gospel”–true because it works to change lives. It is not “true” for me because we have the perfect “Creed” or position papers or history. Those all help to point to Christ but are meaningless unless they lead to inclusivity of the “loud boys”..
    thank you for sharing this post…

  5. I agree, this talk was the message that I took away from priesthood session. When it comes to opening up my home to others, am I allowing that decision to be made by fear or by love? Too often it’s fear.

    Elder Choi’s words reminded me that love means being willing to take chances, and being willing to accept the company of those who manners and words are different from our own. It means making oneself vulnerable to the influence of unknown others (which is always the case in exposure to new people or ideas), and trusting that siblinghood we share as children of God is strong enough and good enough to turn those interactions to the blessing of all who participate in them.

  6. Peter LLC says:

    Korean society is fairly obsessed with ranking and achievement, and there’s intense pressure for parents to make big sacrifices to provide their children any possible advantage that might give them an edge. So what struck me about Elder Choi’s account was his willingness to work with 1) what appeared to be a losing team and 2) someone else’s kids. That takes some doing anywhere, but given the nature of the rat race there, that man must have a heart of gold.

  7. I thought it was one of the two or three best talks at conference, especially for the reasons you point out. It was simple, relatively short, taught by example the actions we should be emulating, and was told with straightforward, heartfelt emotion.

    A classic, I would think, and it should be a candidate for TFOT inclusion this next year, more so than Elder Holland’s talk (although I liked his a lot as well).

  8. Steve Evans says:

    Agreed, Kevin – it strikes me as a good TFOT talk. Elder Holland’s address serves a purpose, but strikes me as perhaps less applicable to our ordinary circumstances.

  9. I agree this was a great talk.

    Among other things, it was great to have a child rearing story set in the present day, rather than recollected from an earlier generation, as evidenced by details like the back and forth between the mother and son being by cell phone.

    Also the realism of the good son, just back from a youth conference stonewalling about going to one more meeting, the mother relenting and going by herself and then giving it one more try by cell phone once she gets to the meeting and then being turned down again. No big drama, just the realistic day to day challenges of parenting (good) teenagers.

    Also his wife suggesting they consider moving to another ward where there would be a better group of role models for her boys, but agreeing to stick it out because her husband was the bishop. That wasn’t highlighted as a message of the talk, but it is certainly something that is a real life struggle for many in the church who live in wards in urban areas or with small youth programs.

  10. Part of the charm of the talk is the use of the quaint expressions “rowdy boys” and “loud boys”.

    I would love to hear from a Korean language expert whether “rowdy boys” and “loud boys” are overly literal translations of Korean terms and/or are English phrases that have been adopted and are commonly used in Korea.

  11. Nice post, Steve.

    and show that our lesson can have some real-world impact

    Yes, as long as internal impact is given as much weight as external. The “happily ever after” Ensign ending can be destructive if it’s the only kind of ending we hold up as desirable. It’s vital to also tell stories that show how even when situations remain in tatters, we can find wholeness.

  12. Kathy, totally agree. Indeed, if we rely on external validation of our spiritual beliefs, we’re bound for trouble.

  13. Korean Guy says:

    I am a Korean. I know Elder Choi’s father who passed away many years ago. His father used to be a member
    of a stake presidency in Seoul. His father was a very energetic man, but died in his early 60’s I believe. Unfortunately I don’t know Elder Choi personally because we didn’t have a chance to meet yet although my parents
    know him very well.

    Korean youths are under enormous pressure from their parents to excel in school to go to a prestigous college.
    Most non-member parents think that their teenage children can’t afford to attend church or participate in church activities because they think that their children should study instead during those time.

    Unfortunately this is also true with many member parents.
    The main reason for this is that Korean society is structured so that people who made to prestigious colleges have much more chances to be successful in finding high wage jobs and meeting spouses whom they want to marry, etc.

    That is why I was so impressed with Elder Choi’s example to take these loud boys into his home and help them grow in the gospel. This practice is very contrary to Korean custom. Most people would think that they are too busy to pay attention to children other than their own. I believe his wonderful service for the boys was possible because he practiced the gospel as Jesus taught.

    His talk reminded me of a 15 year old boy I baptized in a Korean city 30 years ago while serving my mission. At the time, there was no father figure for him like Elder Choi at the tiny branch where I served. Most of members were teenagers and a few college age adults.
    Last year my son happened to be called in the same mission I served. I asked him to find out if any old members at the branch still remembers me by asking around if he had a chance to visit the city. A few months ago my son happened to travel to the city and did just what I asked him. While he was talking with branch president of the branch I served 30 years ago, he found that the branch president was the boy I baptized 30 years ago.

    An interesting thing I noted was that the boy I baptized and a few other boys at his age bonded together as a group of boys like Elder Choi mentioned and stayed in the church without any father figures in the church and getting any support from their parents. I suspect that
    the college age adults at the time might have acted as big brothers and helped the boys grow in the gospel because one of college students I still remember is currently serving as district president in the same city.

  14. Wow, Korean Guy, that sheds some extra light on this wonderful narrative and talk. Thanks!

    Steve: thank you for going through this talk so nicely. Great stuff.

  15. Josh Smith says:

    Here’s the lines I found the most moving from conference:

    “Now, we have three of our own sons, including our youngest, who was born during the time I served as bishop. As our sons grew, those nine boys became the leaders of the ward and the stake, and they became the teachers and leaders of our sons. They taught our boys and other boys in the same way I taught them when they were troublemakers. They loved our young boys in the same way I loved them. These loud, rowdy boys of the past became our children’s heroes. Our sons liked to follow their great examples of becoming wonderful missionaries and getting married to righteous companions in the temple.

    These young men continue to influence our family. Two months ago our ward had a missionary activity on a Saturday evening, inviting everyone, including part-member families. Our youngest son, Sun-Yoon, had just come back from a youth camp in the afternoon of that same day. He said he was not going to the missionary activity because he was not a member of a part-member family and he was so tired. He didn’t come to the activity. My wife called him on the phone to explain that everyone was invited to the activity. He said, “I know, but I am not coming today,” and hung up.

    Right after the meeting started that evening, Sun-Yoon came in and sat by his mother very quietly. He whispered to her, saying, “Right after I hung up the phone, I remembered asking Dad what made the Hanaro Quartet so successful in their lives. He told me that they obeyed the words of the Church leaders and that they regularly attended the meetings of the Church. That was the key that changed their lives and made them so successful.” My son continued, “All of a sudden, the words of my father came into my mind, and I decided to follow them because I want to have a happy family like theirs and to be successful in my life.”

  16. Thomas Parkin says:

    I enjoyed this talk very much, as well. I wish we had heard something explicit about the power of Christ in these transformations, however. What I heard was fine leaders making sacrifices for boys that didn’t seem hopeful. That is a wonderful story, and no doubt Christ was in it. But we didn’t hear so. We may continue to be left with the impression that such things can happen without Him, if we can only get our boys to trade the rough guy clothes and come and be Mormon men. That is not the story of salvation. ~

  17. Why would those who cannot already see Christ in these transformations be persuaded by the mere hearing of it? Actions speak louder than words. Does not the miracle itself suffice as testimony? As it says in Matthew 11:3-5,

    3 And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?
    4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see:
    5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

    Not “Look what I claim to be” but “what do your very eyes tell you is going on here”. Perhaps that is what Elder Choi was thinking by assuming that his already believing audience would infer implicitly.

  18. Thomas Parkin says:

    Dan,

    Maybe. Likely, even. But I lived all my life in a culture that often values appearance over substance and often attempts to cure ills by treating symptoms. Possibly I heard my mother telling me to get a haircut throughout. ~

  19. Great talk. I do have a question on his name, though. In Korean, the last name comes first. So is it Elder Choi, or Elder Yoon?

  20. #19

    Elder Choi (최 장로)

  21. With Elder Choi’s endearing accent, the whole time I thought he was saying “rowdy boys,” not “loud boys.”

  22. Peter Asplund says:

    I accompanied my 12-year-old son to the Conference Center for his first ever Priesthood Session. Elder Choi’s talk was by far his favorite. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for a speaker that can engage my intelligent, sincere, but easily bored son. I enjoyed the talk too, even though now I feel spiritually obligated to be nice to all my kids’ annoying friends when they come to play.

  23. Steve, nice analysis. I agree with #21 — I thought he was saying “rowdy boys” the whole time too. Oops!

  24. He did say “rowdy” a number of times, usually together with “loud” (as in “rowdy, loud boys”).

  25. aloysiusmiller says:

    16. Every servant of Christ has Christ in his actions.

  26. #13 – Thank you! That input makes this wonderful talk all the more amazing.

    Thomas, I actually like the fact that this talk was every bit as applicable to ALL, no matter their religion or denominational affiliation – since I am convinced to the core that anyone can have that type of impact in the lives of youth. I hope a Buddist or Muslim or Jew or atheist would hear or read this talk and say, “Yeah, I can be that kind of (wo)man to the kids around me who need it SO desperately.”

    I said this in another thread, but of the kids who have spent extended time in our house over the years, only one has joined the Church – and he still deals with his demons. Another was a baptized member (through the insistence of his grandmother when he was eight) when he came to live with us, and our greatest accomplishment was keeping him alive and helping him get to the point where he has a chance for a successful, productive life. He left us eventually to go back to his mother, telling me I wasn’t a real man because I wouldn’t yell at him and punish him physically. About a year later, when he ended a phone call by saying for the first time ever, “I love you, Pops” – I cried for almost an hour, off and on. He had to leave to understand in hindsight what I had tried so hard to teach him, and, while he still doesn’t enjoy the full blessings of the Gospel, I see him much as Elder Choi sees his own rowdy boys.

  27. Antonio Parr says:

    No. 4:

    Agreed about both Elder Choi’s talk and Elder Renlund’s talk. They were masterful, but, even more important, they were moving.

  28. Thomas Parkin says:

    Good insight, Ray. Thanks. ~

  29. This is a great blog. I thought this was was a powerful talk. I felt like Elder Choi was doing his best (in spite of language constraints) to describe the miracles that come from simple Christ like love. He and his wife talked about moving but instead they ended up being led to embrace these boys and the Lord blessed all involved for it.
    It is one thing to tell a youth what they need to do (get a haircut…wear a white shirt) it is another to get involved with their lives and let them into your home, encourage them to sing (no matter how poorly) and walk with them into manhood.
    Dare I say, I believe more work like Elder Choi’s will have a greater impact on the young men of the church than anything else we provide for them (especially in dealing with addictions and identity)?

  30. Great post, Steve. This was also one of my favorite talks. I suspect that leaders of young men and young woman across the Church will take special note of this talk.

  31. Sir Mix-a-Lot says:

    I love loud boys and I cannot lie!
    You other bishops can’t deny
    That when a boy walks in to play Ping-Pong
    And he can’t be reverent long
    You get INSPIRED! Wanna start a boys’ choir,
    Cause you notice that the kids got fire!

  32. Latter-day Guy says:

    30,

    That is terrifying.

  33. No way. I love #30.

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