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Are You Unlikely?

Elder Michael A. Dunn General Authority Seventy
May 09, 2023 11:15 AM

"Remember, your only limits are your imagination, your inspiration and your willingness to work for it. So remember as you do that, job one is keeping Heavenly Father and Jesus as the center of your life and then patiently working your way outward and upwards from there. That’s when God will deliver on his definition of the unlimited impossible which is captured so elegantly in the scriptural promise, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, Neither have entered into the heart of man, The things which God hath prepared for them that love him.""
Thank you, I’m glad you are just holding up your journals, I thought it was a no vote and you didn’t want me to speak! What am I going to do now so thank you President and Sister Kusch. I might just mention that this is really sweet for Linda and I to be back here because that stake President roll was at the University of Utah and Ensign College had two wards in our Stake at this time and so I was in this room a lot for worship services so this is really sweet for me so thank you for being here today. 

I want to just extend my greetings and love to all of you here at Ensign College and greetings and particular love and greetings to President and Sister Kusch. They do such a remarkable job and we love them as I know you do. What a joy it is to worship together which is really what we are doing in this devotional experience this morning! I want to Thank you for the invitation to attest, that is really what we are doing, our shared and very unequivocal witness of Jesus on this very beautiful spring day. Now My hope today is to do that couched in the stories of three very highly unlikely heroes—one of whom I think you know well, the next who is not so well known and the other well let’s just say the third is still a work in progress. So Let’s begin with the familiar. 

On September 30, 1927, a man named George Herman Ruth did something extremely unlikely, if not impossible. It was the very was last day of the Major League Baseball season, and in the 8th inning the man who was nicknamed “The Babe,” stepped to home plate and promptly crushed a Spalding baseball into the rightfield bleachers for his record-breaking 60th home run of the year.

Now like another man Roger Bannister who in 1954 ran a mile in under four minutes—can you imagine that , I know you have been late running for track sometime but a mile under four minutes which at the time was considered beyond the limits of human capability … or Bob Beamon. His long jump in the Olympics. An unfathomable 29 feet two and half inches, flying thirty feet in the air well that’s what Bob Beamon did. Like all those unprobable things, Babe Ruth’s dinger that day was a near unimaginable feat that would stand as a seemingly untouchable record for 34 years, along with his career total of 714 home runs, which by the way topped the record books for nearly four decades. 

No wonder Babe Ruth was lauded as the greatest baseball player of the 20th Century. And yet, Babe Ruth could also rightly be considered the most “unlikely” hero of the 20th Century, despite these really lofty accomplishments. Why? Well, unlikely is defined as, “not likely to happen, to be done, or be true; to be improbable.” Words which very accurately describes Babe Ruth’s future based on his upbringing. Let me tell you a little about his upbringing. Born to immigrant parents in a rough neighborhood on the Baltimore waterfront, on the eastcoast, Ruth spent most of his childhood living above his father’s saloon, and dabbling in the bad habits which were practiced there, and often skipping school while he roamed the Baltimore waterfront looking for trouble—and most days having no trouble finding that trouble. Now when his mother died from Tuberculosis, the courts deemed Babe Ruth an “incorrigible.” So for those of you in this room who are just learning English, incorrigible behavior is defined as, “bad and impossible to change or improve.” [i] So of course He was promptly sent off to St. Mary’s Industrial School, which is a nice-sounding name for what was basically an orphanage for runaways and delinquents. Which is where the Babe Ruth’s improbable story would have most likely ended up, both in tragedy and anonymity, as any chance of embracing a better life seemed all but impossible. But as Muhammed Ali —a man who also was unlikely and defied all the odds, once said, "Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it." Or as the Lord reminds us, we ourselves are an underutilized resource. And that the key to taping into that energy within us is that we need to be as the scriptures say “anxiously engaged in good causes,”…such as our own self-improvement. Because, as the scripture continues “…the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.” [ii]  

Now Since all of us are “agents unto themselves” at Ensign College, I want to explore what that really means. And I do this Especially for those of us who may justifiably feel they are facing really long, if not impossible odds as we collectively stare down the seemingly long, and bumpy and twisty road which lurks ahead for all of us in our futures. Now I say this Especially if you feel unlikely and uncertain about the direction, speed or even the buffeting head winds which you might find your story is facing. And invite you to consider exploring that power that is within you even as you implore the heavens above to help charter and change your destination. For I believe that it is at that intersection where we will most likely to find God’s grace, “…after all we can do.” [iii]  

Now A good place to begin is by asking, “what makes us unlikely?” Or, better put, what makes you feel that way? Why do we feel unworthy or even undeserving of the blessings we are entitled to? Who was it that put that label? Was it ourselves who put that label on top of ourselves ? Do we feel, as the Apostle Paul so beautifully expressed it, “…less than the least of all saints?” [iv] Perhaps, like Babe Ruth, you are a child of an immigrant or refugee family. Many of us come from Latin American countries, Asia, Africa, or the Pacific and perhaps buy into the myth that we’ll never have the same opportunities as our North American classmates do. Maybe you are the first in your family to attend college. Like me, some of you come from home without a father. Or a mother. And likely a few with no parents at all. Unfortunately, some of us may have been victims of unspeakable abuse or other crimes. Or have witnessed horrific violence in your home, neighborhood or even your country. Others of us are learning English as a second or maybe even third language—and struggling to do so. I’m sure more than a handful of you are—like me— the first and only member of the Church in your family. And some gathered here today are fretting knowing they have no idea how they will pay their tuition next semester. Or, even sadder, where your next real meal will come from. Still others may be grappling with the very real and debilitating trauma of emotional pain from anxiety or depression. For some, it may be the crushing weight of unresolved and unrepented sin. 

Whatever it is that makes us feel unlikely, I have some good news and some—well, even better news for all of us. That’s because our Prophet, Russel M. Nelson, has boldly and unequivocally declared that “the Lord uses the unlikely to accomplish the impossible.” [v] So the good news is that if you are a self-identified “unlikely,” a prophet of God has declared we have the potential to accomplish some incredible—make that impossible—things in our lives. And the “even better news?” Well, clearly and unfortunately all of us now have no excuse to not begin today—if you haven’t already done so—to reach for and accomplish the “never-thought-possible” in our impossible life ahead. To dare mighty dreams and to ascend to unimagined heights. In other words, there is no limit to our potential as a daughter or son of the living God. We can literally do anything we put our combined mind and the might of God to. The highest heavens might be our only limit. Or as the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt once observed, "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." [vi]  

So Need proof? The scripture stories of unlikely characters accomplishing the unimaginable are myriad…There is landlubber Lehi being asked to build a ship…oh and by the way and cross an ocean…and speaking of oceans, Moses dividing an ocean…David taking down a heavily-armed giant without a sword or shield…Emma and her unflinching testimony of seeing the actual golden plates…a servant of the king named Ammon, if I can use this word “disarming” robbers of his assigned flock…or, in more recent history, a poor and uneducated farm boy in upstate New York named Joseph who, in his confusion over his religious future admitted, “…it was impossible…to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.” [vii] And yet because of his humility, faith and a simple prayer, this unlikely lad was visited by the Father and the Son in a beautiful and sacred grove, swinging wide open the door of the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the dispensation of the fullness of times. 

As relatively young people yourselves, how will you achieve your impossible? I don’t exactly know. But I do know that God does know . And I am assured that, “with God, nothing is impossible.” [viii] So a couple things we know; We do know it requires faith. Real, Joseph-like faith, paired with humility, that stands the test of time and staunchness in storms. That’s taught by the ancient prophet Moroni who wisely counseled us, “And if men and by inference sisters, women, I will come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." [ix]  

That strength spoken of by the Lord to Moroni mandates an unwavering belief in ourselves. And stretch goals that will require every ounce of patience, diligence, and hard work that we can muster. And, hard as that sounds, we are to do it joyfully as President Nelson has taught Or as the Lord admonishes, “…let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed." [x] Do it that way and the Lord’s promise is clear; if we can cheerfully discipline ourselves now to consistently do the relentless heavy lifting and seemingly never-ending work of dream chasing, we will see those dreams come to pass in one fashion or another. That’s the way Nelson Mandela, the unlikely and unequaled president of South African so beautifully expressed it when he said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.” 

Beyond an unyielding faith in ourselves and our God, triumphing as an underdog usually also requires a mentor. Someone you can count on to be at your side. Someone you can count on when you’re down for the count. Ideally this could be a friend, coach or even just someone who not only believes in you but sees your greatness and long-term potential. In Babe Ruth’s case it was one of the Priests at the Catholic orphanage he was relegated to. This was A man known as Brother Mathias. And it was this man who took the time to throw that very first baseball to Babe. And then observe his prodigious skills at hitting that same baseball, in jaw-dropping fashion, far beyond the walls of the orphanage. Many years later, Babe Ruth’s daughter was asked why Brother Matthias had such an impact on her father. She replied, “When Babe was 23 years old, the whole world loved him. When he was 13-years-old only Brother Matthias loved him.” [xi]  

Don’t we all need and wish for a Brother Mathias in our lives? Of course we do! Which may have you asking, “where is my champion, where is the person I need in my unlikely story?” In an ideal universe in God’s ideal Plan of Happiness, that’s usually a parent. But like Babe Ruth—and many of us here today including myself— if you don’t have that blessing, I want to encourage you patiently look around for the person or persons the Lord has or will put in your path. And if you don’t see that person just now, be patient and keep moving forward. Don’t be stifled, don’t be a neutral. They might just be waiting at the very next intersection you encounter. It could be our Bishop, a faculty member, or your ministering brother or sister. Maybe even just that unlikely, improbable person who will cross our path at an unexpected but opportune time—if we are willing to do all we can do within our power to make that happen. Remember that in even the least ideal circumstance, there’s nothing stopping us from making the ideal, our ideal. And especially if we pray for and expect a little assist from heaven. As Elder Richard G. Scott taught so powerfully, “The Lord has placed currents of divine influence in your life that will lead you along the individual plan He would have you fulfill here on earth. Seek through the Spirit to identify it and carefully follow that direction that the Lord has put in your life.” [xii]  

For example, Alma, mired in the midst of his despair and rejection, had a such a “divine influencer” cross his path who lead him to change the course of his ministry—and also his life. This man, named Amulek, nourished and strengthened Alma with much needed food and drink. And while the scriptural account is incomplete about exactly what they discussed as they “tarried many days” together, Amulek no doubt also fed Alma’s spirit, reminding him of his holy purposes and a promise to assist him in that effort. [xiii] They would, of course, go on to be one of the most effective and powerful missionary companionships of all time. 

This story also serves as a clarian call for modern day Amuleks and Brother Mathiases to step up and be ready to, “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” [xiv] Or as the mighty “revelation on the Priesthood” enjoins us, “And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also.” [xv]  

All of Which leads us to our second story, also about another unlikely person. His is one of those improbable—almost unimaginable—stories whose ending is still being written. This young man, named Christopher Dzowa, was raised in one of the poorest regions of the world. Malawi is a land-locked country in western Africa. It’s a country so bereft of resources that every day nearly half of its 20-million-person population suffer from food insecurity. When Christopher was only 8 years old his mother died. Forcing him and his brother to go work sifting for sand from a nearby riverbed which they would then sell for pennies to homebuilders. They did this back-breaking work day in and day out under the brutal, blistering Malawian sun, while barely earning enough to keep themselves from starving. Christopher knew there not only had to be a better life than his day-to-day, hand-to-mouth existence. He also sensed he personally had much of importance to offer the world. But he also knew this was not the path that would lead him there. 

Then one day, he ran into two curious western-looking young men. Dressed unusually well for that country, they spoke in a language Christopher could not understand. And yet in their unknow words was a clear and gentle power that Christopher could feel in his heart. Their words and their wisdom was something he wanted. And so with no formal training, Christopher slowly and simultaneously learned the Gospel and the English language. The truths of it sunk deep into his soul. So much so that he joyfully accepted baptism and began his journey on the covenant path as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Just a few years later he was called as a missionary to serve in the Johannesburg South Africa Mission. Which is where my wife and I first met Christopher. And where we watched as this unlikely missionary began to chase the impossible. But first he would learn that getting on the pathway to the possible is not always easy or predictable. 

One day during his training in the Johannesburg MTC, Christopher received his Patriarchal Blessing. As with many Africans who don’t have the luxury of a Patriarch in their home District, Christopher was given his blessing in the MTC by a Patriarch who knew nothing of his background, but clearly knew the mountain-moving mentality of this young man from Malawi. At the conclusion of the blessing, Christopher was grateful but also so incredibly perplexed. “I felt like he had given the wrong blessing,” Christopher would later say. “This blessing was true. But it was not meant for me. Because most of the blessing focused on the education I would one day receive and how important that would be to my future.” Continuing, Christopher said, “given my poor English and economic situation, this blessing was for someone else.” Little did he know it was for someone else…namely, the determined, relentless and destiny-seeking young man he was about to become. 

Sister Dunn and I marveled as we observed his barely understandable English improve almost as fast as his testimony. Paired with English-speaking companions, Elder Dzowa soaked up the language with his ears even as he put his heart, might mind and strength into serving the Savior and the people of South Africa. Before long he completed a faithful mission and then returned to Malawi in 2016 still clinging to this unlikely and—as most would say—impossible dreams. Even before that Patriarchal Blessing he knew he needed and desperately wanted an education if he was to provide for himself and someday realize his ultimate dream, which was giving back to those who need a hand up. But the economic realities of Malawi were harsh and discouraging. Despite his best efforts, the only employment Christopher could find in the next six weeks that followed, was working as a security guard for thirty dollars a month—not even enough to feed, clothe and house himself. But Undaunted, he combined his faith with determination. And he began a pursuit of the impossible. 

He first applied to BYU-Idaho. But when he took the English proficiency test, he failed. Undeterred, he waited six months, scrimped, and saved for application fees, and studied that much harder. But again, he failed. Incredibly, he somehow mustered the gumption for a third attempt. While His score improved, it wasn’t enough. He was running out of time, money and even beginning to doubt himself. Then one night, as he had done on so many occasions before, he took his dilema to the Lord. Pleading for guidance he suddenly had a clear and distinct impression; why BYU-Idaho now? What about Christopher, a “line-upon-line” approach where BYU-Idaho or another educational institution might be in the plans someday, why not try to get into Ensign College now and get an associates degree and a possible bachelor’s degree later on? Clearly this made sense. But how would he make this all work? Using literally the last of his hard-won savings and exercising perhaps the last few particles of his indomitable faith, he made application. 

And like you, I can only imagine his delight as he received word back that his English had improved enough to be accepted at Ensign College in the spring semester of 2023. That was the good news. The bad news was that he had no way of getting to the United States, let alone going through the ordeal of getting a Visa. With his hopes fading, Christopher suddenly found his Brother Mathias in his life—make that a Brother and Sister Matthias to be more accurate. Let me explain, Just when he was asking Heavenly Father why he had been given this false hope of a western education, Christopher’s security assignment changed. And that’s when he met Jack and Rhonda Rose, a senior couple living in and serving the Zambia Lusaka Mission whose apartment Christopher was assigned to guard. Like Brother Mathias with Babe Ruth, as they slowly got to know Christopher, they saw the real and raw potential in this young man. But of course what they didn’t see was any way to find enough funding for this impossible dream. Between the cost of the F-1 Visa required, Airfare from Malawi to Salt Lake City, not to mention tuition, books and housing, well you know all about that, the prospects looked, well, to put it bluntly impossible. But as Isaiah teaches us about the Lord’s processes, “…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” [xvi]  

Those ways included a crowd-sourced funding effort organized by friends and neighbors of the Roses who joyfully stepped up to help this mighty man from Malawi, and gave him at least the chance to dream the impossible dream. That unlikely young man is here today as one of your classmates, along with his “Brother Mathias’,” or I should say Sister Mathias, Sister Rose. Christopher and Sister Rose, would you mind standing up so everyone wants to know you are really here. We want to just honor you. Would you stand please? President Kusch, is it appropriate to applause? (Applause). Thank you. 

What about our third story? Well here is the reality folks, it’s still being written. But it looks amazing with intrigue and adventure at every turn as what we have just described. But like the Babe’s and Christopher’s, if it’s done with care, it’s likely to have a very happy ending. I know this because that story is about…you and me and, well frankly, all of us. That is unless I’ve already convinced you to understand that you are anything but unlikely. That you’re ready to step up and, as the saying goes, take your swing. 

Which reminds me that is was Babe Ruth who is responsible for one of my favorite idioms in the English language. It’s the now common phrase “home run.” Which is defined as, “…a complete and impressive success in an activity.” So today I call on all you unlikelies to reevaluate and consider what it will take for you to accomplish your Babe Ruth-like “home run.” And then—in more specific baseball parlance— swing for the fences! That might be just finishing your degree, or even for me especially just passing that impossible math class which was the hardest thing I ever had to do in college. Maybe it’s getting that first job. Or eventually even starting your own business. Remember, your only limits are your imagination, your inspiration and your willingness to work for it. So remember as you do that job one is keeping Heavenly Father and Jesus as the center of your life and then patiently working your way outward and upwards from there. That’s when God will deliver on his definition of the unlimited impossible which is captured so elegantly in the scriptural promise, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, Neither have entered into the heart of man, The things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” [xvii] That’s what I call your “unlikely guarantee.” 

As for your mentor? Your “Brother Mathias? Your Sister Rose? Well, don’t worry if he or she doesn’t show up in the moment they are needed. Or in the form you expect. Remember that God has asserted He will always be there for us. As the Lord has promised, “…I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” [xviii] I’m comforted that our just and merciful God promises, “…the last shall be first” in a very unique and divine reordering of probabilities, unfairness and disadvantages. [xix] Even the inner harbor truant Babe Ruth understood this at an early age; Said Babe Ruth near the end of his remarkable life, “God had an eye out for me, just as he has for you, and he was pulling for me to make the grade.” [xx] I testify that God does indeed have his eye out for you. And that President Nelson’s bold and remarkable promise that, “ the Lord uses the unlikely to accomplish the impossible,” is true and bankable. That God’s power is both within us and very much within our reach. That Jesus knows us, loves us and is ready to bless us beyond our understanding. May we have the vision, hard work and determination of a Babe, or a Christopher, or yes, even you, so that one of us can be the next “overcoming the impossible” story at Ensign College. Of this I pray In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

[ii] Doctrine & Covenants 58: 27-28
[iii] 2 Nephi 25:33
[iv] Ephesians 3:8
[vi] Library of Congress,
[vii] Joseph Smith History, 1:8
[viii] Matthew 17:20
[ix] Ether 12:27
[x] Doctrine & Covenants 123:17
[xii] Elder Richard G. Scott, “He Lives,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 87.
[xiii] Alma 8
[xiv] Doctrine & Covenants 81:5
[xv] Doctrine & Covenants 84:106
[xvi] Isaiah 55: 8-9
[xvii] 1 Corinthians 2:9
[xviii] Doctrine & Covenants 84:88
[xix] Doctrine & Covenants 29:30

About the Speaker

Elder Michael A. Dunn

Elder Michael A. Dunn was sustained as a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 3, 2021, at age 63. At the time of his call, he had been serving as a member of the Twelfth Quorum of the Seventy in the Utah Area. Elder Dunn received a bachelor of science degree in mass communications from the University of Utah in 1981. In 2008 he received a master of arts degree in communication from the University of Utah. From 1995 to 2010, he was president of Dunn Communications, Inc. In 2010, he was named general manager of KUED (PBS). At the time of his call as a General Authority Seventy, he was the managing director of BYUtv and BYUradio. Elder Dunn has served in a number of Church callings, including full-time missionary in the Hawaii Honolulu Mission, counselor in a bishopric, high councilor, bishop, stake president, ward Young Men president, and president of the South Africa Johannesburg Mission from 2014 to 2017. Michael Austin Dunn was born in Tucson, Arizona, on March 5, 1958. He married Linda Virginia Poulson in 1980. They are the parents of three children.
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