President Kusch began his academic career at BYU-Idaho in August 2002 as a member of the faculty of the Business Management department. In July 2008 he was appointed Associate Academic Vice President for Curriculum, serving in that role until June 2012 when he and Sister Kusch were called to preside over the Mexico Cuernavaca Mission.
Prior to joining the BYU-Idaho faculty, President Kusch worked in the high technology industry in Silicon Valley, CA in various sales, marketing, general management, and consulting roles. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Phoenix, an MBA from the Keller Graduate School of Management, and a PhD in instructional design from Idaho State University.
Sister Alynda Kusch is a graduate of BYU-Idaho. Following her graduation, she taught Culinary Arts until she and President Kusch left for their missionary service in Mexico. If you know Sister Kusch at all, you know she is a master teacher, and master designer and creator of textile art.
Both born and raised in Southern California, President and Sister Kusch were married in the Los Angeles Temple in 1974. They are the parents of four children, and 15 grandchildren.
Character: The Substance of Our Eternal Identity
Bruce C. Kusch
As we celebrated our first commencement exercises as Ensign College nearly two weeks ago, I spoke on the importance of character. As we begin this new semester, I have felt impressed to share the message again, with some additional thoughts. It is my hope and prayer that the Holy Ghost will teach us all important lessons that are custom-made, with an accompanying resolve to follow the impressions that come.
Living near Los Angeles in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, it was easy to be a fan of the UCLA Bruins basketball team and their coach, John Wooden. They were perennial champions. Coach Wooden’s career at UCLA included a record 88-game-winning streak, and 10 national college basketball championships in a 12-year period, including seven-consecutive national titles. That is a record likely never to be duplicated.
Not only was he a great coach but John Wooden was also known as a man of great character. He once said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
In this era of Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube and Facebook much of the content posted on these social media platforms is about creating a reputation, often at the sacrifice of character. Many have fallen into the trap of measuring their personal worth by “likes” and the number of followers they might have. What we see is most often not a view of “things as they really are” rather, “things as I want you to think they are.”
I am confident that your character has already been tested – and undoubtedly more than once. Please know that it will continue to be tested time and again throughout your life.
Tests of our character are intended to be an essential part of our mortal probation. It is how we become agents unto ourselves (see D&C 29:39). The Savior’s character was tested by Satan following 40 days of fasting as He began His mortal ministry. In the Book of Mormon, Jacob’s character was tested by Sherem, Alma and Amulek’s by Zeezrom, and Alma the younger’s by Korihor.
Moroni could have denied his testimony and witness of Christ and perhaps been spared by the Lamanites, but he boldly stated, “I will not deny the Christ” (see Moroni 1:3). He would never have done such a thing. It would have been contrary to his character.
We see examples every day of those who put personal gain over character – and who justify or deny cheating, lying or other forms of dishonesty – with the sole purpose of gaining an advantage over others. These are tools and tactics of the devil. In the future you may feel pressure to do the same – because it may seem to be the only option at the moment in a very competitive or desperate situation. Don’t do it! The Lord warned Joseph Smith about this when he said, “...wo be unto him that lieth to deceive because he supposeth that another lieth to deceive...” (see D&C 10:28) .
Twenty years ago, several prominent athletes were caught in a cheating scandal over the use of performance-enhancing drugs – even though they all denied doing it. Victor Conte, the person at the heart of the scandal, said in an ABC News interview, “It's not cheating if everybody is doing it. And if you've got the knowledge that that's what everyone is doing, and those are the real rules of the game, then you're not cheating.” Brothers and sisters, it WAS cheating and those involved remain disgraced to this day. Some confessed, others did not and have not. Some were stripped of Olympic medals, some served time in prison and others have been denied entrance into their sports' hall of fame. Despite their significant achievements, they will never escape the stain of being cheaters and people who lacked character.
The Lord loves people of high moral character.
To Hyrum Smith he said, “...blessed is my servant Hyrum Smith; for I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right before me...”
Mormon wrote that the Nephite leader Moroni “...was a strong and mighty man of a perfect understanding...who was firm in the faith of Christ...” and further, “...if all men had been, and were, and ever would be like Moroni...the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.”
The building of character is the very essence and purpose of your education, and our work, at Ensign College.
President Russell M. Nelson said:
“Students at Ensign College will strive for more than training. With hope in their hearts, students here should have a zeal for learning. Even so, training and learning are but stepping stones. The ultimate aim of true education is the building of character...” let me read that again...” the ultimate aim of true education is the building of character. One trains only for tasks, while character becomes the substance of one’s eternal identity.”
Our mission is “...to develop capable and trusted disciples of Jesus Christ.”
To be capable means being prepared with essential workplace qualities and capabilities. To become capable is an act of faith in the Savior and His Atonement. To become capable requires diligent, intentional effort. We will only become capable as we learn to learn, and learn to love learning – no matter the subject, becoming agents unto ourselves, who are not only willing to act, but who actually do act. Becoming capable is a choice – a choice you and I must make.
To be trusted will require us to be guided by an inner moral compass – that is the Holy Ghost and the related spiritual gifts He makes possible. It means doing what is right at all times, in all things and in all places. You and I will become people who are governed by doctrine-inspired “principles of righteousness” as described by Elder David A. Bednar in the recent General Conference. Becoming someone who can be trusted is a choice – a choice you and I must make.
To be a disciple of Jesus Christ means that we are committed to Him, that we believe on Him, that we willingly take His name upon us, that we follow Him, that we enter into covenants with Him and that we intentionally strive daily to live by the truths found in His restored gospel, living by every word that “proceedeth forth from the mouth of God” (see D&C 84:44). Becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ is not something we simply talk about. It requires faith in Him and His infinite Atonement, and it requires you and I to do something, to act. Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is a choice – a choice that you and I must make.
To be a capable and trusted disciple of Jesus Christ is to be someone whose character – the substance of our eternal identity – is founded and built upon righteous principles – principles that allow us to develop the character and attributes of Jesus Christ.
President Nelson went on to say:
“Here we expect high ideals, tempered with frugality and a lofty sense of service. Our ultimate role model is our Savior and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. We can love as He did, serve as He did, pray as He did, focus on the ordinances of salvation and exaltation as He did, and endure to the end, just as He did. Our objective is the same as our Heavenly Father’s objective, that of immortality and eternal life.”
Brothers and sisters, I invite you to dedicate some quality time this week pondering the question, “How am I doing as I strive to build character that becomes the substance of my eternal identity?” As you do so, please be kind to yourself! Each of us is a work in progress. What matters most is that our efforts are sincere, steady, and consistent. Effort is what matters most to the Lord.
The Lord needs trusted disciples who are capable. He needs men and women of high moral character, with an inner moral compass that will ever guide them to make correct choices, with a steadfast and immovable commitment to defend and build the kingdom of God on the earth – no matter what.
If, as an Ensign College student, you simply gain skills, becoming capable, but lacking in character, you will not be deserving of anyone’s trust, nor will you be on the path of discipleship. And, if that is the case, your time here, and the sacred tithing funds that support you will have been wasted.
Conversely, if you recognize that the ultimate aim of your education and time at Ensign College is to build character, to become trusted, and along the way to become capable, your diligent and dedicated effort will be a sign of your faith and gratitude to Heavenly Father, and you will qualify for blessings and opportunities far beyond what you can imagine.
Character is not built in the crucible of challenges, trials and tribulations. But it is tested in the midst of these fiery furnaces. When we face them, and face them we will, if we are found lacking in character, it will be too late to develop it in the moment of need. Rather, character and the companion virtues of courage and faith are intended to guide, support and sustain us, to lift and strengthen us. When we find ourselves facing the fiery darts of mortality, we will drink deeply of Christ’s living water, extinguishing the adversary’s fiery darts and we will come off conqueror.
Brothers and sisters, please guard your character as you would guard your own life. It is an essential part of being a capable and trusted disciple of Jesus Christ. It is essential to your eternal identity. Character and a moral compass will cause you to become a highly sought-after employee. And when the Lord knows we can be trusted, the heavens open and blessings are poured out far beyond anything we might imagine.
My invitation and plea to each of us this day is to live as men and women of character in all things, at all times and in all places. As you do, I promise the windows of heaven will open and you will be highly favored of the Lord.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
From Despair to Hope
Sister Alynda Kusch
President Kusch and I had the great privilege of serving a mission together in Mexico from 2012 until 2015. At the time of our call, we were living in Rexburg, Idaho. In preparation for our departure into the mission field, we moved almost all of our belongings into a large storage room in our basement so that our daughter and her family could make our home their home while we were gone.
On July 15, 2014, (with one year left on our mission) there was, what has since been described, a 100-year storm in Rexburg. After torrential rains, there was flood damage to the campus at BYU-Idaho and other locations around town, and our home was no exception.
As the water rose in the backyard of our home, the windows broke as they could not sustain its weight, and our basement filled with 8 feet of mud, water and debris.
What was left, after approximately 220,000 gallons of water and mud were pumped out, was destruction and damage beyond what I could ever have imagined. In the months that followed, we mourned the loss we suffered, but we also knew that what was once ruined and filthy could be repaired and clean.
As I have reflected on this experience many times, I see great spiritual parallels. This morning, I share with you what I learned from a flood about repentance, forgiveness and God’s love for His children.
Lesson #1 - You can make the decision to change.
Whatever your circumstance or situation, making the decision to repent and turn to God is as vital for you in your spiritual life as was our decision, in order to avoid further damage, to clean and repair our home.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught the following, “Our destiny is not determined by the number of times we stumble, but the number of times we rise up, dust ourselves off and move forward. You can do it now” (General Conference, October 2013). Don’t believe the lies of Satan, that your efforts are useless, that you are beyond help, or that it is too late. You can change. You can choose a different path. You can choose a different and joyful ending.
Lesson #2 - Cleaning up can be hard, but it is essential.
A trash dumpster was delivered to the front of our home and the mud-soaked carpet, lumber, furniture, clothing, pictures and almost all of our possessions were deposited inside. For hours and days, damaged and dangerous materials were removed from our home.
Mud was scraped from the floors and shoveled into buckets that were then dumped into the trash. Floors were moped and dry wall and damaged electrical wires were removed.
What was left was a clean foundation, cement floors and open studs, and it remained that way until we returned home to Rexburg one year later.
In April Conference, President Nelson encouraged us to remove the debris from our lives and reminded us that, even if it is hard, it is possible to do so with the Lord’s help. The tools used to clean up the mud that invaded our home were shovels, hammers and buckets. Your tools will be faith, prayer, the scriptures, the Sacrament.
In the same way that we would never rebuild upon the mud and debris left from the storm, you need a clean place to start. What is left after you remove anything that is damaging to your spirit, is a clean life and a place for the Lord to influence and heal you.
Lesson #3 - The will to rebuild is powerful.
We knew we wanted, even needed, to have a home to return to once our mission was completed. That desire gave us the will to do whatever was necessary to have a safe and clean place to live. Do you want to have the Holy Ghost in your life? Do you want to feel clean and pure before the Lord? The will to want to do whatever is necessary to have this is a powerful thing.
President Nelson taught, “Prayerfully seek to understand what stands in the way of your repentance. Identify what stops you..and then, change!” (General Conference, April 2019). Listen as the Holy Ghost whispers to you, “Change is possible, do it now.”
Lesson #4 - The cost of repairs and rebuilding is great.
Because our insurance company deemed that the damage to our home was caused by Mother Nature, none of the clean-up nor any of the repairs were covered under our policy. That meant that we had the burden of paying every penny of the cost to clean and rebuild our home.
This is not the case when we choose to repent and turn to God. There is someone who paid the price for us. In His own words, Jesus Christ described what he endured that we might have the privilege of repenting and receiving forgiveness. He said, “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent…which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit” (D&C 19:16,18-19). Can you imagine such a heavy price? The Savior and Redeemer of the world freely and lovingly endured pain and sorrow so that we would not have to.
Lesson #5 - You are not alone.
Because we were in Mexico, it was impossible to physically do anything to remedy our situation. We relied on family and friends to come to our aid.
Help came from everywhere, our neighborhood, our community, the university, our ward and stake. Most of those who gave so freely of their time to help us we did not know.
Some brought food to the workers. Others carried heavy buckets of mud to the dumpster.
One sister, who was recovering from back surgery, took my quilts home and hand laundered them. Another gathered our temple clothes to clean them so they would not be ruined.
BYU-Idaho students, including four of our own returned missionaries, came to our home and simply said, “We are here to work. Where do you need us?”
We were not alone, and you are not alone. The prophet Jacob taught, “How merciful is our God unto us, for he remembereth the house of Israel, and he stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long”(Jacob 6:4). That promise is yours. The Savior wants you to enjoy the fruits of repentance, which are forgiveness and peace, and He is waiting to help you. Loving bishops, parents and friends all stand at the ready to assist you as you turn or return to the Lord.
Lesson #6 - Being clean is a lifelong pursuit.
Eight months after our return from Mexico, when the repairs and rebuilding were finally complete, we had a new, clean and beautiful place in which to live. We would never consider allowing our home, because of neglect, to return to its filthy and dangerous state. Keeping our home in this improved condition required continued straightening and cleaning.
Your life is no different. President Nelson taught, “Repentance is not an event; it is a process” (General Conference, April 2019). I know that when you work everyday straightening and cleaning your life, allowing the Savior to help you, you can be free from the debris and sorrow of sin.
And finally, the most important lesson - Hope shines bright in the midst of the storm.
In the backyard of our home was a beautiful waterfall and pond. As you can imagine, debris collected there, and a layer of mud covered the rocks and plants and grass.
And yet, in the midst of the sadness, a small flower poked its head through and looked to the warmth of the sun. It was a sign of hope that all would be well once again.
As I began my study of the Doctrine and Covenants this year, I started recording the Savior’s voice as he speaks in every revelation and declares to the world who He is and what He has done for us.
These are some of the ways that He describes himself, “The Lord God, even Jesus Christ your Redeemer…who so loved the world that he gave his own life…whose arm of mercy atoned for your sins… your advocate with the Father“ (D&C 29:1-5).
This, my brothers and sisters, is the hope that shines ever so brightly in the darkness. Because of Jesus Christ, we have the hope of a new day, a clean life, eternal life, even exaltation. That is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Soon after returning home from our mission, a neighbor came to my door and asked me this question, “You were serving the Lord in Mexico, and He allowed this tragedy to happen. How can you still believe?” My answer to him is, “How can I not believe?”
Because I know about Jesus Christ, who he is, what he did for me, what he will yet do for me, I believe. I believe the words of our prophet from our last General Conference, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of repentance. Because of the Savior’s Atonement, His gospel provides an invitation to keep changing, growing and becoming more pure. It is a gospel of hope, of healing and of progress…Our spirits rejoice with every small step forward we take.” (Russell M. Nelson, General Conference, April 2021)
I was a witness of this process. What was damaged and filthy and uninhabitable, became clean and new and beautiful.
I bear testimony that the words of Isaiah are true, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.