New Zealand: Contemplation
YA Weekly

Could Learning My Ancestors’ Language Help Me Gather Israel?

Isaac Smiler
07/31/22 | 3 min read
I felt prompted to learn the language of my ancestors to better connect with them. But I didn’t realize the many opportunities it would bring.

My great-grandfather was the last native te reo Māori speaker in my family. I used to watch videos of him and listen to him speak the language of our people, wishing I could understand him. Even though he was only a few generations older than me, I didn’t have that connection to our heritage.

I served a mission in the Philippines, and I loved it. I loved the language, the people—everything. And because I spent time trying to connect with the people I was serving and teaching, I became immersed in their culture.

As wonderful as that opportunity was, I realized that I’d never tried to connect with my own culture and people in the same way. Although I had helped to gather Israel on my mission, I realized there were important ways for me to help gather Israel at home too, especially within my own family.

A Māori friend of mine who had also recently returned from serving in the Philippines told me of a dream he had about his grandmother. She appeared in his dream and asked him why he had studied other cultures but never his own.

His dream resonated with me. I felt prompted to learn about my ancestors and connect with them like I never had before.

Understanding Elijah’s Promise

I had just entered medical school when I decided to learn the language of my people. So on top of my busy schedule, I took night classes to learn Māori.

When the classes first began, I felt alone and uncertain about moving forward. But the more I talked to my classmates, the more I realized that many had also felt prompted to connect with their heritage by learning Māori.

Over time, learning Māori truly began to feel like a spiritual experience. I was beginning to understand the promise that Elijah would “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). My ancestors were becoming more real to me.

Learning the language also opened doors in my everyday life. I found that speaking Māori helped me better connect with the people for whom I was providing medical care. I helped establish Māori classes at my university and discovered that many other medical students were also interested in learning to help them provide better care.

Although the language is becoming increasingly less common, being able to communicate with those who are native Māori speakers has helped me minister to specific populations. I’ve witnessed how my native patients feel especially heard and seen when we can speak their language together. These experiences have really shown me what it means to minister to the one.

We Can Help Each Other Gather Israel

President Russell M. Nelson taught: “When we speak of gathering Israel on both sides of the veil, we are referring, of course, to missionary, temple, and family history work. We are also referring to building faith and testimony in the hearts of those with whom we live, work, and serve.”1 Learning Māori definitely helped me connect with my heritage and ancestors on the other side of the veil, and I plan to do work for them once the Hamilton New Zealand Temple reopens. But it has helped me serve on this side too.

Being part of a church that believes in connecting with our ancestors adds such joy to my life. We prioritize temple and family history work because we believe that every member of our family, no matter how long ago they lived, should have the opportunity to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we can help each other accomplish this work.

Learning Māori was one way for me to help gather Israel. But each of us can participate in this work in many other ways, and they don’t have to be complicated. Attending the temple and doing proxy work for our relatives, researching our family trees, indexing, and even learning about our grandparents and great-grandparents can be wonderful opportunities to connect with our ancestors.

After all, the ultimate goal for every one of us is to return to Heavenly Father and live with Him and our families forever. And through our efforts to deepen our connections with others—especially our ancestors—we can strengthen our commitment to Christ and keep that goal in sight.

Discover More

You can find more articles about serving in the Church in the Young Adults section of the July 2022 Liahona.

Check out YA Weekly, found in the Gospel Library under Magazines or Adults > Young Adults, for new, inspiring content for young adults each week.

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1. Russell M. Nelson, “Let God Prevail,” Liahona, Nov. 2020, 92.

Isaac Smiler
Isaac Smiler is a Māori of Ngāti Kahungunu descent. He was raised in Hamilton, New Zealand, and served in the Philippines Cebu Mission. He is now married and studying medicine at the University of Otago.