Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints surprised attendees of the Southern Virginia University Education Conference on Friday morning as he joined his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, during her address.
Sister Oaks, a lifelong educator, was the keynote speaker at the school's 20th annual conference.
In the opening session of the two-day conference, Sister Oaks delivered a message titled “Staying Committed: Faith in Every Footstep” to nearly 350 attendees in Southern Virginia’s Stoddard Center.
"I come to you as a learner-in-process," Sister Oaks said, adding that, "learning about the Savior is the highest form of study."
Sister Oaks addressed how gospel learning establishes connections between learners and Christ, and between learners and the people around them. She shared the experience of growing up without the gospel in her home and making connections to Latter-day Saint ancestors by reading their journals, many of which were kept in a family library. Her study of these personal records helped her develop the faith to join the church and support herself through a full-time mission.
She also shared the experience of serving with her husband in the Philippines for a number of years, where she developed what she called a "testimony glove" as a tool for teaching essential doctrines, especially in areas with low literacy rates. She said that the very act of wearing a testimony glove invited learners to have their own spiritual experiences.
"Contact with truth teaches truth," she said.
The testimony glove, about which she later co-wrote a popular book, teaches five essential doctrines with simple pictures: That God is our Heavenly Father; that Jesus Christ is our Savior; that Joseph Smith was the Prophet of the Restoration; that the Church of Jesus Christ is on the earth today; and that the church is led by a living prophet. Between her church service in the Philippines, Africa and in other parts of the world, Sister Oaks has now overseen the distribution of more than 250,000 testimony gloves to speakers of 20 different languages.
In closing, Sister Oaks taught that gospel study prepares learners to serve those around us. She commented on how recent church service efforts, such as the "I Was a Stranger" initiative, focus not on detailed instructions from church leaders but on personal instruction by the Holy Ghost and the individual exercise of faith.
"As we step into a future, it is not fully illuminated," she said. "Faith is needed to take that step."
At the conclusion of her remarks, Sister Oaks invited Elder Oaks to join her on the stand, where he shared a few thoughts and reflections he had during his wife's message.
First, Elder Oaks emphasized the authenticity and importance of patriarchal blessings, stating that "patriarchal blessings are personal scripture."
He related a personal experience of going alone as a 16-year old boy — while his widowed mother worked to support the family — to the home of a patriarch, whom he had never met, to receive his patriarchal blessing. Elder Oaks explained that his patriarchal blessing opened deep insights into his own life and continued offering new meanings and dimension as he reread it throughout his life. He said that the development of his personal maturity and his sensitivity to the influence of the Holy Ghost allowed him to find new understanding of this personal scripture.
Elder Oaks then briefly described his morning routine. Rising around 4:30 a.m. — but never after 5 a.m. — Elder Oaks begins his day by walking a few miles, praying, studying the scriptures and then praying again, asking that he "might be guided by the Holy Ghost" that day.
In conjunction with personal prayer, Elder Oaks emphasized the importance of family prayer. He praised his wife for her commitment to holding daily family prayer, and counseled conference attendees to form habits of prayer in their own families and lives.
In closing, he testified of the divinity of Jesus Christ and of God's love for all people.
"I testify of the name of Jesus Christ, which means his authority, his ministry, his Atonement, his essence," Elder Oaks said. "It is the destiny of all of God's children to see him, and to be like him when they see him."
Conference attendees did not know in advance that Elder Oaks would accompany his wife at the event. Shortly after their remarks, the couple waved to attendees as they exited the Stoddard Center on their way to another assignment.
Sister Oaks headlined a lineup of speakers that included BYU law professor John W. Welch, former BYU and current Virginia head football coach Bronco Mendenhall, Southern Virginia provost Madison U. Sowell and corporate innovation expert and author Whitney Johnson, each of whom spoke on the theme “By study and also by faith.”
The conference continues Saturday with additional speakers and musical performances. Southern Virginia is not affiliated with the LDS Church, but has an honor code based on LDS values and teachings.
Chris Pendleton is director of communications at Southern Virginia University.