“Elder Merrill C. Oaks Of the Seventy,” Ensign, May 1998, 106
Elder Merrill C. Oaks was just four years old when his father passed away. For many years afterward, his mother raised her three children as a single parent, assisted by her own parents. “My testimony started at home with my mother,” says Elder Oaks. “She was a great human being and a great teacher. When she would pray, her conversation with Heavenly Father would be so direct and personal that I almost wanted to open my eyes to see if he was standing there listening.”
Born in Twin Falls, Idaho, on 12 January 1936, Elder Oaks spent most of his youth in Provo. He served a mission in Ontario, Canada, where, he says, his testimony “really blossomed” as he bore witness of the gospel and saw it change others’ lives. He went on to receive a bachelor’s degree at Brigham Young University, and it was there he met his future wife, Josephine Ann Christensen, from Payson, Utah. They were married in September 1958. Elder Oaks later earned a medical degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine, interned at the University of Kentucky, and specialized in ophthalmology at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
“If you let it, a medical education can challenge your testimony,” Elder Oaks says, “but after you work through that, you’re left with such a tremendous respect and awe for the human body and how it functions. You see God’s hand in its design and know that it did not happen by accident.”
Through the years Elder Oaks has had the opportunity to travel throughout the world to instruct other doctors and medical students in ophthalmology. Often Sister Oaks and some of their nine children have accompanied him on these trips, which have included destinations such as Bahrain, China, and India.
Elder Oaks has served twice as a bishop and has been a stake high councilor, counselor in the stake presidency, and stake president. Currently president of the Washington Seattle Mission, he will be reassigned to fulfill his new responsibilities in June. When asked how the gospel has affected his life, he replies, “The gospel is my life. I know that this is God’s work with absolute certainty.”