Wednesday, October 28, 2015

In the Very Moment: The Harrowing Night Elder Oaks Was Held at Gunpoint



When General Authorities in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speak to church members around the world, they often share personal stories or experiences to illustrate a gospel principle or reinforce a specific truth. President Thomas S. Monson is universally loved for the many wonderful stories he frequently shares.

One of my favorite stories told by a General Authority is a personal experience Elder Dallin H. Oaks shared in General Conference 23 years ago when I was a sophomore in high school. At the time, Elder Oaks looked back more than 20 years to the harrowing experience he and his wife faced late one night when they were confronted by a would-be robber at gunpoint on the streets of Chicago. The story is gripping because it must have been so terrifying. I also love that it illustrates the way the Lord protects His servants and the way revelation can guide us through difficult, even life-threatening situations. As the Lord promised, "It shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment what ye shall say" (Doctrine & Covenants 100:6). Here is the experience, in Elder Oaks’ own words:

During my life I have had many experiences of being guided in what I should do and in being protected from injury and also from evil. The Lord’s protecting care has shielded me from the evil acts of others and has also protected me from surrendering to my own worst impulses. I enjoyed that protection one warm summer night on the streets of Chicago. I have never shared this experience in public. I do so now because it is a persuasive illustration of my subject.


My wife, June, had attended a ward officers’ meeting. When I came to drive her home, she was accompanied by a sister we would take home on our way. She lived in the nearby Woodlawn area, which was the territory of a gang called the Blackstone Rangers.

I parked at the curb outside this sister’s apartment house and accompanied her into the lobby and up the stairs to her door. June remained in the car on 61st Street. She locked all of the doors, and I left the keys in the ignition in case she needed to drive away. We had lived on the south side of Chicago for quite a few years and were accustomed to such precautions.

Back in the lobby, and before stepping out into the street, I looked carefully in each direction. By the light of a nearby streetlight, I could see that the street was deserted except for three young men walking by. I waited until they were out of sight and then walked quickly toward our car.

As I came to the driver’s side and paused for June to unlock the door, I saw one of these young men running back toward me. He had something in his right hand, and I knew what it would be. There was no time to get into the car and drive away before he came within range.

Fortunately, as June leaned across to open the door, she glanced through the back window and saw this fellow coming around the end of the car with a gun in his hand. Wisely, she did not unlock the door. For the next two or three minutes, which seemed like an eternity, she was a horrified spectator to an event happening at her eye level, just outside the driver’s window.

The young man pushed the gun against my stomach and said, “Give me your money.” I took the wallet out of my pocket and showed him it was empty. I wasn’t even wearing a watch I could offer him because my watchband had broken earlier that day. I offered him some coins I had in my pocket, but he growled a rejection.


“Give me your car keys,” he demanded. “They are in the car,” I told him. “Tell her to open the car,” he replied. For a moment I considered the new possibilities that would present, and then refused. He was furious. He jabbed me in the stomach with his gun and said, “Do it, or I’ll kill you.”

Although this event happened twenty-two years ago, I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. I read somewhere that nothing concentrates the mind as wonderfully as having someone stand in front of you with a deadly weapon and tell you he intends to kill you.

When I refused, the young robber repeated his demands, this time emphasizing them with an angrier tone and more motion with his gun. I remember thinking that he probably wouldn’t shoot me on purpose, but if he wasn’t careful in the way he kept jabbing that gun into my stomach, he might shoot me by mistake. His gun looked like a cheap one, and I was nervous about its firing mechanism.

“Give me your money.” “I don’t have any.” “Give me your car keys.” “They’re in the car.” “Tell her to open the car.” “I won’t do it.” “I’ll kill you if you don’t.” “I won’t do it.”

Inside the car June couldn’t hear the conversation, but she could see the action with the gun. She agonized over what she should do. Should she unlock the door? Should she honk the horn? Should she drive away? Everything she considered seemed to have the possibility of making matters worse, so she just waited and prayed. Then a peaceful feeling came over her. She felt it would be all right.

Then, for the first time, I saw the possibility of help. From behind the robber, a city bus approached. It stopped about twenty feet away. A passenger stepped off and scurried away. The driver looked directly at me, but I could see that he was not going to offer any assistance.

While this was happening behind the young robber, out of his view, he became nervous and distracted. His gun wavered from my stomach until its barrel pointed slightly to my left. My arm was already partly raised, and with a quick motion I could seize the gun and struggle with him without the likelihood of being shot. I was taller and heavier than this young man, and at that time of my life was somewhat athletic. I had no doubt that I could prevail in a quick wrestling match if I could get his gun out of the contest.

Just as I was about to make my move, I had a unique experience. I did not see anything or hear anything, but I knew something. I knew what would happen if I grabbed that gun. We would struggle, and I would turn the gun into that young man's chest. It would fire, and he would die. I also understood that I must not have the blood of that young man on my conscience for the rest of my life.

I relaxed, and as the bus pulled away I followed an impulse to put my right hand on his shoulder and give him a lecture. June and I had some teenage children at that time, and giving lectures came naturally.

“Look here,” I said. “This isn’t right. What you’re doing just isn’t right. The next car might be a policeman, and you could get killed or sent to jail for this.”

With the gun back in my stomach, the young robber replied to my lecture by going through his demands for the third time. But this time his voice was subdued. When he offered the final threat to kill me, he didn’t sound persuasive. When I refused again, he hesitated for a moment and then stuck the gun in his pocket and ran away. June unlocked the door, and we drove off, uttering a prayer of thanks. We had experienced the kind of miraculous protection illustrated in the Bible stories I had read as a boy.

I have often pondered the significance of that event in relation to the responsibilities that came later in my life. Less than a year after that August night, I was chosen as president of Brigham Young University. Almost fourteen years after that experience, I received my present calling.

I am grateful that the Lord gave me the vision and strength to refrain from trusting in the arm of flesh and to put my trust in the protecting care of our Heavenly Father. I am grateful for the Book of Mormon promise to us of the last days that “the righteous need not fear,” for the Lord “will preserve the righteous by his power.” (1 Ne. 22:17.) I am grateful for the protection promised to those who have kept their covenants and qualified for the blessings promised in sacred places.

These and all promises to the faithful children of God are made by the voice and power of the Lord God of Israel. I testify of that God, our Savior Jesus Christ, whose resurrection and atonement have assured immortality and provided the opportunity and direction toward eternal life. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Bible Stories and Personal Protection,” October 1992 General Conference)



Elder Dallin H. Oaks has served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since May 1984. He is a native of Provo, Utah (born on August 12, 1932). He and his late wife, June Dixon Oaks, are the parents of six children. June passed away on July 21, 1998. On August 25, 2000, Elder Oaks married Kristen M. McMain in the Salt Lake Temple. Elder Oaks is a graduate of Brigham Young University (1954) and of the University of Chicago Law School (1957). He practiced law and taught law in Chicago. He was president of Brigham Young University from 1971 to 1980 and a justice of the Utah Supreme Court from 1980 until his resignation in 1984 to accept his calling to the apostleship.

12 comments:

  1. Brilliant! but nonetheless dangerous.

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  2. I love this story. What a great example.

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  3. I would like to emphasize that he acted on the Lord's prompting. There was a clear reason he should not have wrestled with the man for the gun. That doesn't mean that in all dangerous situations we should feel compelled not to defend ourselves. If I were in Oaks' position I probably would have taken the gun, and I doubt I would have had the same impression not to since I am quite confident I will never be called to server in the quorum of the twelve, and in self defense I've committed no sin or crime.

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  4. Richie I think that what is good for the apostles is right for us too. We can all have promptings in life. It is better not to take a life no matter what the situation.

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    1. Mmn, no, I have to respectfully disagree. In all things doctrinal, yes, what is good for an apostle is good for everyone, but not in individual circumstances as in this one. The revelation that Elder Oaks received was what Dallin H. Oaks needed. If it were you or me, the revelation might very well have been different as pertaining to our own life's experiences, skill set, physique, etc. and numerous other factors that could have influenced the outcome.

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  5. Wow! This reminds me of a mission experience I had. I was tracting an area near Paris - a city called Creteil. My companion and I knocked on the door of an apartment on the 4th floor. It was afternoon or evening, sometime in the fall or winter, so it was dark outside. When the man answered the door, he was holding a rifle by his right side. He started to level the rifle at me, but before the rifle was brought up to level, my left arm and hand moved forward, grabbing the forestock of the rifle. When I gave a little tug, the rifle came out of his hands as if he wasn't holding it at all! To both of our surprises, I was now holding the rifle! This poor man's eyes were huge, and he started to shake. I told him that we meant him no harm and only wanted to ask him a question. We gave a fairly 'normal' door approach, which he politely declined. Then, in a very small voice, he asked if he could have his rifle back! I remember going through all the scenarios in my mind - giving it back and being shot. Not giving it back - what would a missionary do with a rifle anyway? A feeling of peace came over me and I knew my companion and I were safe. No matter what I did, that man would not harm us. I told him that after he closed his door I would place the rifle by his door, and once he saw me and my companion exit the building though his back window, he was free to re-acquire it. Seems like a dumb compromise now, but it worked. We exited the building safely, the Lord looking after us all this time.

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    1. Very cool. Just reiterates what Elder Oaks said that the spirit will prompt you to do what is right for you. thanks for sharing.

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  6. Exactly, Elder Oaks received this prompting and Nephi received another.

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  7. Wow, Jim, thank you for sharing YOUR special story ! The gospel is true and there ARE angels around us !!

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  8. A great story--about the Lord's protection, following promptings (in this case related to future callings), and not wanting "the blood of that young man on my conscience for the rest of my life"--in all those ways a good example for all of us. I tried putting "shed blood" in the scripture search bar on lds.org and found a consistent message, perhaps best summed up here: "Know ye that ye must lay down your weapons of war, and delight no more in the shedding of blood, and take them not again, save it be that God shall command you" (Mormon 7:4). I believe what matters most is the state of our hearts, especially how well we are learning to love and trust God and love (with true charity) our brothers and sisters.

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