Hannah King · June 12, 2013
Hundreds of attendees gathered to hear presentations with the theme “Rejoice, the Heavens are Open” on the first day of Southern Virginia University’s 17th Annual Education Conference last week.
The conference began on Friday morning with presentations by Glade Knight, chair of the Southern Virginia board of trustees and Paul K. Sybrowsky, president of Southern Virginia. Other presenters that day included Mark Taylor, violinist and assistant professor of music at Southern Virginia; Dr. Kaye Hanson, a former management communications professor at Brigham Young University; Dr. Matthew Rasmussen, a full-time instructor at the Buena Vista Institute of Religion; and Lee Donaldson, manager of proselytizing services in the missionary department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Go Where the Lord Wants You
Knight spoke, at the request of conference attendees from previous years, about the inspiration he felt on Southern Virginia’s campus in 1996 and how it led him to guide the university in its transition from an all-female school to a coeducational liberal arts institution serving Latter-day Saints.
“I walked through the halls and had a special feeling. I went to the lunchroom [at Southern Virginia]… and as sure as I have felt anything, the Spirit saturated me,” said Knight. “It drenched me in this warm feeling. And it became very clear to me that I needed to do something. The impression was this: ‘that this cafeteria will someday be filled with LDS students.’”
Knight said that he had never dreamed of “starting a university” for Latter-day Saint students, but after his experience visiting the campus, he assembled a board of trustees, found a president — David Ferrel — took on the assets and liabilities of the university, and then faced the challenge of recruiting students.
“The mission of this university… has always been bigger than me,” said Knight. “I love the journey because I know that the Lord wanted me to do it. I tell the young people: ‘if you want to have a boring life, take control of it yourself and decide where you’re going to go. If you want to have an exciting, exhilarating, fun-packed life, go by the Spirit, where the Lord wants you to go and you’ll find that it’s more exciting than anything that you can do.’”
‘By Study and By Faith’
President Sybrowsky spoke about the future of LDS higher education and specifically the role that Southern Virginia will play as it grows to accommodate more students and help them “know how to seek for and receive revelation in all things in life.”
President Sybrowsky said that he hoped that Southern Virginia students would be prepared to “go out and display… courage in the world,” similar to the courage of Roy Costner IV, a high school valedictorian who recently stood up for his religious beliefs at his graduation ceremony by reciting the Lord’s prayer instead of his prepared and approved graduation speech.
President Sybrowsky detailed specific plans for the future of the university, including the construction of new residence halls, teaching facilities and other buildings, in an effort to “provide the finest educational learning structure that we can… to welcome the spirit of the Lord.”
He said that the key to the best education is the combination of “scholarship with discipleship.”
“Our scholarship is equal to or better than any institution our youth could attend,” he said. “We will teach ‘out of the best books… by study and also by faith’… Discipleship is taught not only in our institutes and in our wards and in the stake, but… in our classrooms and on campus, in the demeanor of this institution.”
Taylor performed an arrangement of “Precious Savior, Dear Redeemer” on the violin, accompanied by his son, William Taylor, a music major at Southern Virginia.
Prior to performing, Mark Taylor told the story of how he and his wife both received the same personal revelation, which led them to Southern Virginia to help build the university’s music program.
“Coming to Virginia has been an inspired move for us,” Mark Taylor said. “I testify that the heavens are truly open. Not only to the prophets, seers and revelators that we sustain, but also to individuals.”
In Touch With the Divine
Hanson discussed the times when the heavens have been closed and then shared a story from her life in which she “watched the heavens open” for another individual.
As a young woman, Hanson served a mission in Germany, and there saw firsthand the isolating effects of the Iron Curtain. Four years ago, she returned to Europe to serve a second mission.
“We were responsible… to open centers for young adults in 32 European countries,” she said. “Ten of those countries had been under the Iron Curtain… all were countries who had had no missionaries to help open the heavens for them throughout the dark night of communist occupation.”
While serving, Hanson and her companion were assigned to select local young single adults to share their testimonies and be filmed for Mormon Messages videos in their native languages and in English.
When they gathered in Poland for filming, one young man, a branch president, tried several times without success to give his message clearly in both languages. Hanson read from her journal that another man, a stake president, sat down with the young branch president and told him to “call down the powers of heaven to have your Father in heaven help you… to give the message he wants you to give.”
After the young man said a prayer in Slovenian, Hanson said that it was “as though a light [had] gone on within him” and that he then spoke “with renewed clarity” and moved forward “without problems.”
“Sometimes we neglect the power within us, as [he] had not thought of his priesthood keys to call down the powers of heaven,” Hanson said. “We may be the ones keeping the heavens closed because of our not understanding the power within us.”
Let Us Rejoice
After exploring a few basic questions about the conference’s theme, Rasmussen said that he was “most eager” to emphasize that “we are to rejoice.”
“Open heavens are communicative heavens. Revelation is real. So let us rejoice,” said Rasmussen. “We can be happy, we can be downright delighted, right now, with our understanding that all that is heavenly, is — through the Father’s love, the Savior’s grace and the authorized ministries of the duly ordained — marvelously, if not startlingly accessible.”
He then turned his remarks in “a more applied direction.”
“What is so desperately needed by so many is the assurance that the heavens will remain open to us, to you and me, the rank and file, the diaper changers, the breadwinners, the workers, the wonderers, and the worriers. We will need this assurance as we find ourselves drawn ever deeper into the drama of the last days.”
Rasmussen then read Moses 1:1-7 as an example of what qualifies us to receive revelation. He said that Moses’ qualifications included his circumstances, his disposition, his identity and his work.
“Moses was qualified to receive revelation in part because of his circumstances,” said Rasmussen. “He was in the appointed place at the appointed time… as we do what we are supposed to do and are where we are supposed to be, we will be met with opportunities to hear the Lord’s voice… And because we are already anxiously engaged in good causes, we will have eyes to see these opportunities for what they are.”
The Spirit of the Gathering of Israel
Donaldson discussed the “current excitement about missionary work” after the inspired change in the ages at which missionaries may serve.
“The world changed in just such a dramatic way,” said Donaldson. “Currently at the Provo MTC, 45 percent of the missionaries are sisters. I was talking to one mission president I was working with, he went from 16 sisters, three transfers later, he had 102… we think one year after the announcement, it will be around 85,000 missionaries in the field, which has caused a significant change in the work.”
Donaldson discussed the history of missionary work since the time of Joseph Smith. In recent years, he said that the publication of “Preach My Gospel” — which was “reviewed and written and processed by seers and revelators” — new pamphlets, and social networking have all helped to “accelerate the work in a great way.”
“The world is now connected in a way that it’s never been connected; this is now a hastening of the Lord’s work,” said Donaldson. “With the blessings of modern technology, we can express gratitude and joy about God’s great plan for his children in a way that can be heard not only around our workplace, but around the world. Sometimes a single phrase of testimony can set events in motion that affect someone’s life for eternity.”
Donaldson showed pictures and video of the Church’s “I’m a Mormon” campaign in New York and in the United Kingdom and asked attendees to “make a Mormon.org profile” and link to it from their Facebook pages.
Full audio recordings of the speeches are available at soundcloud.com/svuedu.