Elder J. Devn Cornish: Consecrated life to do the Lord's work

"If we expect the Lord's Church to work, then we have to work," said Elder J. Devn Cornish, newly called Seventy. "We don't belong to the Church, we are the Church."

Sustained in general conference on April 2, Elder Cornish and his wife are excited for the opportunity to consecrate their lives — full time — to serving the Lord.

As a youth, Elder Cornish learned from his parents' example what it takes to be a member of the Church. Whether it was his mother's constant example of doing the little things — family home evening, fasting, paying tithing or attending Church — or his father's unwavering faith and willingness to serve, those examples early in Elder Cornish's life set the pattern for his life to follow.

"The hallmark of our parents is that they were good people who lived the gospel programs fully because they just knew that is what you should do," he said. "They came from humble settings, and early on had made a decision that they would live the gospel fully just because that is what they wanted in their hearts. Their faith never, in all of their lives, wavered in any sense."

He remembered traveling with his father one Sunday afternoon after they had attended a ward conference in an area on a far border of their stake boundary in Georgia. They drove down a dirt road for a time, and then turned off onto a smaller dirt road and kept driving. Finally, the sight of a run-down home was in the distance.

"We knocked and knocked on the door until a little voice way in the back said, 'Go away!' " Elder Cornish remembers. "Finally, after some period of silence the door opened, and a voice said, 'Who are you and what do you want?' "

His father answered that he was from the Church, that he had heard about the older woman at ward conference and he felt inspired to drop by her home. It was a cold day and quickly they saw that she didn't have any wood in her stove and virtually no food in her cupboards. No one was aware of her circumstances.

"We didn't leave before she had wood for her stove and food, and someone was going to follow up on her," Elder Cornish said. "That is how my dad did things all the time. He showed up in somebody's life and helped them."

It was his parents' great devotion to the gospel that first showed Elder Cornish how to be a faithful member of the Church.

"For some miraculous reasons, my father got it from the outset," Elder Cornish said. "My father understood the meaning and importance of the restored gospel, and from the minute my father was baptized (at age 18), he was absolutely faithful the rest of his life."

Elder Cornish carried that faith instilled in him at a young age as he moved from Georgia to Utah to attend BYU as a David O. McKay scholar, and then as he accepted a call to serve in the Guatemala/El Salvador Mission.

After completing his mission he returned to BYU, where he moved into the same stake as Elaine Simmons.

"We met in the young adult program," Sister Cornish said. "I was living at home, had graduated from BYU and was teaching school, and he moved into our stake."

Through interacting in young single adult activities, they began dating and were married in the Manti Utah Temple on Aug. 9, 1973.

Elder Cornish had been home from his mission and enrolled at BYU only for a year when he was accepted into an early admissions program at Johns Hopkins Medical School. A handful of days after their marriage, he and his bride packed up their things and headed to Baltimore, Md., where he eventually earned a joint bachelor and medical degree.

"I married this very fine lady — who is also a BYU graduate — and moved her shortly after our marriage from Provo to Baltimore, where she took on a teaching assignment in a difficult school. It took a lot of courage. … The Lord's hand was in this. The pieces came together. The hand of the Lord was so tangible — we were so blessed," Elder Cornish said.

During their time in medical school, life was busy with Church callings and responsibilities, but it was also a good time, Elder and Sister Cornish said.

"By the time we finished medical school, we had three kids," Elder Cornish said. "In our residency in Boston, we had two more, and when we finished my training in neonatology (newborn intensive care), we had our sixth."

In addition to his training at Johns Hopkins, Elder Cornish spent time serving in the Air Force and two years "on loan" to the Army. It was during these years Elder Cornish began his work in newborn intensive care, where he was able to be part in the early developments of technology that would help more high-risk babies live with a specialized heart-lung machine.

Although his career has made heavy demands on his time over the years, Elder Cornish said that it is through seeking the Lord's help to find balance that he was able to accomplish the most important tasks of raising a family, his career and serving in the Church.

"I remember a time when I thought to myself, 'How can I do all of this? Which of these things is most important?' " he said. "The answers are clear and miraculous. Consecration means we commit all of our time and resources to the Lord. There is always enough time to get done what the Lord wants. The Lord is in charge, and we can do challenging things, as He gives us direction, play by play, minute by minute. The Lord will micromanage our life, if we will let Him."

With a call to the Seventy, Elder and Sister Cornish look at his new assignment to serve in the Caribbean Area Presidency — a place they know well after presiding over the Dominican Republic Santiago Mission — as another opportunity to consecrate their lives to doing the Lord's work.

“I knew from the moment I met him, before we got married, that I was going to have to share him with the Lord,” Sister Cornish said.

Biographical information

Family: Born April 12, 1951, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to George O. and Naomi Black Cornish. Married Elaine Simmons on Aug. 9, 1973, in the Manti Utah Temple. Six children: Matthew Jared (Victoria MacDonald), Lisa Ann (Adam) Kotter, Sarah Marie (James) Hill, Rachel Camille (David) Stewart, Ruth Emily (David) Brosnahan, Reid Daniel; 21 grandchildren.

Education: Bachelor of science and a medical degree from Johns Hopkins University.

Career: Medical doctor specializing in newborn intensive care; professor of pediatrics and vice chair of the department of pediatrics for faculty at Emory University School of Medicine.

Military service: Major in the U.S. Air Force Medical Corp., six years.

Community service: Chairman of the department of pediatrics from 1994-2003 at Emory University School of Medicine.

Church service: Full-time missionary in the Guatemala/El Salvador Mission, elders quorum president, mission leader, bishop, high councilor, stake president, Area Seventy, president of the Dominican Republic Santiago Mission from 2003-06.

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