For Sister J. Anette Dennis, the gospel of Jesus Christ has always been an important part of her life. “I can remember my mom and dad would read scriptures at the breakfast table because we were a captive audience. And I did the same thing with my children,” she said.
According to her husband, Brother Jorge Dennis, their children had family home evening every morning, all the way through high school. “Sure, they sometimes used to roll their eyes when she would read scriptures, Church magazines or faith-promoting stories to them at breakfast,” he said. “But I see our children [now] and they’re very good parents — the ones who are parents,” he said. “I attribute that to her. … Because of that, I think our children have a very, very strong foundation.”
During the April 2022 general conference, Sister Dennis was sustained as first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, to begin her service in August.
Jeannie Anette Herrin was born on June 27, 1960, to Curtis Lamar and Patricia Joanne Herrin in Provo, Utah. Her parents met while attending BYU. After her father graduated, the family moved to a rural area in Mississippi, where they lived next door to her paternal grandparents. “It was just a wonderful childhood for the years we were there. We played in the woods and swung on vines and rode our bikes and were always visiting our many ‘kin’ … and we loved it,” she said.
She was baptized in Vicksburg, Mississippi, 40 miles from their home, and she remembers giving her first talk as a little girl. “I froze,” she said. “My talk was on Daniel and the lion’s den, and I remember standing up in front of everyone and just starting to cry because I was so nervous.” She humorously added that she hopes the same thing doesn’t happen when she gives her first general conference talk.
When she was 9 years old, the family began to move with her father’s career — from Bentonia, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, then to De Soto, Iowa, and Lincoln, Nebraska, before returning to Utah when she was in ninth grade.
Sister Dennis attended BYU, majoring in elementary education. But it was her minor in Spanish that would change the course of her life. She met Jorge Dennis along with other young adults while on a cultural trip to Hermosillo, Mexico, in 1978 with the BYU Spanish Department. A year later, he moved to Utah to study English, and they reconnected. They married on Sept. 4, 1980, and several months later returned to Mexico, where their first son was born. They now have four children and nine grandchildren.
Because of that experience, Sister Dennis understands in a small way those who have to leave their homes and navigate a new culture and language. “The sisters in that ward treated me with such kindness and love even though I was a foreigner and spoke very little Spanish at the time,” she said. “I hope that will be the experience for all our sisters in the world who are immigrants or refugees.”
Brother Dennis was baptized shortly before turning 18. He is so grateful for the three different sets of missionaries who didn’t give up on him during the six-month journey of his beginning conversion. He considers those missionaries angels because they were instruments in changing the course of his life. “Everything good I have in my life is a result of my decision to join the Church and live the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Their own children went on to serve missions for the Church: their oldest son to Malaga, Spain; their oldest daughter to Campinas, Brazil; their younger son to El Salvador and Houston, Texas; and their youngest daughter in the Bountiful Utah Temple and Layton FamilySearch Center.
The couple felt it was important that they not leave their children to grow up in childcare because of Brother Dennis’ experience being raised by a divorced mother who wasn’t home very much due to the necessity of working to provide for her family. So they made the decision that Sister Dennis would be a stay-at-home mom, which she loved and considered a great blessing. She knows not every mother who wishes to has that option.
“My children will probably tell you that I was over the top and way too controlling as a mom. I think I saw what was going on in the world, and I wanted them to have a good [spiritual] foundation because I knew what the world could do to them,” Sister Dennis said.
“I think she has been a perfect mother for our kids, even though she doesn’t think so,” Brother Dennis said. “She has never placed importance on material things. Never. That is something that has blessed our family immensely. Her priorities have always been spiritual priorities, not temporal priorities.”
“I’m not the same mother I was when I started,” Sister Dennis said. “[The Lord] teaches you along the way through your children. I realize now that I didn’t trust the Lord enough to lead them through that minefield of the teenage years. But I have since learned that He does it so much better than I ever could, if I just trust Him.”
Mission to Ecuador
Trusting the Lord with her children became especially important when she and Brother Dennis were called as leaders of the Ecuador Guayaquil West Mission in 2013. Neither of them had ever had mission experience.
“Our youngest daughter has dealt with emotional health challenges from the time she was very, very young,” Sister Dennis said. “When we left on our mission, she went with us for two years. She was almost 15, and she had never been away from home, nor away from her older brother, who was her best friend and who was to leave on his mission to El Salvador just two weeks later.”
It was a difficult time for her as they prepared to leave. At times, Brother and Sister Dennis wondered if they should go. “But before we left, our daughter felt the Lord tell her that this would be a transformational time for her,” Sister Dennis said. “It was not easy, for any of us, but we each had to learn to trust the Lord and put ourselves in His hands.”
That lesson was further taught just four months into their mission service when their son’s mission president called them in the middle of a zone conference. He informed them that their son was in the hospital in serious condition with dengue fever.
“The only thing we could do was to pray and trust the Lord; we were completely helpless to do anything else,” Sister Dennis said. “But we knew that whatever the outcome, he was in the Lord’s hands.” He eventually recovered and was transferred to a stateside mission.
A year after returning from their first mission, their trust in the Lord was put to an additional test as they were asked to leave their family once again, including their youngest daughter, and return to Ecuador so Brother Dennis could serve in the temple presidency for the next year.
Less than a year into their first mission, Brother Dennis had an unsettling dream. When he had the same dream a month later, he and Sister Dennis felt it was important to prepare their missionaries in case of a natural disaster. Working with their young sister missionaries who had been trained as mission nurses, they developed emergency preparedness plans for each zone, including safe gathering places, so the missionaries would know and practice what to do and where to go in the event of an earthquake. They also began an even greater emphasis on spiritual preparation — obedience, repentance and reliance on the Savior’s Atonement.
Almost exactly two years later, on April 16, 2016, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the coast of Ecuador, which killed almost 700 people and injured about 16,600 others.
Because of their preparations, both temporal and spiritual, the missionaries knew what to do and where to go after the earthquake. Most reported that even with buildings falling around them and people screaming and running in utter chaos, they felt at peace because they knew what to do and felt prepared if it was their time to go. There were many miracles that day — before, during and after the earthquake. Not one of their missionaries was killed or injured, even though there was destruction and death all around them.
It would be years later, upon studying President Russell M. Nelson’s talk in the October 2020 general conference “Embrace the Future with Faith,” that Sister Dennis recognized that she and her husband had been led by the Lord to do the very things the Prophet spoke about.
“I suddenly realized that we had done the same things President Nelson counseled us to do to prepare for the future. He told us to create ‘places of security,’ prepare our minds to be faithful to God and never stop preparing. That’s exactly what we did with our missionaries during those two years before the earthquake and we saw miracles happen because of it.”
‘He will meet you where you are’
Sister Dennis, who has been serving on the Primary general advisory council, will begin her service as first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency on Aug. 1.
“I think part of the reason I’m in [this presidency] is because of the experiences we’ve had with our youngest daughter, and how many sisters deal with emotional and mental health challenges,” Sister Dennis said.
“I feel like we have to keep shedding light on that because so many are suffering in silence,” she said.
One of her favorite scriptures is Alma 7:11-13, which teaches “that Jesus suffered not only for our sins, but also our pains, our afflictions, our temptations, and our infirmities so that He could understand our suffering and run to our aid,” Sister Dennis said. “Whatever each of us may be going through, He understands on a very personal level. As Relief Society is centered on the example of Jesus Christ, it can become a place of refuge and healing as we partner with Him to love and minister to each other.”
The Savior’s way of ministering and loving one another is the perfect example to follow when reaching out to one another, she said. “He sought out others, especially those in pain and especially those who felt like they were different and didn’t belong. He went to them — met them where they were. … If we each truly follow our Savior’s example of loving and serving, truly coming to know on a personal level those who we think are so different than we are, no one need feel like they don’t belong in Relief Society or in our wards and branches. We truly will become one in Christ.”
To those sisters suffering from emotional or mental challenges, or any other life experience that makes it more difficult for them to feel that they belong, Sister Dennis wants them to know that, even though it can be hard to feel at times, “the Lord loves you, whatever the challenge or experience you are having and He will meet you where you are. He wants to be a part of your life and walk with you. I know this from personal and family experience. He lives and He loves you.”
Family: Born on June 27, 1960, to Curtis Lamar and Patricia Joanne Herrin in Provo, Utah. Married Jorge Dennis on Sept. 4, 1980, in the Salt Lake Temple; they are the parents of four children.
Education: Studied elementary education and Spanish at Brigham Young University.
Church service: Will serve as first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency beginning Aug. 1. Serves as a Primary general advisory council member and with her husband on the Davis County Church communications council. She is a former Ecuador Guayaquil West Mission president companion (2013-2016), assistant to the matron of the Guayaquil Ecuador Temple, stake Relief Society secretary, ward Primary president, ward Relief Society and Young Women presidency counselor, Relief Society teacher and temple ordinance worker.