Hearing About the Priesthood Revelation
On June 8, 1978, Thomas was shaken awake as his bus traveled through the vast, flat fields of Kansas. The Young Ambassadors had made an unplanned stop in Salina, and everyone was telling Thomas to get off the bus—one of the men driving the equipment van wanted to speak with him.
“He said, ‘Isaac, we heard something on the radio; we don't know if it is true,” Thomas recalls. Having grown up near Kansas his whole life, Thomas recognized the radio station, and anxiety began to set in. “I thought he had heard my mother had been in an accident,” Thomas says. “And I am going, ‘Gary, if you don't tell me what you heard, I'm going to be all over you like stink on a monkey.’ He goes, ‘They gave the blacks the priesthood!’ I said, ‘Who? Don't you believe that. Don't tell those kids on that bus. If it is not true, I can't handle the disappointment in everybody. We are in the heartland of the reorganized Church. They could be giving the cows out here the priesthood for all we know. Don't believe that stuff.”
Thomas climbed into the equipment van for the last leg of the trip, thinking the conversation was all but behind him. When they reached their destination in Hayes, Kansas, however, the director darted off the bus into a nearby mall. When he returned, Thomas saw every pair of eyes in that bus turn in his direction. “I see everybody’s faces and hands on one side of the bus, and I knew instantly they had told them about this fictitious rumor. I was going, ‘Oh no. Now what I'm going to do?’ Then the CB radio came on,” Thomas says.
There, in the middle of Kansas, after months of agonizing questions, Thomas learned that the priesthood had been extended to all worthy males in the Church regardless of race.
“I was like, ‘Wait a minute. Did I sleep through the Millennium? Let me go see what's coming in these clouds. It was like a surreal dream sequence. My life passed before my eyes,” Thomas says. “Gary says, ‘You better get out and get on that bus before they come off it and flood this street.”
Thomas staggered onto the bus, still in disbelief, still trying to process how this one moment would change the rest of his life. Surrounded by his friends and fellow missionaries, Thomas recalls, “They are screaming, ‘Bear your testimony.’ Bear my testimony? I couldn't even think of my name. I don't even know what I said, to be honest with you. I sit down by Val Lindsey, the director. I said, ‘Val, what are we going to do now? He said, ‘The Lord has spoken to a prophet of God.’ From that point on, those kids started singing. ‘The spirit of God like a fire is burning.’ Some of them bore their testimony. ‘I am a child of God.’ ‘I know that my Redeemer lives.’ The melodies—it was like heaven.”
Thomas quickly learned that, after hearing the wondrous news, people across the country were trying to reach him—the Holtkamps, the branch president he had told to tear up his membership records, the 13 members from the Laotian border, his home stake, and so many others reaching out, praying for him, thinking of him. “That is love to me,” Thomas says.
Immediately, Thomas began to prepare to receive the priesthood. “I wanted to make sure that I was worthy. I wanted to make sure that I repented of everything that I could think of,” Thomas says.
Though Thomas quickly filled out his mission papers, his bishop spoke with him, telling him the Church wanted him to continue his mission with the Young Ambassadors. “They said, ‘You will reach more people doing that than you ever will serving a full-time mission,’” Thomas says. “My bishop also said, ‘Isaac, we need to get you ordained. If we wait for you to feel worthy, it will be the Millennium before you are ordained.”
On Pioneer Day weekend in July 1978, Thomas was ordained to the priesthood in a room overflowing with people who had all loved and sustained him throughout his time in the Church.
Getting Sealed in the Salt Lake Temple
At the beginning of October 1978, Claudia came to Salt Lake City to attend general conference with Thomas. It was the second time they had ever met in person. After the final session, the two were strolling around Temple Square in the evening. “We got up by the Christus, and we were just talking,” Thomas recalls. “All the sudden, I heard these words come out of my mouth: ‘Will you marry me?’ I couldn't believe it. I thought, ‘You don’t even know this woman. What is wrong with you?’ She said, ‘I'll have to think about it.’ I went, ‘It’s a good thing somebody is thinking, because clearly, I am not.’”
A few days later, Claudia said yes. However, because she was a recent convert, Claudia could not receive her endowment until the following year.
“We agonized over whether or not we would get married civilly first or whether or not we would wait and go to the temple,” Thomas says. “We decided to wait and that was very difficult. Her family was livid. . . . Particularly about marrying me, because [they thought] we have more than one wife. And they were staunch, staunch Catholics. That was a long, hard time.”
On the day of their wedding, only Claudia‘s sister came from her family, but the sealing room was bursting, people lining the walls. On June 15, 1979, Claudia and Isaac Thomas became the first black couple to be sealed in the Salt Lake City Temple.